During the Town Hall Chat Isaac Moses asked the following question:

Consider a Question "I'm injured, so I can't walk to synagogue this Sabbath. What can I do to connect my prayers with those of the community?", an Answer "According to the Conservative Movement, you may drive to synagogue. Drive there, and join your congregation." and a comment on the answer "This answer is invalid, as it assumes that Jewish Law isn't binding." Stuff gets flagged. What do you do?

The candidates gave answers ranging from "nothing" to "edit" to "delete". Followup discussion in chat revealed that there's not complete clarity about what our policy should be, hence the diverse answers. (I don't think any candidate proposes to buck a policy that we have, to be clear.)

So that's the question I'm opening here, now while it's hypothetical rather than later when there's an argument in progress.

Specifically:

  1. Are questions asked from the perspective of, or about, a particular movement on-topic? Always? Only halachic movements like Conservative? Never; this is an Orthodox site?

  2. Are answers from the perspective of a particular movement, with that perspective declared, on-topic? Always? Only if the question asked for same? Never?

  3. If the answer to 1 or 2 is negative, does the same principle apply to other sub-groups or communities like Breslev, Satmar, Modern Orthodox, Chareidi?

We don't have a well-understood policy now, hence the question. Please post proposals as answers. This isn't cut-and-dried; the answers here will help us as a community decide how we want to handle this.

Upvote answers you agree with, downvote answers you disagree with, and if the existing answers don't cover your opinion, post your own answer. There is no one right or wrong answer here; we as a community need to decide.

Related unresolved questions: Is there not room for non-orthodox opinions? and non-orthodox opinions?

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+1 Note also that it sometimes is not clear to which movement or sub-movement (if any) a certain perspective belongs, ie they self-identify as X while most members of X reject them, or alternatively, most members of Y claim them. –  Double AA Jul 22 '12 at 22:35
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Also (even though we have no control over them) perhaps an answer should touch on what extent downvoting/upvoting these types of posts (if they are deemed in scope) is encouraged or discouraged, ie is downvoting the appropriate way to show disagreement with a position. –  Double AA Jul 22 '12 at 22:42
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I don't know if 'pluralistic' is the right word; the post is only pluralistic in a context. Perhaps: What perspectives are within scope? I don't really like that either :( –  Double AA Jul 22 '12 at 22:51
    
@DoubleAA, I struggled with that word too, as I want a word rather than a "non-" word. "Pluralistic" is how institutions I'm familiar with that are open to the range of backgrounds/movements describe themselves (e.g. Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, where I studied recently), but technically that's more about the community than individual members/posts/etc. Anyone else, please improve! –  Monica Cellio Jul 22 '12 at 22:53
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+1. Re Isaac's question in the town hall: It was asked of potential moderators about what they would do, not about what the community could do. That something is not moderator-closable/deletable does not mean a moderator would reopen/undelete it, so the town hall answers and answers here might be very different. Another reason they might differ widely is that the town hall question was asking potential mods how they'd act in light of current rules/mores (or that's how I read it anyway) whereas AFAICT this question is asking people what the rule/mores should be. –  msh210 Jul 22 '12 at 23:09
    
@msh210, yes I mean to ask what the rules should be, which isn't what was asked in the town hall. –  Monica Cellio Jul 23 '12 at 0:03
    
I just want to clarify that there is no wrong answer. Anyone can post an idea and try to explain why it should be adopted. (Perhaps this should be clarified in the question in case people are shy.) –  Double AA Jul 23 '12 at 2:36
    
I was going to wait, but maybe posting my answer will break the ice, so to speak. –  Monica Cellio Jul 23 '12 at 17:26
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One more public reminder: Upvotes and downvotes on answers here mean I agree and I disagree, respectively (AND respectfully!) –  Double AA Jul 23 '12 at 19:13
    
I think this question is important enough to appear in "Community Bulletin". Mods can you do that? Thanks. –  jutky Jul 25 '12 at 10:35
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@jutky, tagging it featured (which only mods can do) would probably make more sense and would have the side-effect of making it likely to show up on the bulletin sidebar. –  Isaac Moses Jul 25 '12 at 14:09
    
@jutky, I've tagged this "featured"; looks like there's a lag before the community bulletin gets updated, but that's the intent. Thanks for the suggestion. –  Monica Cellio Jul 25 '12 at 16:25
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I agree with Isaac's answer to the previous question on this topic, but it is general rather than a specific answer to the question posed here. So, to specifics.

This is, in addition to an answer to the above question, a response to Monica Cellio's well-written and obviously well-thought-out answer, so as to highlight where I disagree with it.

The question asks:

1. Are questions asked from the perspective of, or about, a particular movement on-topic? Always? Only halachic movements like Conservative? Never; this is an Orthodox site?

Monica Cellio's answer (hereinafter "MC" (just for ease and WADR)):

Asking questions about, or from the perspective of, any Jewish movement or community should be permitted.

I agree in general, but we need a question to be answerable and (as the FAQ list says) "for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more".

Thus, it cannot be "Can someone explain this practice of Mysect Judaism?" where Mysect Judaism lacks Jewish-tradition-based sources that discuss the question.

But if Mysect Judaism has Jewish-tradition-based sources (as, e.g., Conservative Judaism does AFAIK) then I see nothing wrong with the question. (It should specify that it seeks answers based in Jewish tradition, if the asker (or editor) suspects answers may not be based thus.)

MC gave these as examples of good questions:

  • What is Confirmation? Why do Reform and Conservative do it?

  • What sources does the Conservative movement use to support mixed seating?

  • Aside from starting a few weeks early, is s'lichot the same for Sefardim as for Ashkenazim?

  • My new Conservative congregation doesn't observe yom tov sheni but my family always has. Do I follow my family tradition or my community?

  • I have heard that Breslev has a custom to (something). What are the origins of that?

I agree.

The confirmation question is a good one about Jewish life.

If the yom tov sheni question seeks halachic answers (as it seems to), it should say so. It's a good question, but perfectly good answers to it may cite orthodox sources.

MC continued:

Questions like the following should not be permitted as asked:

  • What can I do about eating at my Reform relative's wedding? (Should be rephrased as: "What can I do about eating at a wedding with a venue I presume is not kosher?")

  • Is Conservative Judaism avodah zara? (Close: not constructive.)

  • Is the Lubavich practice of accosting people on the streets to lay t'fillin chillul Hashem? (Should be rephrased along the lines of "How far is it permitted to go to encourage people you meet to lay t'fillin?". The question body could cite experiences with Lubavach as an example.)

MC doesn't (as of this writing) explain a general rule under which those questions should not be permitted, so I'll address the individual cases. I disagree with MC on the first and third cases: they should be reworded, I agree, for generality's sake, but are valid, albeit weak, as asked. The second one should be reworded to clarify why the asker thinks Conservative Judaism might have the halachic status of avoda zara, and should be closed as not constructive until that's done so it doesn't attract unsourced rhetoric as answers, but seems, once reworded, like a valid halacha-related question to me. (I'm not sure whether what I said about the second example question isn't also what MC meant.)

The question continues:

2. Are answers from the perspective of a particular movement, with that perspective declared, on-topic? Always? Only if the question asked for same? Never?

MC responded:

Answers from the perspective of a particular community should be permitted. Answers should state their perspective if other than the default of "mainstream traditional". Answers that give advice should be especially careful about this.

I agree, though I'd apply it strongly to all answers.

However, an answer needs to be on-topic. So an answer like "Father Mypriest forbids this activity" is deletable as not based on Jewish tradition. Likewise, an answer like "Rabbi Myrabbi forbids this activity because…" or "It's forbidden because…", where the quoted reasoning is clearly not based on Jewish tradition, is deletable. But "Rabbi Myrabbi forbids this activity because…", where his reasoning is arguably based on Jewish tradition (or we don't know his reasoning), or even "This activity is forbidden" sans sources, is technically fine and therefore not moderator-deletable (but see next paragraph), though the latter will probably be heavily downvoted.

And I see no problem with the community's voting to delete heavily downvoted answers.

MC continued:

For example, the driving-on-Shabbat answer above should be recast as: "For Conservative Jews, some (many? most?) rabbis permit driving to the nearest synagogue under the following circumstances... (explanation, link go here)" The problem with the answer as given is not that it uses a Conservative source but that it presumes the asker would find that relevant. An answer to a question about Pesach food restrictions that said "Sefardim say there's no problem with rice; chow down" would have the same problem.

I disagree. The original, "According to the Conservative Movement, you may drive to synagogue. Drive there, and join your congregation" is valid as an answer (if sources are added). MC's emendation, "For Conservative Jews,… rabbis permit driving to the nearest synagogue" is fine, too (though it should be sourced). I likewise see no problem with "Sefardim say there's no problem with rice; chow down" (though it should be sourced).

The question concludes:

3. If the answer to 1 or 2 is negative, does the same principle apply to other sub-groups or communities like Breslev, Satmar, Modern Orthodox, Chareidi?

What I wrote above applies to them.

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Thanks for this thoughtful answer. I agree that questions need to be answerable and answers need to be on-topic. I take "Father so-and-so" as a source to be automatically off-topic, same as unsupported unconventional assertions, like you said, and voting can address supported-but-unconvincing answers. The yom-tov-sheni question assumed the same halachic approach as it would for any orthodox "family vs. rabbi" difference. –  Monica Cellio Jul 23 '12 at 21:24
    
The reason I don't like my three negative examples as written is that they are unnecessarily contentious/provocative. The Reform question suggests that all (and only?) Reform venues are non-kosher; the real question is what to do with a non-kosher venue, and this one happens to be an R shul. The third comes across first as a criticism of Lubavich where we should focus on the practice, not who does it, which is why I would reword. On reflection I agree that the avodah-zara question could be asked appropriately, but it must give a reason and not just throw out an opening volley. –  Monica Cellio Jul 23 '12 at 21:27
    
Finally (I think :-) ), on the driving question, this may be a style difference. If the question were asked from a (stated) C perspective, or sefardi perspective in the rice question, I'd be fine with those answers as-is. Without that, though, I would prefer to move those answers from "you should do X (but you probably don't belong to that group)" to "if you belong to that group you can do X" or, more succinctly, "that group permits X". It's all about clarity and being explicit to me; I've got no problem with the content. –  Monica Cellio Jul 23 '12 at 21:30
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Great. Now let's see what others opine. –  msh210 Jul 24 '12 at 1:06
    
I downvoted because I much prefer a site where the sources quoted are "mainstream traditional". 1) The danger in quoting sources from other groups is that readers may not realise the origin of the source. 2) Most questions I have seen are "mainstream traditional". The site would lose its attraction for me if it became a forum for discussing the practices of movements which are not "mainstream traditional". –  Avrohom Yitzchok Jul 24 '12 at 16:53
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@AvrohomYitzchok, please post an answer here, so others who agree may upvote it! –  msh210 Jul 24 '12 at 17:10
    
I'm going to go ahead and accept this based on the voting and what we've been doing for the year+ since the question was asked. –  Monica Cellio Aug 28 '13 at 13:21
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I accept that "people who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition" might be interpreted to include followers of the Reform and Conservative movements.

My personal preference is for a site where the sources quoted are "mainstream traditional (MT)". Most questions and answers to date have been MT. The site would lose its attraction for me if it became a forum for discussing the practices of movements which are not MT.

If the decision is to quote sources from groups other than MT, the provenance of the sources should be clearly stated.

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+1 for this: The site would lose its attraction for me if it became a forum for discussing the practices of movements which are not MT –  jutky Jul 25 '12 at 10:31
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I think the provenance of all non-obvious sources should be clear, whether it's a Conservative teshuva or an obscure chassidic rabbi. We want to give readers the tools to review and assess sources on their own. –  Monica Cellio Jul 26 '12 at 14:13
    
-1, Reform and Conservative are both certainly mainstream, and have entered into the category of traditional. –  Adam Mosheh Jul 27 '12 at 16:34
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@AdamMosheh That's why he put it in quotes. I think everyone knew what he was referring to. If you have a better way to say it (whatever that means if everyone already understood what he meant), let him know. –  Double AA Jul 29 '12 at 22:48
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@DoubleAA Sorry to confuse. By "MT" I meant to exclude Conservative and Reform. Although I recognise that ""people who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition" might be interpreted to include followers of the Reform and Conservative movements", my personal feeling is that sources from Conservative and Reform are not MT. –  Avrohom Yitzchok Jul 30 '12 at 8:56
    
@AvrohomYitzchok - Traditional does not always mean Halakhic. The Conservative movement maintains that a Mechitzah is not a matter of Halakhah because it is not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch. But they are still breaking tradition. Nevertheless, they are still upholding many other traditions. –  Adam Mosheh Jul 30 '12 at 14:49
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@AvrohomYitzchok I'd like to remind you that I don't think you have much to worry about in terms of overall flavor of the site (cf Joel's answer to the other question). However it does require that the MT users don't get scared and leave the site upon seeing a few non-MT posts. This would only lead to more people leaving and a big downward spiral. I agree completely with Monica's statement above (which I don't think you argue with) that sources should always be cited, especially if what they are saying is not obvious to the average Yodeyan. –  Double AA Aug 29 '12 at 3:13
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So long as they also follow our other site guidelines -- constructive, respectful, supported, etc -- these posts should be in-scope (with some qualifications for answers, below). Permitting these posts does not weaken our scope of "people who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition", but rather acknowledges that our understanding of law and tradition sometimes varies. Posts that directly challenge that principle, e.g. "where can I get a good bacon cheeseburger in Jerusalem?" should still be closed.

Questions

Asking questions about, or from the perspective of, any Jewish movement or community should be permitted. For example:

  • What is Confirmation? Why do Reform and Conservative do it?

  • What sources does the Conservative movement use to support mixed seating?

  • Aside from starting a few weeks early, is s'lichot the same for Sefardim as for Ashkenazim?

  • My new Conservative congregation doesn't observe yom tov sheni but my family always has. Do I follow my family tradition or my community?

  • I have heard that Breslev has a custom to (something). What are the origins of that?

Some questions will have relatively few people who can answer them, but that's true of many of our questions today and is not a factor.

Questions like the following should not be permitted as asked:

  • What can I do about eating at my Reform relative's wedding? (Should be rephrased as: "What can I do about eating at a wedding with a venue I presume is not kosher?")

  • Is Conservative Judaism avodah zara? (Close: not constructive.)

  • Is the Lubavich practice of accosting people on the streets to lay t'fillin chillul Hashem? (Should be rephrased along the lines of "How far is it permitted to go to encourage people you meet to lay t'fillin?". The question body could cite experiences with Lubavach as an example.)

Answers

Answers from the perspective of a particular community should be permitted. Answers should state their perspective if other than the default of "mainstream traditional". Answers that give advice should be especially careful about this.

For example, the driving-on-Shabbat answer above should be recast as: "For Conservative Jews, some (many? most?) rabbis permit driving to the nearest synagogue under the following circumstances... (explanation, link go here)" The problem with the answer as given is not that it uses a Conservative source but that it presumes the asker would find that relevant. An answer to a question about Pesach food restrictions that said "Sefardim say there's no problem with rice; chow down" would have the same problem.

Posters should be especially careful when giving answers about practices not their own. Bring sources for your answers and, if you can't, explain whatever's relevant in your background, whether that's "I was raised as a Conservative Jew and we did X", "I knew someone with a Reform friend once who said Y", or something else. We want to discourage unsupported assertions wherever possible; that said, sometimes (especially for the "practical" questions) anecdotal answers can be helpful.

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Please see my answer. –  msh210 Jul 23 '12 at 20:53
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@msh210 thanks, responded there. I think we actually aren't all that far apart, which is nice to see. –  Monica Cellio Jul 23 '12 at 21:31
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Doesn't the StackExchange format, in and of itself, create the perfect forum for pluralism—because there can be multiple answers? To be against pluralism is to say that there is only one answer. That is certainly not how StackExchange is set up, at least in my experience (and absolutely from the perspective of the software's capabilities).

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It's all a question of extent. Indeed the format allows for multiple answers; this question explores the scope those answers should range. –  Double AA Jul 30 '12 at 2:57
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1) Yes. For a great example of that, see judaism.stackexchange.com/q/13604/2 . 2) SE is built to answer objective questions. Because of this, there are those who've said that religion inherently doesn't fit here. However, if there's a basic assumption that there's such a thing as binding Tradition, then it's possible to answer objectively with respect to that Tradition. If not, then it's potentially just a whole bunch of subjective opinions talking past each other. –  Isaac Moses Jul 30 '12 at 4:46
    
Well, there are many Jews who will say that there is no basic assumption of a binding tradition. Do you want to exclude them? –  Jason Jul 30 '12 at 6:22
    
@Jason No, the site is also for "anyone interested in learning more". See the top line of the FAQ. –  msh210 Jul 30 '12 at 7:21
    
Exactly - which is why I was saying that we should not use ideas such as a binding tradition or "mainstream tradition" as arbiters for what is or is not a valid answer to a question. –  Jason Jul 30 '12 at 7:24
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Jason, I don't want to exclude any individuals, as per the proviso @msh210 indicates, but I don't believe that with respect to normative (as opposed to descriptive) questions of Jewish practice, objective answers are possible without stipulating, for the sake of argument, to the concept of binding tradition regardless of the personal beliefs of the participants in the discussion. –  Isaac Moses Jul 30 '12 at 15:30
    
Yeah, what @IsaacMoses said. –  msh210 Jul 30 '12 at 17:31
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