An answer ( Firefighting on shabbat ) perhaps true and all, includes a reference to Wikipedia. Now, I know it's a great encyclopedia, with many knowledgeable editors, lots of critics, pages which מלאו כרסם ש"ס ופוסקים etc. etc.

Still, I feel it's not exactly a source to quote in the context of Mi Yodea™.

Other (or similar) thoughts on the subject?

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Totally anecdotal: as a gentile, I find links to Wikipedia helpful just because they (a) allow the person explaining things to me to skip over a big chunk of history/context, and (b) the article itself provides me with lots of history and context! It's win-win, plus I usually end up seeing just how far the rabbit hole goes. (Aka, tabsplosion!) –  Aarthi Nov 1 '12 at 16:14
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I think we need to distinguish between two uses of references: 1) To provide context and define terms (the benefit @Aarthi cites). WP is often ideal for this. 2) To demonstrate an authoritative source for a position. For this, it's better to quote a more primary source. Oftentimes an excellent answer would both provide context for the uninitiated and provide citations of primary sources. However, as msh210 indicates in his answer, while WP is often a weak source for purpose 2, it's still something. –  Isaac Moses Nov 1 '12 at 17:24

3 Answers 3

Wikipedia is useful for finding more information and providing background that a reader may lack. Many users of Mi Yodeya cite it often for those purposes. If someone Paskens Halachah in an answer on this site based on Wikipedia, that is a poor answer for another reason: that's not what this site is for.

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On the other hand, Wikipedia is a valid source for explanation of verses in the Torah, etc.? –  b a Nov 2 '12 at 3:25
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@ba It's certainly no worse than when any of us posts an understanding of the pesukim based on our own logic, as you have no idea who I am. –  Double AA Nov 2 '12 at 3:37
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@DoubleAA, I somewhat disagree. Your record is easily traceable, you are known in the community and your answer belongs to you alone. Wikipedia, though page history exists, can contain many anonymous edits and it is often not realistic to check exactly who edited what. –  JNF Nov 4 '12 at 6:24

I see no problem with quoting a weak source and allowing readers to judge the answer accordingly. People know what Wikipedia is — or, if they don't, they should not be satisfied with the answer. Same as for any other cited source. (Therefore, it's in an answer's author's interest, in order to make his answer more believable, to cite a stronger source.)

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I'm inclined to believe that generally better to avoid citing secondary sources as support. Rather the answers should, in my opinion, cite "primary" utilized in those secondary sources (preferably after confirming them) while acknowledging the secondary sources when they main resource used for the answer.

With regards to what constitutes a "primary source" I think a general rule of thumb would be a work which will generally be considered in halachic discussions (or hashkafic works of comparable significance). This is, and probably should be, a loose/subjective standard and no doubt some questions may be best addressed by "sources" which do not fit this criteria. Generally, however, I think that this is descriptive of what most of us are looking for in a source and should be our normative expectation for sources.

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