Should Mi.Yodeya/J.SE maintain its solely orthodox standing?

I love StackExchange and when I found the Judaism group I thought that it would be interesting to participate. However, I am neither an Orthodox Jew nor an orthodox Jew and have found it difficult to find applicable questions on which to share what I know about Judaism. For example, my first answer has gotten down-voted without a reason given. Is my slightly lax-er perspective towards Kashrut unworthy of this group?

Let me start at the beginning:

Mi.Yodeya/J.SE is currently under public beta. It is a

Beta Q&A site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more.

In this sense, it is based on orthodox, strict interpretations of the Tanach, Talmud, and Gemara. The site currently has an excellent answer rate (98%) and plenty of answers per question (2.5) but is lagging in visits/day (276) and users (69 avid, 548 total).

In the original discussion of this stack, we began to discuss whether or not an orthodox perspective was intrinsic to the success of the site.

Isaac Moses, founder of this site, wrote in this thread:

In particular, if we try to answer about traditional practices on other than a "to the letter" basis, then we're all just expressing our opinion and personal practice, and there's no basis for evaluating whether an answer is correct or not. In my opinion, Judaism can only really work on SE in the sense that it's defined in authoritative sources.

Regarding I. Moses's quote, Judaism on SE can also only work if it generates a large interest, a.k.a if it is relevant to a large population. Limiting the scope also artificially limits the group this site is applicable to; I posit that limiting Mi.Yodeya's scope to letter-of-the-law Judaism artifically limits the applicable population, just as limiting this site to Ashkenazi or Shephardi Judaism would do the same.

Like he said, though, allowing non-orthodox answers may devolve this site into an opinion/personal practice site. Besides, learned Jews tend to be orthodox Orthodox Jews. Progressive Judaism (depending on the speaker) either blatantly disregards or holds outdated the Torah Sheba'al Peh. Progressive Jew's answers on this site would therefore be of an inferior quality and irreconcilable with orthodox answers*.

Hence, this site is stuck between two choices, and we really are stuck; this site will be evaluated in less then a month for viability. Judging by the stats, this site is unviable. Even though answers are being answered correctly and quickly, there is not enough interest in the site to make it feasible.

Here are the choices I can see:

  1. Maintain the site's orthodox-only standing and limit the site's applicable body
  2. Allow non-orthodox answers, perhaps lowering the quality of many answers

I currently hold the second opinion because:

  • orthodox-only Jewish sites already exist
  • the goal of this site is to make answers applicable to anyone interested as well as those who base their lives on Jewish law.
  • StackExchange itself is supposed to let experts answer questions: orthodox answers may not seem applicable to every-men Jews.
  • this SE does not seem to be thriving enough to be considered viable by StackExchange

So that's all I have. What do you think? This is StackExchange, after all.

In fact, writing this argument illustrates (to myself, at least) how relatively unlearned I am compared to most, if not all, of the scholars here. However, I would be hesitant to ask questions on this site because I disagree with some tenants derived from strict derivations of Jewish law: treatment of women being an example. If I who in real life is one of the most observant people at his Jewish school am reluctant to post questions here, how scared are Jews who have never opened a Tanach in their lives?

I am happy to discuss this, I just feel that in order to truly consider this StackExchange group a "panel of experts" there must be experts from all types of Judaism.

* However, I believe that authoritative sources within the Mishna, Gemara, and Talmud can be presented that represent Conservative Judaism and less "orthodox" opinions. Sadly, however, I am not well enough versed in these books to present examples to back me up, though I can present the general argument that Rabbis in the Talmud never agree. Yes, I do know that one can find the accepted answer by looking at the חסדים's majority opinion, but why is one opinion truer than another?

Your larger points deserve and will get full treatment, but just regarding the comment I left on your answer, let me assure you that I was sincerely expressing welcome and gratitude, as we do for nearly all first-time contributors. In the future, if you take exception to a comment I or someone else leaves, the best way to address that is usually by responding directly to the comment. –  Isaac Moses Jul 13 '11 at 17:22
You're right. I noticed this when I was browsing through other questions, looking to help. However, I took exception to the "interesting perspective," which I did not see on any other welcome messages, so I assumed (incorrectly) that it was a perspective that you did not share, but found interesting like a lost puppy would be interesting. I have since removed that point from my question. –  citelao Jul 13 '11 at 18:00
FTR, the word "interesting" is not actually there. –  Isaac Moses Jul 13 '11 at 18:05
You are extremely right! I am so sorry. Thanks for the welcome. –  citelao Jul 13 '11 at 18:10
I like how you give both sides of this issue careful consideration. –  Isaac Moses Jul 13 '11 at 20:38
Regarding viability, I wouldn't be too worried. If we're not big enough for launch at 90 days, we'll just be put in "This site will remain in beta indefinitely so it can grow; we will continue to evaluate its site statistics and overall health," as have many other 90+-day-old betas with very comparable stats. StackExchange is patient enough to give us time to keep growing. We as well as SE have plenty of arrows yet unfired in our promotion quiver. –  Isaac Moses Jul 13 '11 at 20:44
... Broadening the site's scope is not the only way to build our audience if, indeed, it would have that effect, which is not at all certain. –  Isaac Moses Jul 13 '11 at 20:46
OK, well that's that. Question closed. –  citelao Jul 13 '11 at 20:48
Do you mean that given the new data on viability, you no longer think Option 2 is the right one? In any event, I'm sincerely sorry that you're reluctant to post questions here. I hope you'll reconsider that and try it some time. You're very likely to get interesting, high-quality, well-sourced answers, which I can tell you'd appreciate, based on the how you write about Judaism. –  Isaac Moses Jul 13 '11 at 20:58
Thanks for asking and thanks for the answers. I'm in the same boat as you, @citelao. I find this site fascinating, and I wish there were more Liberal content. I understand and respect the choices made, though; thanks for the explanations. –  Ernest Friedman-Hill Jul 15 '11 at 2:30
On most questions there is not agreement among the various orthodox groups; if we can handle that then there should be room for those who don't label themselves orthodox, too. As a liberal Jew I sometimes feel a little put off by this site too, but I guess I'm stubborn because I'm still here trying to make it work, as you are. –  Monica Cellio Sep 14 '11 at 3:02
I don't know if I was clear enough when I posted this question, but thanks so much for your overwhelming support and willingness to discuss this! I hope this site gets realized. –  citelao Sep 15 '11 at 2:09
Followup question: –  msh210 Nov 15 '11 at 17:38
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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Note: This answer was to an earlier version of the question.

Jewish Life and Learning - Stack Exchange is for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more.

That's what the FAQ says. Now, traditional Judaism, a/k/a orthodox Judaism, includes a practice of keeping kosher that does not allow eating, say, cheese (unless it's kosher) or swordfish (which isn't).

(Note well my lowercase o in orthodox: I mean not the "branch" (or whatever) Orthodox Judaism, but the belief and practice of orthodox Judaism.)

It may be that the downvoters disliked not the non-Orthodox aspects of your post but the non-orthodox aspects. I suspect that that's part of the explanation. However, in the end, there's really no way to know why people downvote (or upvote) any post, unless they explain their own actions.

That makes sense. My beliefs do not follow Jewish law exactly as specified in the Gemara & Talmud. However, my views are certainly based on Jewish law and tradition, shouldn't they be acceptable on this forum, per the FAQ's description? Besides, only allowing to-the-letter answers severely cripples this StackExchange; those who are "interested in learning more," receive but a tiny slice of the wide variety of Jewish traditions and beliefs. Though this may merit a separate discussion, perhaps widening the scope slightly might increase the viability of this beta. –  citelao Jul 13 '11 at 18:24
@citelao, I don't dispute that your views are based on Jewish tradition. And your life may well be also. But the particular view on keeping kosher that you mentioned has veered from it a bit. Again, I don't know why people downvoted your answer. (I didn't.) My explanation is just one possibility. (I have more to answer re interested persons' receiving a tiny slice, but will reserve that while I think about how to word it. Or maybe someone else will chime in with an answer to it that matches my view and I won't have to.) –  msh210 Jul 13 '11 at 18:39
Also note that in particular, the question at hand was about "keep[ing] kosher," so [a part of] an answer that addresses someone who doesn't "keep completely kosher" seems to be talking past the question. Like if someone asked "How do I do this in C?" and someone gave a sample implementation in C++. That may be a reason for the downvotes. –  Isaac Moses Jul 13 '11 at 18:39
@Isaac That makes sense. –  citelao Jul 13 '11 at 18:42
@citelao and @msh210, see my writeup in the Definition comments (called "announcements" now) for this site at Area51, motivating the particular choice of words for our site definition. In particular, if we try to answer about traditional practices on other than a "to the letter" basis, then we're all just expressing our opinion and personal practice, and there's no basis for evaluating whether an answer is correct or not. In my opinion, Judaism can only really work on SE in the sense that it's defined in authoritative sources. –  Isaac Moses Jul 13 '11 at 18:44
Alright. Would it be more appropriate to finish the discussion on that thread, or should I continue here? –  citelao Jul 13 '11 at 18:55
@citelao Definitely here in [meta]. That thread is history. –  Isaac Moses Jul 13 '11 at 19:06
Should I post a new question, or just edit my existing one? –  citelao Jul 13 '11 at 19:12
@citelao - It's up to you. Just please don't edit this question in a way that makes the answer you already got no longer an answer to the question. –  Isaac Moses Jul 13 '11 at 19:21
@IsaacMoses, citelao did so edit, but I've emended my answer to account for it as best I could, so no worries. –  msh210 Jul 13 '11 at 20:52
Thanks for bearing with me, guys! I sincerely hope for the success of this site. Judaism needs some good publicity, especially among Jews. –  citelao Jul 13 '11 at 22:38
So why not call a spade a spade? You are calling it traditional judaism when you clearly mean orthodox judaism! –  Adam Mosheh Feb 6 '12 at 12:25
Doesn't someone hold that swordfish is in fact kosher? –  Adam Mosheh Jul 6 '12 at 14:42
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I don't think this site has a solely orthodox standing.

I do think that the vast majority of the participants come from an orthodox background and relate to the questions here in an orthodox way. That is not because of a conscientious decision by the members of the site to exclude Jews from non-orthodox traditions, it's just a demographic fact. There are 120,000 Yeshiva students in Israel alone. Most orthodox Jews spend a lot of hours in torah study. When you look at the "professional Jew" category, the reality is that it is dominated by the orthodox. This site reflects that.

Essentially what that means is that the audience for judaism.stackexchange is going to lean heavily towards individuals who spend a lot of time studying Judaism, just like the audience for Stack Overflow has been professional programmers, not people who use computers or are vaguely interested in learning to build their own games. And the reality of the Jewish world today is that audience is dominated by orthodox people and institutions, so they will always appear to dominate the site. In this way we simply reflect the nature of the Jewish world, whether or not we like it. (FWIW, I don't. I was one of the founders of the first Conservative kibbutz in Israel and spent a lot of my youth working to break the orthodox monopoly on religion in Israel).

Now, on to your specific question. The trouble with your answer about how to eat lunch at a non-kosher workplace is not your answer... it's the question itself, which is not a good match for Stack Exchange and should have been closed. It's the classic example of a "non-constructive" question -- a question that is likely to solicit "debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion." I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with those kinds of questions... it's just that it's hard to tell if they've ever been answered, and they tend to be the kinds of things where anyone and everyone chimes in with their opinions, not the kinds of things where there is a factual answer that is objectively true or false.

In other words, we're trying to do a kind of science here, and build up knowledge so that people may learn. Questions like this one don't fit because of the lack of falsifiability of the answers.

Don't you think SE works for practical, experience-based advice on how to deal with a technical+social problem that's in scope? In programming, nearly every problem's solutions can be falsified by experiment if not by specification because you're dealing with deterministic systems. In almost every other realm (see, e.g. your recent podcast about Home Improvement), there's an element of non-determinism that makes it useful and sometimes necessary to take people's experience in the field into account. –  Isaac Moses Jul 15 '11 at 17:04
It was "I have a problem, can anyone recommend a solution" question with, granted, no one right answer, much like many questions on the non-computer-related SEs, most questions on Home Improvement, and virtually every question on Parenting. EDIT: In other words, what @IsaacMoses said in his comment. –  msh210 Jul 15 '11 at 17:06
... and while @msh210 was posting his comment, I was editing mine to say more of what he said and to link to one of the same sites he did. :) –  Isaac Moses Jul 15 '11 at 17:08
I think this question meets the tests Robert set out for "Good Subjective". More generally, to fulfill the "Back it up" principle, questions of the form "What does Judaism say about ...?" must use the source option, since experience (other than at the Assembly at Sinai) is irrelevant. Questions of the form "How should I deal with this situation, given what Judaism says?" can use either a source or experience. Questions of the form "What do you think about ...?" are asking for opinion, and should be closed. –  Isaac Moses Jul 15 '11 at 18:29
@IsaacMoses, that sounds about right except that (a) that blog entry is by Robert, not Jeff, and (b) some questions worded "What do you think about" are actually asking for objective answers and are just worded badly. –  msh210 Jul 15 '11 at 19:33
@msh210 a) Fixed. b) I agree. –  Isaac Moses Jul 15 '11 at 19:47
I agree with you that most "expert" Jews would tend to be Orthodox by the very natures of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism. However, this site, as IssacMoses said in an earlier comment, is based solely on orthodox, as in strictly following tradition, Judaism. Though you're right if you intended "Orthodox" instead of "orthodox" Judaism– this site is not scoped solely towards Jews following the Orthodox movement– this site in its definition is orthodox. msh210 wrote about this in his first answer. –  citelao Jul 16 '11 at 2:54
Wrt the quality of the question, I would have to say that this site, as opposed to SO, is not, and cannot, be focused solely on the hard, objective questions that SE prefers - there will always be some portion of questions that are experience based, much like Programmers. So, in effect, Mi Yodeya is the SO+Programmers for being jewish... –  AviD Jul 17 '11 at 7:18
@AviD, for Jewish life and learning rather than for being Jewish. Many people are Jewish (according to certain definitions of that controversial term) but have no questions or answers for this site. –  msh210 Jul 18 '11 at 4:13
@msh210, yes of course, I was saying it in the same scale as "SO is for program ming, and [Programmers] is for being a programmer". Or something like that... –  AviD Jul 18 '11 at 7:28
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This answer is to the version of the question current as of this posting.

I choose option 1 as the stated scope of the site, essentially for the reasons Isaac Moses outlined in Area51. Note though that having that as the scope doesn't mean that answers from other perspectives will be deleted just for being from other persectives. As you've seen, though, they will, likely, get downvoted. (Questions from other perspectives may be closed or deleted, of course, as they're out of scope. Note though there have been a number of such questions that have not been closed, because they were answerable from an orthodox perspective. See also this question and this one.)

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It might be interesting to look at the new Christianity site, which appears to have a much broader diversity of opinion than this one, and has had many interesting discussions on its meta on this issue.


I agree with you. It is unfortunate that too often Jews of different denominations don't get along with each other either. –  Adam Mosheh Feb 6 '12 at 12:33
There is a big difference between Christianity, which has many different sects with fundamentally different traditions of theology and practice that stretch back for centuries; and Judaism, in which essentially all existing groups draw from the same bedrock tradition, and groups that sprung up relatively recently (in the scheme of things) dispute whether and when to adhere to that tradition. With multiple lines of tradition, you can ask and answer objective questions about what those traditions say and distinguish with tags, etc., as C.SE does (and as we do, too, where applicable). ... –  Isaac Moses Jul 6 '12 at 16:54
... If answers that say, essentially, "I believe that it's not necessary to adhere to tradition in this case." are in-scope, then that's a valid answer to nearly any question, it's inherently subjective, and it's essentially talking past anyone who's trying to determine, objectively, what is in the tradition. –  Isaac Moses Jul 6 '12 at 16:59
(Examples of the tagging approach to diverse traditions - though not nearly as divergent as the different Christian denominations - here: ashkenazi, sephardi-mizrachi-eastern, chasidut-hasidism, breslov, chabad, yemenite-temani.) –  Isaac Moses Jul 6 '12 at 17:08
@Isaac. Interesting. Could I ask for a clarification re: "I believe that it's not necessary to adhere to tradition in this case"? Is there any rhyme or reason to which traditions are dropped? Is there an established method by which one can say which traditions are now unimportant? Because if there is a systematic method, and an established group of people using that method, then that's a tradition in itself, is it not? Albeit maybe a recent one. –  TRiG Jul 6 '12 at 17:31
@TRiG, I'm not an expert, but see, e.g., : "In general, Reform Judaism maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and compatible with participation in the surrounding culture. Many branches of Reform Judaism hold that Jewish law should be interpreted as a set of general guidelines rather than as a list of restrictions whose literal observance is required of all Jews." To the extent that this is true, it's inherently subjective. To the extent that it's not true, it likely fits my point (2) at . –  Isaac Moses Jul 6 '12 at 17:37
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