Are questions of the form

What's the difference between [Jewish thing] and [Religion X thing]?

on- or off-topic on the site?

For reference, the FAQ list mentions briefly what's on- and off-topic, and there's a list of on- and off-topic topics linked thereto, but neither discusses comparative religion.

To be clear, I'm thinking of questions like "I know that basically, the first 5 books in Christian's Bible forms the Torah. However are there any subtle difference between torah and those books?" and "Do Jews and Muslims worship the same G-d? If so, do they understand G-d the same way?".

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I think you should clarify further that you're davka not asking on comparisons between religions in their entirety's, as those would be automatically too broad. (I know that it is contained in your question, but I think it should be more obvious.) –  HodofHod Feb 22 '12 at 22:57
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@HodofHod, I hereby do so. I should also mention that I'm referring only to questions comparing Judaism with another religion, and not those comparing, e.g., Jainism with Scientology. –  msh210 Feb 22 '12 at 23:00
    
There are, to date, two answers: one can be summarized as "allow 'em" and the other as "ban 'em". The former currently has 1 net vote; the latter, 5. I'll let this sit another few days, and if nothing changes over that time then I will close the two main-site questions I mention in my question here and add a note to the FAQ indicating that comparative religion questions are out of scope. –  msh210 Feb 27 '12 at 2:46
    
Update: I have closed those two questions as out of scope. –  msh210 Feb 29 '12 at 17:10

4 Answers 4

I say it depends. You know the famous story about the Rabbi who said "you're both right!"? Well @DoubleAA and @ShmuelBrill are both right! (But the third guy, you know, the one who says "But Rabbi, they can't both be right!"? He's wrong.)

If someone asks a question like "How does Judaism or Jewish Law view <various aspect> of <religion x>?", then that question should be absolutely on-topic. These are questions specifically about Jewish Law (Halacha), and Jewish views (Hashkafa). Examples of such questions:


However, if someone asks something like "What are the differences between how Jews do <thing>, and how <religion x> does it?", then that's off-topic. This is a question that compares two different religions, one of which is out of the scope of this site, so the whole question is off-topic. Examples:

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Hat tip: @msh210. –  HodofHod Feb 27 '12 at 4:00
    
PS. I did mention question type #1 in my answer (although a side-point, it was bolded). –  Shmuel Brin Feb 27 '12 at 22:11
    
@ShmuelBrill True, and I did notice that. However, I tried to make it clearer. In addition, I don't think we should limit questions of the first type to those that have already been discussed in seforim. –  HodofHod Feb 27 '12 at 22:34

There are two reasons I think that we should not have these questions:

These questions look like boat programming questions. The Meme of Boat programming came from a question which was asked on stackoverflow as to how to program on a boat (how much fuel does one need to run a laptop, etc. It is hard to see on the screen dump and the original question was deleted).

What is the problem of "boat programming"?

It has nothing to do with programming!! It may have to do with sailing, it may have to do with laptops, but it doesn't require a programming expert for an answer. It needs a sailor.

So too with "Comparative religion" questions. I would be OK if someone asks here "Why do you pray five times a day on Yom Kippur and asks on Islam.SE the same question and compares the answers on his own. However, asking here "Do Jews and Muslims worship the same G-d? If so, do they understand G-d the same way?" is

  1. Counterproductive - most people who are experts in Judaism aren't going to be experts in Islam
  2. Goes against the purpose of this site - "Jewish Life and Learning - Stack Exchange is for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more." These questions aren't 1. "for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition" as neither Jewish law nor Jewish tradition discusses Islam and 2. "anyone interested in learning more" as these questions don't further Jewish knowledge at all.
  3. Pushes away experts - experts would gravitate to websites which discuss technical questions in their field. Unless these questions are discussed in Jewish books (in which case they should be welcome), these are not the types of questions experts would want to see.

PS.

I mentioned Islam here because one of the questions mentioned by the OP was about Islam. I am of the same opinion if the questions being asked are about any other religion.

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This agrees AFAICT with the part of HodofHod's answer that discusses off-topic questions, and doesn't touch on the part of his answer that discusses on-topic questions. –  msh210 May 8 '12 at 5:58

I say in. The questions are asking for the Jewish perspective on something which is the greatest thing we have to offer. Additionally, it is likely one of the few times some on these non Jews will have to interact (albeit virtually) with a Jew and it is an opportunity to give over good information and impressions about Jews and make a Kiddush Hashem. On the flip side, it means mods should keep an extra close eye on comments and answers thereof to make sure the tone stays appropriate.

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On topic.

If such questions are way too far afield, they'll get downvoted enough to be closed.

We really can loosen the parameters for questions quite a bit with that failsafe in place. And we should.

Why?

Let's look at costs/benefits for this case: questions that are not strictly confined to Judaism itself.

Potential benefits of excluding these questions:

--We'll have a site that is very organized and elegant insofar as it has theoretically well-defined limits for the scope of questions. (cricket, cricket.)

--Oh, and the site will be more appealing to "experts." (Not making fun of you @ShmuelBrin; it really is [the only?] valid point.)

Potential drawbacks of excluding these questions:

--Alienates non-educated and non-Jewish people who would like to ask about Yiddishkeit here. That is truly a high cost, both for the site and for the world.

(More.)

In my mind, there is no contest whatsoever.

Anyway, is Mi Yodeya really suffering from a surfeit of questions and posters right now?

Something tells me it isn't. Until that's the case, let's allow in all manner of reasonable questions that are asked with acceptable style and good faith.

~

I want to add one thing that wasn't in my original answer, but that I think is important.

The topic of this forum is "Judaism," not "Yiddishkeit."

Although in principle one is just a translation of the other, there is a subtle difference. "Yiddishkeit" was what "Judaism" meant to our Yiddish-speaking ancestors in the shtetl. It means the content of the Jewish religion and culture itself--not really their context, their place in history, or their relationship to the rest of the ideas in the world. "Judaism" is what Judaism means in the context of a greater world--including, but not limited, to Yiddishkeit. Questions like the one mentioned would not fit into a forum titled "Yiddishkeit," but they might well fit into one called "Judaism." Just a thought.

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"Alienates non-educated and non-Jewish people who would like to ask about Yiddishkeit here." ??? Why would it alienate them if they are asking about Yiddishkeit? –  Double AA Aug 21 at 13:44
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"Anyway, is Mi Yodeya really suffering from a surfeit of questions and posters right now?" is not the right question. It's our responsibility to define and maintain a clear scope for the content on this site so that people know whether this is the right place for a) their questions and b) hanging around for questions that they'd like to answer. –  Isaac Moses Aug 21 at 17:32
    
"Is Mi Yodeya really suffering from a surfeit of questions and posters right now" is far from my main point (which is why I preceded it with an "Anyway..."). IMO the much greater risk is alienating legitimately curious people. –  SAH Aug 24 at 20:20
    
@DoubleAA The first question referred to in msh210's post was very much about Judaism. That's a great example of the type of thing I'm talking about. –  SAH Aug 24 at 20:22
    
...I might add that that exact question was answered thoroughly and correctly for me by a Chabad rabbi (not a mesichist nor an expert on any other type of Christianity.) –  SAH Aug 24 at 20:24
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What makes you think it's about Judaism? It's about differences between Judaism and Christianity. There's nothing Jewish about those differences. As far as Judaism is concerned, they are completely coincidental. –  Double AA Aug 24 at 20:26
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@DoubleAA, I see your point. But where c/should the questioner ask such a question other than here? Do you think the Christianity forum should try their hand at it? ...The fact is, Judaism is subject to a lot more misconceptions, biases, and general lack of knowledge than [many] other religions. And if this site is aiming to do good in the world, helping clear some of those up would go a long way toward that. –  SAH Aug 24 at 22:38
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@SAH There are lots of topics which don't have homes on Stack Exchange, and there are lots of topics which could do good in the world by spreading information. We can't host all of them. If you think would support a comparative religion site, then sign on here: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/58788/comparative-religion –  Double AA Aug 24 at 22:46
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@DoubleAA Perhaps a good standard for what can be asked on Mi Yodeya is "Would this be taught in a Jewish Studies department?" The difference in extent of the Jewish and Christian bibles is absolutely something that would be addressed by course(s) in that department. –  SAH Sep 4 at 15:07
    
@SAH You can suggest that. I'm not sure how rigorous a definition it is, or how practical it would be for users unfamiliar with academic Jewish studies. –  Double AA Sep 4 at 15:43
    
@DoubleAA Of course it's not rigorous, but at least it's a concrete standard of some sort. Where/how can I suggest it? –  SAH Sep 4 at 18:22
    
@DoubleAA I'm curious about exactly what you mean when you say "we can't host all of them." Maybe you mean that there is a slippery slope from topics that are "sort of" about Judaism to topics that truly aren't? In that case it is true that we can't host all of them. But surely we can host many topics that are "sort of" Jewish? –  SAH Sep 4 at 18:27
    
@SAH You can suggest it by posting on meta with the discussion tag. You are trying to replace longstanding community standards with something less rigorous, so I encourage you to include a very strong argument in your post for why your proposal should be considered. –  Double AA Sep 4 at 19:20
    
@DoubleAA If the standards are so longstanding and rigorous, why are there constantly debates about what is in scope? –  SAH Sep 4 at 20:26
    
@DoubleAA OK, I've found the relevant threads. But still, why do we keep having questions like this? The agreed-upon scope of the site clearly excludes comparative religion. –  SAH Sep 4 at 20:29

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