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Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Stack Exchange has a Biblical Hermeneutics site, which is "for anyone who wants to know what a Biblical text means (exegesis) using the techniques or rules of interpretation (hermeneutics)". From the beginning there were questions about how this site is different from the Christianity site, and the FAQ now reads that they "welcome Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints as long as they take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts".

Site policy forbids doctrine-based questions, requiring that questions always start from the text, but the handling of doctrine-based answers is much less clear and Christian doctrinal answers are not necessarily challenged by the community.

It has already been asked if Jews can participate in the Christian SE site, with inconclusive results. If one can participate in an overtly-Christian site then it would seem that one could participate in an ambiguous site, but we don't know that one can actually participate in C.SE. On the other hand, participating in a de facto Christian site, if that's what BH is or becomes, sans the explicit label could be problematic.

Given that context, what considerations should apply to a Jew participating there? Are we concerned about contributing to that religion even indirectly? Is there a matter of marit ayin if most participants are Christians (people might assume the Jew is too)? Does a Jewish participant there do harm to the Jewish community in any way (if, say, Christian answers consistently gain more votes)? Are the Jew's reasons for participating relevant?

Note: This question assumes that the site is religion-neutral per its site description. For a related question about a site that has a religious basis, see this question.

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For the non-halachic perspective, see meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/590 or meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/592. –  msh210 Jul 1 '13 at 22:23
Related: meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/a/1807/472 . The original premise of this question (that BH is religion-neutral, not Christian) no longer applies. While I've retained tha acceptance on the answer that did apply to the original question scope, readers for whom this is a personal consideration should seek updated information. –  Monica Cellio Sep 15 '13 at 4:43
I suspect that there is a fundamental incompatibility between Jewish and Christian viewpoints in conversations about "The Bible," such as those that BH is meant to host. From the Jewish POV, "The Bible" is Tanach, and NT (lehavdil) is irrelevant. From the Christian POV, "The Bible" is OT+NT, and the Jewish POV ignores most of it. Within either POV, basic ideas that are obvious to someone who studies "The Bible" (e.g. that Moses led the Israelites through the desert) should be fair game to state without citation as a basis for analyzing any other part of The Bible. ... –  Isaac Moses Oct 15 '13 at 16:20
... The problem is that there is a host of such ideas that are irrelevant (and largely anathema) from one POV and relevant (and largely central) from another. It seems difficult for these two fundamentally incompatible epistemologies to interact in the same SE forum devoted to the topic about whose definition they fundamentally differ. –  Isaac Moses Oct 15 '13 at 16:23

1 Answer 1

Disclosure: I'm not an authority on Judaism nor am I Jewish. Therefore, my answer is necessarily incomplete. I'm also an active participant on Biblical Hermeneutics and a moderator pro tempore there. Our FAQ actively solicits answers from a Jewish perspective. Also, I consider myself your friend. Therefore, my answer is hopelessly biased and "too localized". If you think it won't help other people, feel free to delete this answer.

Perhaps the best way to tackle the question is by analogy. My local newspaper has a Religion section. One of the ways the paper fills that space is by running an "In Theory" column which invites local religious leaders (including atheists) to answer questions prompted by current events. For instance, when the Federal budget was making headlines last summer, the paper asked: Does the budget need a dose of morals? The various pastors, rabbis, atheists, and imams decided whether or not to respond. Those that did wrote up answers for publication.

One rabbi who participates frequently in this column is Rabbi Simcha Backman of Chabad of Glendale, who also happens to be the director of AskMoses.com.

So I think another way to ask your question is:

Under what conditions may a Jew answer questions about the Bible in their local newspaper?

The parallel would be:

Stack Exchange Incorperated => a local newspaper
Biblical Hermeneutics       => a column that asks Bible questions of clergy

Even Christianity.SE has a formal policy of being a secular site, so Biblical Hermeneutics is even more of one. Stack Exchange is in the business of selling advertising and job listing in order to make a profit. Our sites, including Mi Yodeya, are a means to that end. We provide content that SEI uses to sell its product. This business model is so similar to a newspaper it's eerie.

I don't think the contributors to the "In Theory" column are paid. Rather, they contribute in order to see their name in print, sway public opinion, or to advertise their organization. We aren't paid either, but participate in order to get an endorphin rush when our reputation number goes up, learn something about a topic we are interested in, or because we meet like-minded people. The motivations seem about the same on both sides of the equation.

Since rabbis, such as Rabbi Backman, do participate in the column about current events, I would expect that it would be fine to answer questions about the Tanakh. Sometimes the questions are about "family matters" specific to Christianity. (Such as: Have Christians retreated from the world?) Even in these cases, at least one local rabbi regularly weighs in on such topics. So I have to assume that he sees no problem with what I think it an analogous situation.

Marit ayin

There is, however, a difference between the column in the newspaper and Biblical Hermeneutics.SE. In the paper (and the web version) each answer is clearly marked with a name, religious tradition, and organization. (The atheists tend to just use their city for the last item.) On Stack Exchange, we get a user name, reputation, and badge counts. If you meet certain criteria, your user card will be expanded if a reader happens to leave the pointer in the wrong place hover over your avatar. Unless you indicate your religious tradition in the answer or your profile's About Me field, there's no way to tell who you are. Further, there's no way to force other people to disclose their affiliation. Therefore the relationship between various answers and religious doctrine must be deciphered by the reader. Other interactions on the site (commenting, editing, chatting, voting to close, etc.), can also be misinterpreted in various ways.

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The analogy to the newspaper column is a good one in the large, but I'm not sure what conclusions can be drawn from it except that the question here may apply there too. (I would hesitate before assuming self-styled rabbis are following halacha (unfortunately).) I agree with you that self-identification on SE would tend to minimize suspicion that one is Christian, but, then again, I don't know whether that's much of a concern (halachically (whether people's thinking so is a problem) or practically (whether people will think so)) to start with. –  msh210 Feb 13 '13 at 23:31
I meant not that they may not be rabbis but that they may not be rabbis who care about the halachic tradition (see e.g., though there'll be a more on-target write-up somewhere). Re asking about the newspaper, it certainly wouldn't be unwise; its utility will depend on whether it gets answers. :-) –  msh210 Feb 14 '13 at 0:54
@Jon, I think your analogy is pretty apt. +1, and thanks for the disclaimer. I disagreed with but one word of it: "hopelessly". –  HodofHod Feb 14 '13 at 3:39
@JonEricson, point of interest - the rabbi I identified is the director of AskMoses.com (no relation :), an approved-expert-based Jewish Q&A site that's been doing great work for long while. In the very early days of this community, we had occasion to write about distinctions between this model of Q&A and that one. –  Isaac Moses Feb 14 '13 at 16:24
Thank you for this thoughtful and well-supported answer, and thanks @IsaacMoses for the additional info. That's a good analogy (which had never occurred to me; my newspaper doesn't do that). –  Monica Cellio Feb 14 '13 at 17:48

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