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What should be our Modesty Policy?

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Judaism Codidact is founded on being a site where people can turn to learn more about Judaism. While our heritage has what to say on intimate themes, it also emphasizes the importance of modesty.

While the prophet declares that the world only exists for the sake of procreation (Isaiah 45:18 with Gittin 41b.1 et. al.), his contemporary holds up modesty as being one of the foundations of the Torah (Micah 6:8 with Makkos 24a.25-26). At the same time that Rav Kahana declares regarding matters of intimacy that "it is Torah and I need to learn" (Berachos 62a.3), Rav Chanan bar Rava states that "Everyone knows why a bride enters under the wedding canopy, but whoever defiles his mouth, even a decree for seventy years of good is reversed upon him for bad" (Shabbos 33a.9).

How do we balance the need for modesty with the desire to learn?

  1. Mi Yodeya's policy is to outright ban any questions dealing with intimate themes in the name of modesty.
  2. Another option might be to allow any explicit themes, but all such questions need to be marked as such (i.e. preface the question title with something like [NSFW]) and avoid any explicit language in the question titles.
  3. Allow these types of questions, but require euphemistic or clinical language (perhaps in combination with #2).
  4. Perhaps a different solution.

Whichever solution you propose, consider that:

  • As young as 13-year-olds are allowed to participate by the ToS, and especially in our culture may not have been exposed to this type of material before.

  • Last week I posted this feature request on the main Meta for an NSFW filter. If that is implemented it may allow some more leeway for how such questions would be handled here.

  • Some questions may themselves be innocent enough and can trivially be formulated to avoid any references to explicit themes; however they may also invite answers which deal with such themes more explicitly. So one thing you might want to address in your answer is whether such questions should be subject to whatever stringencies you propose (if any) to pre-empt any answers over the line.

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6 comments

(How) are these topics addressed in yeshivot when teaching teenagers? (I'm not saying that's what we should do, but it seems like that could inform what we do and I have no personal experience to draw on.) Monica Cellio‭ 6 months ago

I think that since Judaism has a lot to say about intimate matters, there is no way that a subject will be banned, however, a proper language should be kept Alaychem‭ 6 months ago

"may not have been exposed to this type of material before" - Do you take your kid out when reading parashat Kedoshim on shabbat? Alaychem‭ 6 months ago

@Alaychem I'm not married yet, much less have kids old enough to be in shul. When I was little I couldn't understand the parsha, and when I was older I took "to uncover [his/her] nakedness" at its literal translation of undressing them. It wasn't until well into high school that I properly understood the intention of those pesukim. What was your experience as a child during those parshios, and if you have kids how do/did you handle the issue? DonielF‭ 6 months ago

Another consideration is the pool of potential answerers on these questions would be significantly smaller and skewed away from Rabbi (on the ad hoc Rabbi-Troublemaker continuum). There's little reason to expect full or balanced answers to these questions in this format. AA ‭ 5 months ago

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1 answer

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Allow them, but require clinical (or at least euphemistic) language.

Allow them: These topics are as important as any others in halacha and rabbinic tradition, and anyway people will naturally encounter them in learning (or just hearing the weekly torah readings!) and will naturally have questions arising from that learning.

But require clinical language: Clinical language emphasizes the educational aspect over the prurient. Some non-clinical language used in broader culture is demeaning to some, and we should do better. I strongly suspect that if we allow slang or crude language we will drive away people who would have otherwise productively participated as members of our community. And one who is mature enough to be studying these topics can use, or learn to use,1 clinical language while doing so.

Or at least euphemistic language: Clinical language is usually more clear, which is why we should generally prefer it, but if it's clear what's meant, euphemism is fine too. People will have different views of what's clear, so edits to clarify euphemism should be welcomed just like other edits to improve posts. Sometimes the clarity (or lack of it) comes more from context than from actual word choice, so people should use their best judgement and be flexible.

  1. From edits, for example.

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7 comments

While codidact is (like Mi Yodeya) not a substitute for a personal Rabbi, the reality is that these are often topics that people are often uncomfortable discussing with their Rabbi. Providing at least a research tool so that people only have to ask specific questions to their rabbi instead of having to go to their rabbi for background material can be a very useful thing. manassehkatz‭ 6 months ago

This standard says that all questions in this domain are allowed, provided that they use the right language. So, that could include questions that are very explicit, albeit in technical language, such as "Is it permissible for ____ to bring ____ into contact with ____'s _____ for the purpose of _____?" Is that correct? Isaac Moses‭ 6 months ago

@IsaacMoses that's what I meant, yes. I am open to the possibility that there are subject areas that should be excluded and that, for those that are permitted, we would require certain language. (I just can't think of any that should be excluded no matter how they're asked and that would otherwise be on-topic -- probably a failure of imagination on my part.) Monica Cellio‭ 6 months ago

The key is the often-used phrase "good intent". Someone can ask using the same basic (even euphemistic) language a question in the nature of trying to actually understand history, Halacha, etc. or someone can ask a similar question (which is why keyword filters are nearly useless here, as in spam filtering and many other domains as well) simply to get people worked up and/or to be anything but modest, etc. Context and implied intent are key. manassehkatz‭ 6 months ago

@manassehkatz Are you proposing that our rule here include a filter for inferred intent? If so, I think that's distinct from this answer and deserves an answer of its own. At Mi Yodeya, I've seen multiple cases that my gut told me were in your latter category but that were written in technical-enough language that it would be very difficult to justify taking them down based on any clear style rule. Isaac Moses‭ 6 months ago

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