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Divrei Torah Category

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It's been previously suggested to create a Divrei Torah category. With Elul coming up I'm sure there's lots that the community has to share — should we create this forum in which people can do so?

The idea, if implemented, is to create a new category, alongside our current Q&A, Challenges, and Meta categories, in which community members could post their own novel Torah thoughts, or share Divrei Torah which they heard and felt should (and could!) be shared.

  1. What types of themes are acceptable to discuss? Should any topic considered in-scope for questions be in-scope for posing Divrei Torah?1
  2. In the previous discussion it was taken for granted that such a Category would be for Articles. Should this be the proper implementation of it, where people could post their own Divrei Torah as Articles, and people can respond in its comments? Or should it be written as a Question-type post, in which people have the option to write counter-Divrei Torah in the Answers to amicably respond to the original piece?
  3. Currently we have the Weekly Topic Challenge ongoing. Should this be extended that the Theme of the Week would encompass both Questions on the topic as well as Divrei Torah thereon?
  4. Should we include a rotation, on a volunteer basis, for people to submit Divrei Torah on the coming Parsha/Yom Tov?
  5. Any other suggestions on how the Category should be set up?
  1. Please note that the CYLOR policy would extend to Divrei Torah as well. Just like we don't accept questions asking for halachic advice, we would not accept posts constructed as platforms for their poster to spread their halachic advice. Discussing others' halachic opinions, however, would be entirely allowed, if the community agrees.

Why should this post be closed?

6 comments

If you would have such a category I would regulary contribute my own original divrai torah. Most divrai torah depend on a question, so that would not be a problem. I would also like to say some more things. I dont approve of the voting system, which means one can downvote anonymously a question or answer from an established sefer written by a rov. I consider this a chutspah. By all means give your own but dont denigrate others. Also I think some able people should have more than one vote. ‭interested‭ 2 months ago

@interested This is a community-based resource, and one of the core mechanisms that make it valuable is community-based peer review. If a writer takes on the awesome responsibility of transmitting words of Torah or rabbis, that author takes on the responsibility to do the job well, in a way that will be well-received by readers in the relevant context. Voting is a way we have of letting an author know that improvement is needed, to help fulfill that responsibility. ‭Isaac Moses‭ 2 months ago

@interested ... Anyone is welcome to take on the responsibility of transmitting Torah without such assistance by starting a personal blog. ‭Isaac Moses‭ 2 months ago

I cannot agree. Every author of a sefer does the job well and does not need us to ask him to improve it. I am not talking about todays authors but previous gedolai oilam which this site has the chutspa to downvote. If someone asks a question and I can prove it is also asked by well known godol in a sefer you have a chiyuv to stop it being downvoted. I have this on the other site. And I hope this site will have more yiras shomaim and kovod of gedolim. ‭interested‭ 2 months ago

@interested Essential to productive participation in a community like this is understanding the difference between criticizing a particular community-written post on the internet and criticizing authorities that are cited in such a post. If you don't agree that there's such a distinction, then this community is not a good place for you to share your knowledge, and I sincerely recommend publishing on a personal blog instead. ‭Isaac Moses‭ 2 months ago

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5 answers

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I think we should reserve this category explicitly for original writing by community members. Some people might be interested in republishing pieces that they've read elsewhere, but I see little value in our providing a forum for such republication. In addition, of course, such republication without license could constitute a violation of copyright or ethics.

Of course, citation and limited quotation of prior work, within reason, is often (perhaps always, when it comes to Torah!) a useful foundation for our own writing. I'm not suggesting we not do that.

Beyond not republishing others' writing, I think we should go so far as to emphasize original work in the writing we do present. That is, while it's certainly worthwhile, in an absolute sense, to simply teach what Rashi has to say about a particular verse, and there's certainly no copyright problem there, I don't think that our forum and community creates a great deal of value with that sort of simple re-transmission. Instead, I think we should try to host divrei Torah that present original work by our community members, such as a community member's own:

  • Novel analysis of issues or sources.
  • Novel application of an existing source to a new situation or context.
  • Novel integration of existing sources.
  • Translation of a classic source that isn't already available in English [online].

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Rereading this now, I'm not sure I agree with "Some people might be interested in republishing pieces that they've read elsewhere, but I see little value in our providing a forum for such republication." in all generality. What about posting a "wow!"-novel thought that I read in a book that almost no one has or is likely to come across? ‭msh210‭ 29 days ago

@msh210 I think that republishing someone else's work, in particular, is something we should especially avoid. In the last paragraph of this answer, I recommend emphasizing contributions that are more novel than "simple re-transmission," but not necessarily forbidding simple re-transmission of a great thought in one's own words. (1/2) ‭Isaac Moses‭ 28 days ago

@msh210 And many examples of the type of case you describe - "in a book that almost no one has or is likely to come across" - would be ripe for one of the categories of novel work that I explicitly encourage - "Translation of a classic source that isn't already available in English [online]." (2/2) ‭Isaac Moses‭ 28 days ago

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We need to think carefully about editorial standards and process. We don't want to become a platform for people to post crackpot ideas to the internet without restriction.

In Q&A, the structure imposes some inherent limitations on what people can post. Every question needs to be a clear and apparently-sincere request for information, every answer needs to be a clear response to the question, and there's always an opening for competing answers. Any post that doesn't meet the standards of the structure is subject to edit, closure, or deletion.

Single-author essays, by contrast, don't immediately lend themselves to that kind of discipline. There's no inherent structural requirement to accomplish a particular task (like asking or answering) clearly, and there's no potential for apples-to-apples competition for fitness (as there is with answers to a question).

So, we need some other mechanism for ensuring that we're not just creating a place for people to dump their writing, without quality control. I don't know exactly what mechanism to use. Here's some brain-storming:

  • Your #2, inviting response divrei Torah, introduces some potential for interplay, recapturing some of the benefit of competing answers.

  • We could say that any devar Torah that doesn't achieve above a specified threshold vote score by the time it reaches a specified age will be deleted, either automatically if we can get the feature added to the platform, or by mods. That would explicitly add community-based quality-control.

  • Combining these ideas even more strongly, we could invite divrei Torah only as answers to open-ended questions like "What's your devar Torah for Re'eh 5780?", and again, delete any answers that aren't above some threshold after some period. Here, each devar Torah is in direct competition with others on the same subject for both attention and votes. (Note that this idea can also be tied in very smoothly with weekly Challenges.) We could either restrict the posting of these questions to specific administrators, probably with a regular schedule, or we could let anyone post the questions and have some special requirements for their form (including open-endedness).

In conclusion, I think that some sort of explicit rules are necessary to impose structure and quality control on divrei Torah. However, I also think it's very important that whatever rules we come up with are concise, clear, and to the point, so that anyone can read them and start writing, without first going over the rules with an attorney and then making sure to apply a bunch of special, arcane formatting. Q&A has proven to be a great format for community building of Judaism knowledge; let's see what we can do to share some of its strengths with divrei Torah.

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I would suggest instead an idea getting deleted if it doesn't meet a certain positive threshold, it should be deleted if it falls below a certain negative threshold. ‭eliyahu‭ 2 months ago

I've found on Mi Yodeya that if I post something that's not timely it often doesn't get too many votes. This is often not a fault of the idea, its more that nobody is interested in it at the time but next time the Parsha rolls around they would be. People should be able to post on whatever Parsha they want without fear that it will be automatically deleted because people aren't looking at it now. Deleting if it gets a score of -3 or something is a much more reasonable idea. ‭eliyahu‭ 2 months ago

@eliyahu Good point. I purposefully didn't specify a particular threshold; it could be 0 or even (but not likely) a low-magnitude negative. How a deletion policy ought to work would depend on the posting policy. If only timely responses to particular prompts are invited, then it becomes more reasonable to set a higher threshold. Another consideration is that we don't necessarily want posts that just go up and fly under the radar, since that means that there's no community-based quality control. ‭Isaac Moses‭ 2 months ago

I think I prefer that there not be a time-based component, because it could be too limiting. We don't want only parsha commentary; something might arise from daf yomi, or a shiur you heard, or a new source you read, or a different parsha that you made a leap to from this week's, or... I'd prefer to think about quality metrics more and timing restrictions less. For visibility, new posts will be as visible as new meta posts (new-post indicator, hot list, can be featured). ‭Monica Cellio‭ 2 months ago

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Summary of Proposals

The consensus seems to be strongly in favor of pursuing this idea, so long as there's strong quality control in place as well. To summarize the idea thus far, and putting some placeholder numbers in for some values (denoted with italics):

  • All Divrei Torah will be original works, but cite appropriately.
  • Divrei Torah will be posted as articles. Feel free to post your own Dvar Torah as a response to someone else's, but ensure that their respective comments sections link to the relevant posts.
  • All posts will be given a three-day grace period (excluding Shabbos and Yom Tov), during which users can freely discuss the Dvar Torah with each other.
  • If after its three-day grade period a post has a Wilson score below 0.5 (i.e. more downvotes than upvotes), it will immediately be deleted.
  • All posts are subject to the same rules as the main Q&A regarding on-topicness, no giving practical halachic advice, etc.

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I like the idea of divrei torah prompting "response" divrei torah. If we make the original d'var torah a question and use answers for the responses, though, then where would responses to those responses go? (I think we should assume that will happen.)

I propose that divrei torah, with whatever restrictions we place on them, be articles, meaning they can have comments but not answers, and that we link them together where applicable. Related divrei torah will likely share tags so in that sense they're linked already, but they'll be mixed in with unrelated divrei torah and with questions on the same subject. (I'm assuming we want the divrei torah to come up in tag searches.) So tags are relevant but not the solution to this problem.

We haven't designed and built code for this yet, but maybe we could have a list of "related" links alongside any post and a way for community members (at some trust level?) to add bidirectional links between top-level posts. Until we have that, we could add links to "response" or related divrei torah manually; the category probably won't have so much activity that bumps from such edits would be problematic.

3 comments

These bidirectional links sound like the beginnings of a Wiki. ‭manassehkatz‭ about 1 month ago

@manassehkatz more like "and Rashi on this says..." and "here's the Ibn Ezra" and "Rav Hirsch says" and "see also this discussion in the g'mara over here" and such. To me, wiki pages should converge -- there should be a page explaining a concept -- while I'm proposing more of a distributed approach with good linking. ‭Monica Cellio‭ about 1 month ago

The style may be a bit different, but the technical structure is, I think, essentially the same: A bunch of posts with links between them. The difference with a Wiki that comes to mind is having an overall index that is more than "just a list of posts". But otherwise much the same. ‭manassehkatz‭ about 1 month ago

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On the question of quality control, I'm much more in favor of a passive approach over an active one. You might consider it l'havdil some form of "turn from evil" given priority over "do good," where rather than expecting high quality posts of users, we instead expect that they just not be spam.

Consider the following two policies (and remember that a post starts at 50% when it has no votes):

  1. "All posts at least one week old with a Wilson score less than 75% will be removed."
  2. "All posts which drop below a Wilson score of 40% will be removed."

My problem with #1 is in its demanding something of the user, almost a threat: you must satisfy this or else we don't want your post.

Contrast that with #2. The bar is much lower; even if everyone is completely apathetic toward your post, it's still welcome here. All we ask is that it not be so terrible that it receive an overwhelming negative response.

The other issue that needs to be balanced is the fact that a single downvote with no upvotes is equal to a score of 33%. Suppose we use my example number above, with 40%; that makes the following helpful™ table:

Downvotes Minimum upvotes to stay above 40% 1 1 2 1 3 2 4 3 5 3 6 4 7 5

I don't know about you, but I find it problematic that, especially at fewer downvotes, such a proportionally small amount of upvotes is sufficient to keep it above the threshold.

Now, one solution is just to increase the threshold even further. For the aforementioned reasons I strongly believe it should be set no higher than 50%, but the higher we set it, the more weight we give to downvotes.

Whatever system we implement, it needs to be sufficient to not give undue weight to neither upvotes' ability to keep a post open, nor downvotes' ability to remove it.

2 comments

I'd add a (short) time component before deleting -- give the author a chance to respond to criticism by fixing the post, but if not, proceed. ‭Monica Cellio‭ about 1 month ago

Whatever the rule is, it should not require consulting a lookup table to apply. It should make simple use of as few as possible readily-available metrics, such as Wilson score, upvotes, downvotes, and age. ‭Isaac Moses‭ 29 days ago

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