While this site is, in principle, solidly non-partisan in its religious affiliations, over time with a larger base of participation things have clearly gotten skewed a bit to the Christian side of things. Before any concrete actions can be taken to rectify this, I think it would be useful to actually identify what some of the barriers are.

Whether real (e.g. a conflict of faith convictions) or perceived (e.g. general impressions or hearsay online) or experiential (e.g. some current or past experience with this or another venue), I'd like to hear what sort of issues are or might be keeping folks with Jewish hermeneutics background from investing their time and expertise into this site.

the question should be: ..."more participation from more Jewish members" as I see the Jewish member(s) are already contributing high quality content. Quality is not the problem , Quantity is. –  Ali Jul 2 '13 at 8:17
A much more productive question--thanks for asking it Caleb! –  Ray Jul 2 '13 at 11:47
@Ali That's how I read the title: "more {quality participation}", a greater quantity of quality participation, not "{more quality} participation" (which I'd word as "higher-quality participation", myself). –  msh210 Jul 2 '13 at 15:30
I looked up the number of users on the Christianity site and the number of users on the Mi Yodeya site and your observation seems right. There are only two times the number of users on Christianity, so I would only expect double the amount of Christians on this site. Maybe the simple answer is as this 2:1 ratio is a natural neutral outcome, the 2 naturally gets a bit bigger as not all the 1's want to stick around as a natural minority. Maybe its unavoidable as people don't want to be a minority by choice. –  Mike Jul 3 '13 at 10:17
There are more Christians than Jews in the world. It may as well come to no surprise that there are more Christians than Jews on this website. –  Double U Jul 3 '13 at 17:00

6 Answers 6

I can't speak for others and why they may not participate in the site, but will give my own personal perspective for what it's worth. Although a Jew (with some education in Tanach) and a regular contributor over at Mi Yodeya (the Stack Exchange site about Judaism), I nonetheless do not contribute much on Biblical Hermeneutics. Here are my reasons, as well as I can pin them down (and not necessarily in order of significance):

  1. I do not ask questions here because, whenever (to date) I've sought biblical interpretation (or translation or the like), I was seeking Jewish-perspective interpretation. I can get that on Mi Yodeya or here, but will also get other perspectives' interpretation here (and few answerers will offer the Jewish perspective here), so I ask on Mi Yodeya. That the two sites' scopes overlap doesn't help either site.
  2. I do not answer questions here (except one to test the waters) because:
    1. I suspect most askers are seeking a Christian perspective. I know the site is, de jure, pan-denominational. De facto, though, most of the answers and questions are Christian in tone or about Christian scriptures. If someone wants a Jewish perspective, he can always ask on Mi Yodeya, and some good questions there have come from regulars of this site. I don't see the point in writing an answer the asker isn't seeking.
    2. Questions here have a low signal-to-noise ratio if one's signal is Tanach. Looking through the front page is a lost cause; instead, one would need to use tags. Sifting through tens of individual books' tags is of course not feasible. The tag exists, but has only twenty open questions, out of 1103 open questions total, or 1.8%. (Most Tanach questions are tagged only with individual books' tags; and many of those are also about the New Testament.) In short, it's hard to find a question to answer.
    3. Even once one finds a Tanach question, it sometimes appeals more to Christians, e.g. by quoting a Christian translation. Not that that makes it hard to answer, but it's a slight turn-off.
    4. I would need to include a good deal of explanation and context in any answer to make sure it's not misinterpreted. This is because most of the site's users have a Christian perspective and will likely read my answer from that perspective. (I am concerned about this because I have seen many occasions on which Christians have read Tanach from a Christian perspective, thereby misinterpreting it. Or what I would consider misinterpreting it, anyway. :-)) This is effort I don't necessarily wish to expend; and not doing it right can mean my words are misunderstood (which is unpleasant in any event) — and understood as supporting Christian doctrine (which is distasteful to me for religious reasons).
    5. I don't have a clear understanding of the meaning of the term "biblical hermeneutics" or the scope of this site. This has two results. First, I don't know whether an answer I offer will be on-topic. Second, note that according to an answer linked to from the Help Center, questions here "call[] for experts in [hermeneutics] to employ their knowledge and apply it to specific in-field problems". Because I'm not clear on what "biblical hermeneutics" or the site's scope is, I don't know that I fit the criterion of "expert" in it.
Thanks for taking the time to provide this feedback, this is really valuable. I hope at least some of these points will be things we can take steps to alleviate in the future, although some of them may simply continue to be the way things are. –  Caleb Jul 1 '13 at 22:56
@Caleb, I'm afraid there's a vicious circle here: many of the reasons I outline are caused in part by the non-participation of those with a Jewish perspective. –  msh210 Jul 1 '13 at 22:58

When Biblical Hermeneutics first went into beta, I popped in to take a look at what the buzz was about. While the Christian overtones are slightly off putting, it's not the reason I didn't join. As a Mi Yodeya user, this is why I have never participated.:

  • There is no question I could ask here, that I could not ask on Mi Yodeya, my main site. There is no answer here that would interest me, that I could not get on Mi Yodeya.
  • I don't really understand why this site exists. It seems to me, from my brief looks around, that 90+% of the questions here would be valid on Christianity or Mi Yodeya. Indeed, question #1 here on meta asks what this site adds that Christianity.SE does not. And the truth is, that none of the answers there seem to hit the mark very well. It seems to me, an outsider, that the only things that BH covers that the religion sites don't, are answers from a secular, linguistic, perspective. I'm not looking for those; why would I come here?

The distinctness of this site from the religion sites is non-obvious, so essentially, it boils down to this:
I don't understand what this site offers that would interest me.

(I'm not saying there isn't anything, but if there is, it's not readily apparent.)

The Christianity site is specifically about asking for questions about how particular established segments of Christianity view an issue. Personal interpretations are viewed as bad answers (doesn't stop me giving them though.) In contrast, I believe that this site encourages personal interpretations, just as long as they're well argued. –  curiousdannii Dec 9 '13 at 1:19
@curiousdannii If true, that still means that any question here would still be valid on Christianity.SE; it's only the answers here that are different (and even then, only that subgroup). Again, it boils down to what kind of answers I should come here to get, and what kind the community wants to get from me. In both of those cases, the answer seems to be "not Jewish ones." –  HodofHod Dec 9 '13 at 2:05
I don't think that has to be so. We can ask how the original audience would have understood a text, and then ask how contemporary audiences understand that text. There won't be single or correct answers for the second question. –  curiousdannii Dec 9 '13 at 3:06
@curiousdannii But why would that interest me? If I wanted to know how Jews understood/stand it historically, I'd ask on MY, if I wanted to understand how Christians understood/stand it, I'd ask on Christianity.SE. The only perspectives I'd have to come here for are secular ones, and according to you, Christians' personal interpretations. I'm just not really that interested in those. –  HodofHod Dec 9 '13 at 8:35
Other people may be interested in yours! –  curiousdannii Dec 9 '13 at 9:20
@curiousdannii Perhaps. But ultimately, if someone wants Jewish answers, they can already get them on Mi Yodeya; my participation is here is at best unnecessary, and at worst unwelcome or even wrong. –  HodofHod Dec 9 '13 at 17:24
@curiousdannii personal interpretations not backed by text and logic aren't really what we're looking for. (We don't care what you concluded through "inspiration" or the like.) It seems like a bunch of people are interested in getting Jewish answers here, but as potential providers of those, it's not clear what we get out of it. What about the site should draw those people in? Lots of people want stuff; why should we fulfill those particular wants? I'm not being hostile here; I'm asking you to think about why a random person should come here versus elsewhere. The web's a big place. –  Gone Quiet Dec 10 '13 at 0:10
Oh, no I didn't mean poorly argued personal interpretations are wanted here. –  curiousdannii Dec 10 '13 at 0:38

I'm making this a separate answer instead of editing my current one because it goes in a different direction. I still agree with everything in my other answer.


I came here, and stuck around, because of the promise in a site that is neutral, without a doctrinal basis. That would be an interesting site to participate in. We have a few people who write excellent questions and answers in that style1 -- but not enough. The site, like the general population, is dominated by Christians, too many of whom assert belief as Truth (and then get upset when you ask for a source). This has gotten worse in 2013.

Since most people here (and all moderators) agree with those basic assertions of truth (if not all the details), they don't see the problem even when someone objects. To them it's like saying that the sun rises in the morning. To people in this group, doctrinal assertions in posts add character and couldn't possibly do any harm.

I don't have a problem with Christians.2 I have a problem with Christian axioms -- or any other religion's axioms -- being treated as givens on a site that claims to welcome all. I thought we could keep that in check, but now I wonder. That Dan's very-reasonable request for politeness has been challenged is disturbing.

I came to teach and learn in a classroom. But people brought in an altar, crucifix, and communion wafers, and the custodians gave them directions.

Current status

I've just celebrated Rosh Hashana. The liturgy includes hearing the shofar, which is basically a wake-up call. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) wrote the following about this:

Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Rouse yourselves, you slumberers, out of your slumber! Examine your deeds, and turn to G-d in repentance. Remember your Creator, you who are caught up in the daily round, losing sight of eternal truth; you are wasting your years in vain pursuits that neither profit nor save. Look closely at yourselves; improve your ways and your deeds. Abandon your evil ways, your unworthy schemes, every one of you! (Hilchot Teshuva 3.4)

When I read that Thursday morning, "vain pursuits that neither profit nor save" jumped out at me. I've spent a lot of time on this site, and what has it gained me? I recently reviewed the questions I've participated in -- which aren't all the ones of Jewish interest, but they might be as many as half -- and asked myself what of this could move to Mi Yodeya if/when this site fails.3 I found almost nothing.4 Mostly the questions are too basic for Mi Yodeya. On Mi Yodeya I mostly ask questions; here I mostly answer them. That should have told me something.

Not only have I been teaching torah to those who already have a history of grossly distorting the Tanakh to their own ends,5 but I haven't even been helping any Jewish readers who might wander by. At best I've been helping a few open-minded people who are interested in text without doctrine, but I wonder if I would need two hands to count them.

The Rosh Hashana liturgy also contains the prayer Unetaneh Tokef, a powerful, frightening prayer that shines the harsh light of judgement on all of us. According to legend, it was written after Rabbi Amnon of Mainz gave the mistaken impression that he might consider conversion to Christianity, which would be a terrible transgression against God and the Jewish people. And while I, like Rabbi Amnon, would never6 consider giving up my Judaism for that or any other blasphemy or idolatry, I wonder if I, too, have given inadvertant support to those who are up to no good. This question will be one focus of my contemplation and teshuvah this season.

1 Dan, Frank, and Jon come to mind.

2 I've invited Christian friends to my Passover seder, for example, and been invited to some of their celebrations (including an ordination, which was fascinating). Respectfulness, not religion, is what matters.

3 Or merges into C.SE.

4 Maybe this one and this one, and there were a few that would have been ok but have already been asked.

5 Not everybody here of course, but enough to be worrying.

6 I almost never say "I would never X", because who really knows what the future will bring? But on this point I say it with confidence.

This is a lucid explanation that I find very helpful in understanding your perspective. Thank you and +1 from me. –  Jack Douglas Sep 8 '13 at 16:49
Nice post , teshuvah for participating in this site? –  Ali Sep 9 '13 at 4:57
A post is not teshuva. The examination that led to the post and the actions that follow from that examination might be. –  Gone Quiet Sep 13 '13 at 18:20
It seems some of the issues you have come up against relate directly (though from your Jewish perspective) to the validity issues I questioned about the site that we corresponded about some time ago. Interesting. –  ScottS Oct 3 '13 at 21:34

I'm a Jew who is active here, but it's challenging and often discouraging. I think I'm still here because (a) I was here early in the beta and (b) I'm stubborn. If I were first encountering the site today, I suspect I probably wouldn't stick around. I also feel that there are enough challenges that I can't, in good faith, encourage other Jews to come here. (I don't discourage them either.)

I hope what I'm about to write doesn't come across as too negative, but since the question asked what is hindering Jewish participation this is going to focus on problems, which may make it sound like all I do is complain. That's not my intention.


Christian site?

The site looks very Christian. The front page -- a visitor's first impression -- is usually mostly populated by Christian-book questions. There are Tanakh questions, more than a hundred in alone, but they're both an overall minority and a minority of active questions at any given time.

Further, even on the Tanakh questions, there are almost always more answers bringing a Christian perspective than ones based on the original context of the text. I understand that certain Christian hermeneutics call for seeing Jesus in the Tanakh and, from the perspective of those hermeneutics, Christian answers to these questions are valid. Knowing that, however, does not do anything to counter the "Christian site" impression, which can sometimes be a little squicky.

Some (sometimes, it seems, many) of the Christian answers cross the line from hermeneutics and exegesis into full-on doctrine. They assert Truth but don't -- and, often, can't -- support those claims. That is definitely off-putting; it runs counter to what we say this site is, but those answers come nonetheless. And get votes. And damage the site. I don't want to participate on C.SE Lite; I want to participate on Biblical Studies (nee BH).

There are some answers on this site (from a handful of users) that outright offend me because of misappropriation -- either they wildly re-interpret Tanakh texts for their own purposes or they claim to be using Jewish techniques when they're not (e.g. PaRDeS). A little truth in labeling would go a long way here.1

Look, we all have strongly-held beliefs; from my point of view certain people here are Wrong, perhaps heretics, and many of you certainly feel the same about me. That's to be expected, and is not a problem. But to me there's a difference between knowing that we all disagree on some fundamental tenets -- and leaving it at that -- versus having Christian assertions of Truth, assertions that are from my POV both wrong and offensive, rubbed in my face. I get enough offensive evangelism in my day-to-day life; I don't need that in my hobby.

I get that there is a chicken-and-egg problem here; to get Jewish perspectives you need users who are Jewish (or, if non-Jewish, interested in Jewish approaches), but to get those users you need content to draw them in. I don't know how we address that.

I have written (checks) 123 answers here to date, I suspect more than any other Jew. That feels pretty significant to me, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the 2300 answers currently on the site. So a visitor randomly browsing the site isn't going to encounter that many Jewish answers.

Little motivation to ask questions

I've asked relatively few questions. That's mainly because I have a place where I can get Jewish answers to my questions, and I'm not interested in Christian answers to my Tanakh questions. If I had questions about the Christian books I'd ask them here, if I didn't fear that they would be too basic (we're supposed to be aiming at experts). I'm not saying I'll never have such a question, but it's not a focus area for me. The questions I have asked here include:

  • several questions I tried on Mi Yodeya first (but didn't get answers)

  • questions about hermeneutic methods (which belong here and not elsewhere) or translation approaches

  • one public-service question to save a tag

  • one genuinely-original-to-this-site text-based history question; after almost two months I've gotten no answers (too hard? too boring?)

So my -- and presumably other Jews' -- contributions to the site will come largely in the form of answers, which does nothing to help the balance of questions on the front page.

As Isaac noted in a comment:

SE sites are meant to host and be sustained by communities of experts asking and answering each others' questions. If experts of a particular class see value in answering but not asking on an SE site, then I think it's unlikely that that site will sustainably cultivate a community that includes that class.

That seems to apply to me.

It's kind of lonely in here

My answers generally do ok here. As of this writing all are up-voted; that's pretty cool. I've got a fistful of Nice Answers (no Good ones yet). Almost all of my reputation comes from answers. Even so, I sometimes put a lot of effort into an answer to see few votes and almost no other feedback, and it makes me wonder if it was worth it -- especially when I see Christian-doctrine answers, which are poorer Stack Exchange answers because of their subjective content, get the same or more votes.

I am not whining about votes; I'm one of the top users, after all. I'm bringing this up because it reinforces the "loneliness" of being a Jew here, and sometimes that sense of loneliness makes me say "eh, not worth it" to a question that I would really have to work hard to answer.

I sometimes have the sense that there's a limit to the postiive feedback (votes, comments, etc) that Jewish answers can get here, and some days I wonder if I've hit it.

Other notes

A lot of what keeps me here, I suspect, is some key people -- people whose answers I almost always enjoy reading (even if they're heretics :-) ), people I have good conversations with in chat, people who are trying to make the site better, people I consider to be friends. That keeps me here (as long as it remains true), but it's probably not enough to draw someone in.

One other thing: I did not know the word "hermeneutic" before seeing this site show up. Seriously. Now it's true I'm not a theologian, an academic, a rabbi -- I'm just a regular person, one who enjoys learning and knows some things. That my answers do get positive reactions tells me I'm welcome here, but I don't know how clear it is to someone like me that his contributions would be welcome, if that makes sense.

1 I downvote these and sometimes vote to delete, which are options available to me as a high-rep user but not to a newcomer.

Good answer , but I feel that even the core monotheism axiom is being eclipsed on a site which claims to understand "Bible". Hence the least one can do is change the name to reflect the major community that contributes to the site. To a new user it seems all people are Christians here including you. You are only a valuable asset to this site which helps in getting high quality content in the interest of the Christian majority community(hence better propagation of false doctrines thanks to SEO). –  Ali Jul 2 '13 at 8:06
@Ali: I gotta ask, why do you spend so much of your time on Judaism and Christianity? –  Jon Ericson Jul 2 '13 at 9:07
@Ali: What's SEO? Just curious! –  rhetorician Jul 2 '13 at 19:15
@Monica Cellio: Had I known you are a rabbi . . .. Of the words I've written to which you responded . . . I wouldn't have changed a word! If there is room for an apology, it's that I wouldn't have criticized your use of lower case H and S when you wrote "holy spirit"! (And here I assumed you were a Christian! Again, an apology might be in order. No offense was intended, and I hope no offense was taken.) I encourage you to continue chiming in with your two cents' worth, and I will do the same, if only one-and-one-half-cent's worth, and "it's all good," as the young people say nowadays. –  rhetorician Jul 2 '13 at 19:34
By the way, it's time for me to look up the words Tanach and Mi Yodeya! –  rhetorician Jul 2 '13 at 19:40
@rhetorician, I'm not a rabbi (nor an academic). Sorry for the confusion! And no offense taken; we're all learning about the site and its users together. Tanakh = Hebrew bible (acronym for Torah, Nevi'im (prophets), K'tuvim (writings)). Mi Yodeya is the Stack Exchange site for Jewish questions and answers; visitors always welcome! –  Gone Quiet Jul 2 '13 at 19:41
Sorry for misreading your posting. You DID say "not." –  rhetorician Jul 2 '13 at 19:51
@rhetorician SEO means (search engine optimization) quality information can be now be easily recognized by search engines and quality content comes up first on results and also invites future contributors to a site like this. The quality metric are highly sophisticated yet cant judge between truth and falsehood , if falsehood is represented as good looking answers (lots of links, evidences etc) or co-allocated with other high quality content then that shows up in the top of the search results. –  Ali Jul 3 '13 at 2:19
@Ali: So you are saying Monica's answers are the only true ones on the site? Or are you saying that her answers are only valuable for raising the quality of our site? Because you've now implied both. In any case, I do not believe that your opinion matters even a small amount to her, judging by your previous uncivilized behavior on Mi Yodeya. –  Jon Ericson Jul 3 '13 at 4:14
SE sites are meant to host and be sustained by communities of experts asking and answering each others' questions. If experts of a particular class see value in answering but not asking on an SE site, then I think it's unlikely that that site will sustainably cultivate a community that includes that class. Something like this happened to the entire AI site, which failed to convince enough AI experts that they should ask questions there and hang around - fatal for a site that was built primarily for them. –  Isaac Moses Jul 3 '13 at 13:58
@JonEricson I think its a calumny to say my behavior was "uncivilized". I asked questions which many of the jewish members too found solid the only purposeful element in my question was an intention to disclose that I am coming from an Islamic perspective which is all about being sincerely disclosing your intentions. –  Ali Sep 9 '13 at 4:56

I've never participated because I've never felt I should. This site is not "solidly non-partisan in its religious affiliation." It is an overtly Christian site, and no minor Jewish participation is going to change that.

To the downvoters: asking for feedback from people you hope to attract and then downvoting their answers because you don't like the message seems...unhelpful. –  Gone Quiet Dec 9 '13 at 15:03

Hermeneutics questions are being asked and answered in Mi Yodeya

Many hermeneutics questions are being asked and answered in Mi Yodeya.

These ones seem like questions that could have been asked just as well in this site as in the other. I'm not saying that's a problem, just noting how it is. Considering that these questions are sometimes discouraged in the Christianity site, that might explain why Jewish members don't feel the need to come here compare to Christian members.

Why does Joshua's command to appoint representatives in the Jordan Crossing seem out of sequence?

How did names of foreign gods find their way into the Torah and Hebrew language?

What were Naomi's sins?

And maybe even this one: Yakkov living in Egypt 17 years - connection to 210 years of servitude (Numerology systems are certainly a way some people interpret the scriptures)

Each SE site is free to set there own scope without worring too much over overlapping with beta sites. In this case there is a major cultural difference in play and Christianity.SE's reason for avoiding interpretation questions has less to do with the existence of this site than it does that Christianity not having any multi sect doctrinal standards. This is an issue not shared by Judaism. –  Caleb Dec 9 '13 at 11:02
This is absolutely true, and noted by one of the other answers –  Jack Douglas Dec 9 '13 at 13:01
If Mi Yodeya didn't exist (chas v'shalom), I don't think many Yodeyans would bring those questions here instead. See the answers from msh210 and HodofHod in particular. –  Gone Quiet Dec 11 '13 at 17:38

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