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Ask the Rabbi is a term used on Jewish websites for responsa, known as Shut (Hebrew: שו"ת, literally Q&A), the traditional term for correspondence with rabbis, usually on a Halachic basis. This phrase is often used in casual conversation in Hebrew pop culture.
'ask the Rabbi' is an internet term for responsa: questions sent to Rabbis and the answers received. The term became widespread on Jewish websites in the early 2000s.
Jewish literature contains thousands of responsa books or Shut, which started during the time of the Geonim and are popular to this day. The questions range over many topics, mostly about Jewish law (Halacha), but also requests for an explanation of a Talumdic issue or Jewish thought. The answers may be short or long and very detailed. A large part from the correspondence is from rabbis, or from community leaders, sending an important question to a great rabbi. Naturally, the questions asked in the past did not demand an immediate and urgent answer.
Nowadays as, due to the internet, communication is fast and knowledge can be made public, there are several websites that feature rabbis answering questions received through the web site, by Email or by SMS. The questions are answered within a few days or, for urgent questions, within a few hours. The majority of online questions come from the general public, Jewish and non-Jewish, and cover many topics. Many questioners use the anonymity of the Internet for intimate questions they are embarrassed to ask face to face. This waf of answering is so popular, that some articles are based on them.
The option to ask questions about Judaism online was received enthusiastically by web users. However, there is some opposition to this phenomenon. The main criticism is around the replacement of old fashioned, face-to-face communication with a virtual medium and the "instant" answers received to the questions. Judaism teaches the importance of study and work in order to gain knowledge, and the ease of asking the Internet might promote laziness and degradation of the value of knowledge. Additional questions arise, such as whether to answer the specific questioner or to think about other users who will see the answer, whether to answer locally or in an extended way, and whether to answer any question?