Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shiur Theatre: 21st Century Tefillah, Part 2

Here is Act Two. Where the first act made points promoting customization of davening, the second act responds by noting the importance of community in communal prayer. We might be overplaying the point, though.

NARRATOR: Act Two begins three weeks later, in the Camp Shul. (Join ADAM)

RABBI and ADAM are standing by the shulchan

RABBI: I don't know, Adam. I mean, this Contemporary Minyan thing… it feels separatist.

ADAM: We've been down that road, remember? Prayer helps a person talk with Gd, and to grow spiritually, in a way that makes him better. So what's the point of preserving Community Prayer, if there is no Prayer?

RABBI: Because I've come to think that the emphasis in Communal Prayer should be more on the Communal than the Prayer.

ADAM: Huh? Where does that idea come from? Of course the point is Prayer - doesn't the Talmud state that davening communally is good because Gd always hears the prayers of the community? It's about the prayer![1]

RABBI: That's not necessarily the main benefit. Communal prayer has always emphasized community. Look at the mishkan that the Jews traveled with in the wilderness; the site for talking with G-d was in the centre of the camp, the glue holding the tribes together. Or the Beit haMikdash, built on communal land owned by no single tribe, to be neutral ground on which everyone could unite.[2]

ADAM: So the community's Feng Shui is oriented around the shared place in which they daven. But that doesn't mean that communal prayer is designed to build community!

RABBI: Why not? Rambam even said that biblical rituals were designed to build community! He wrote that the purpose of עלייה לרגל, of the mitzvah of going to Yerushalayim for each holiday is to build community![3] Or look at the 40 loaves of bread brought with a korban todah, a thanks-offering, in the Beit haMikdash – the Netziv says that the Torah allows just one day to eat all 40 loaves, in order to make sure that it will turn into a community feast.[4]

ADAM: So you're telling me that the reason to daven together is community-building. Do you think that works?

RABBI: Sociologists at the University of Connecticut and Ben Gurion University in Israel think so; they've pointed out that praying in a group increases cooperation and trust among the members of the group.[5] They've found that religious men who attend shul daily are more cooperative and trusting with each other than any other group, including religious men who don't go to shul, religious women, secular men, and secular women.

ADAM: Huh? How did they prove that?

RABBI: It's a bit of a story, but for example, they did a study with 558 members from 18 kibbutzim in Israel: They paired up people, and gave each pair an envelope with 100 shekel to divide between the two of them. To make a long story short, the pairs of men who attended minyan together took less for themselves, and expressed greater trust in each other, than did any other group. The researchers even found that davening together created greater trust than eating together.

ADAM: They should come to our shul, and join the kiddush club; then they could daven and eat together – that will really build community!

RABBI: Yeah, yeah. Listen, there are other benefits besides trust, too. In a shul, davening in a large group brings the children who daven there into the community.[6] And it offers chances for people to give each other emotional support and to address communal needs.

ADAM: Communal needs? How?

RABBI: Think about it – We add elements like the Kel Malei and Yizkor for grieving, to give people the chance to cry together; that's what אב הרחמים was originally for, too, after the Crusades. We have the מי שברך for people who are sick, which raises awareness of people's needs. We recite יקום פורקן to encourage volunteerism by blessing the community's volunteers.

ADAM: Hah! That assumes the volunteers are actually back from the kiddush club in time for יקום פורקן, to hear it.

RABBI: That's two on the kiddush club; make another joke at their expense and you'll never act in this town again! But the practical aid is about more than prayers and emotional support - appeals for tzedakah have always been the norm in shul, and in older times they would announce Lost and Found and even help people find jobs in shul.[7]

ADAM: So you're claiming that this is what Gd had in mind – that tefillah b'tzibbur, communal davening, is really about community first, and davening second? You do realize that this idea encourages talking in shul, right?

RABBI: Yes, I-

JOSH enters; Rabbi stops speaking to look over at him

JOSH (agitated): Rabbi, Adam, you're not going to believe this. I just heard from some of the teens who go to the Contemporary Minyan.


JOSH: They don't find the Contemporary Minyan very contemporary; they want to break away and form an Alternative Contemporary Minyan.

ADAM: But what don't they like?

JOSH: For starters, they think the Waiters' idea of a berachah for the stock market is lame.

ADAM (sarcastic): Sure, until they want to draw on their trust funds!

RABBI: So what berachos do they want instead?

JOSH (counting on his fingers): They want one for the environment and global warming. And another for world peace – not just Jewish peace, but peace everywhere. And they want one for children in Africa, and they want one for the homeless-

RABBI (impressed): Well, it's good that they have such serious concerns. Maybe you're right – we should be encouraging the kids to take their davening so personally. If they want to talk to Gd about African children - I'm impressed!

JOSH: Um…. and they want one for keeping Justin Bieber out of jail.

RABBI: They may want growth, but I guess they're kids all the same…

[1] Berachos 6a, 7b-8a; Mishneh Torah Hilchot Tefillah 8:1; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 90:9
[2] Yoma 12a, and the Rambam rules this way
[3] Niddah 34a, Maharitz Chajes there; Moreh haNevuchim 3:34
[4] Haameik Davar Vayyikra 7
[5] Religious Ritual and Cooperation: Testing for a Relationship on Israeli Religious and Secular Kibbutzim (Current Anthropology 44:5 2003); Does it pay to pray? Costly Ritual and Cooperation, The Berkeley Electronic Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy 7:1 (2007) ; The Adaptive Value of Religious Ritual, American Scientist
[6] Prayer is a Positive Activity for Children, International Journal of Children’s Spirituality 10:3 Dec. 2005
[7] Succah 51b; and see the בית כנסת של טרסיים in Megilah 26a and Nazir 52a

No comments:

Post a Comment