I’ve never really felt the need to be a part of a group.
For example, I’m from the Boston area, which of course, means I’m supposed to be a Red Sox fan. Nominally, I’m a fan, but honestly, I don’t really care about baseball. The thought of going to a baseball game with thousands of drunk people doesn’t really appeal to me. I’d rather stay at home and read.
When I was in the Navy, I never drank the cool-aid about serving your country and all that. I also thought most of the rules were stupid and the organization was a big mess. The traditions were interesting in an abstract way, but I was very weary of becoming brainwashed.
Despite my aversion to joining groups, however, I recognize how valuable and necessary they are. Humans are social creatures and even people like myself feel the need to belong.
If you go to meetup.com you’ll find book clubs, sports and fitness groups, professional interest clubs, board game hangouts, and all sorts of weird little niche groups. The site is just a modern manifestation of people’s need to be with other people in an organized manner.
Unfortunately, only a small fraction of the groups you find on meetup.com will survive. Groups are fragile, especially, at the outset. They require a dedicated leader, a consistent membership, frequent opportunities to be together in a communal setting, a compelling and unifying mission, and systems and processes to keep the whole operation going.
It’s a daunting task, which makes any group that survives for an extended period of time all the more impressive. If my running club exists in another 100 years, you’ll know it is doing something right.
Judaism: The longest surviving Meetup group
Judaism is one of the oldest, surviving religions in the world. For this reason alone, I have to believe that the religion, even though it is thousands of years old, is still relevant to modern life.
Even though there are thousands of groups and organizations offered to modern man, none of them have supplanted the role of religious institutions.
This is fascinating.
What does religion offer that my running club can’t? Why do people feel the need to participate in archaic rituals that don’t make much sense today?
I’m sure sociologists have good answers to my questions, but I want to see what the learn about it first hand. I want to learn why Judaism is so successful at fostering a community and see if their tactics will work on me, a non-Jew.
How I’m going to do it
When I was researching Judaism, I was overwhelmed by the number of rituals the religion offers. Not just the number of rituals, but also the number of interpretations of these rituals that exist throughout the Jewish community.
I couldn’t possibly do all of them, but I did end up deciding on a few activities that I believe will give me insight into how Judaism forms communities.
A minyan is a group of at least ten men (or women in some cases) that gather together to perform various religious obligations, the most common of which is prayer. I found a synagogue not to far away from my work that holds a daily minyan prayer session in the morning. I’m going to attend these as often as possible.
Shabbat is the Jewish term for “day of rest.” It starts at sundown on Friday evening and ends at sundown on Saturday evening. The ritual includes attending a Shabbat service (similar to going to Church on Sunday), avoiding work (technically, there are 39 activities to avoid), and sharing a meal with friends and family (either dinner on Friday or lunch on Saturday).
I’m still figuring out how observant I want to be, but I will keep you posted.
Daf Yomi is loosely translated as “page of the day.” It’s a ritualized study of the Talmud, which is a compilation of commentary on passages of the Torah by Rabbis from different times in history. Think of it as commentary on a blog post (portions of the Torah) that spans thousands of years.
I’m not planning on observing the calendar, but I will choose one page of Talmud to study every day. Even more exciting, my girlfriend will study Talmud with me! She will be my “chavera,” which means “friend” in Hebrew.
It’s possible that the Judaism will remain completely inaccessible to me, but I hope that I will come away with at least a few lessons that we can take and apply to our own modern lives.