Extending the Table: Does Shabbat Dinner as a Spiritual Practice Increase Social Connectedness?
November 1, 2022 - October 31, 2025
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Director: Arielle LevitesInstitution: George Washington University
Shabbat dinner is a special food event that occurs 52 times a year, but there has been little empirical study of its contributions to flourishing. Jews have treasured Shabbat, and Shabbat dinner in particular, for its role in social cohesion and maintenance of a collective people. Shabbat is particularly reflective of the collectivist orientation to religious meaning in Judaism.
This project, directed by Arielle Levites at Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) at The George Washington University, co-directed by Adam Cohen at Arizona State University and Julianne Holt-Lunstad at Brigham Young University, will focus on social connectedness as a flourishing-related outcome of interest.
The project team has partnered with OneTable, a national non-profit that empowers people in their 20s and 30s “to find, share, and enjoy Shabbat dinners, making the most of their Friday nights.”
Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods to collect data from OneTable participants, the researchers will evaluate the hypothesis that the practice of Shabbat increases social connectedness at the relational, collective, and universal levels.
Three central components of Shabbat dinner practice are identified — gathering over food, shared reflection, and marking sacred time — and potential interaction effects between these components will be tested. The project hypothesizes that these effects on social connectedness at various levels are mediated by trust, belonging, interdependence, and meaning.
Key outputs from this proposed study include: a practitioner-oriented report, presentations at academic conferences, a public use data set and published measures, workshops for practitioner-leaders in American religious and civic life, and a media campaign. The project's outcomes are expected to increase academic and public understanding of the pathways by which Jewish tradition and practice support flourishing, as well as boosting social connectedness among American communities through increased uptake of Shabbat dinners.
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