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Is praying in a group better than praying alone?

January 7th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

What does the Bible say about group prayer?
Is it more powerful than individual prayer?

∼ Kenda S.

Answer:

Dear Kenda,

You are asking a question that may be particularly apt for our times when technology allows us to access other people without having to leave our homes. Many church services are accessible online and you can easily bring church to you rather than going to a building.

Since we don’t use computers on Shabbat or holidays in  the Torah community that option isn’t available, but men are obligated to  pray three times every weekday and those prayers could be said individually. However, much importance is placed on praying with a ‘minyan,’ a quorum of ten men. Whether these prayers take place in a synagogue, office or home is less important than that ten men are present. In fact, certain prayers as well as the Torah reading that is done on Mondays and Thursdays, do not take place if there is no minyan.

This is a little like the idea of critical mass. You know how flat it feels going to a theater or a concert and there are only a handful of attendees amidst hundreds of empty seats?  Doesn’t feel good.  Similarly God has loads of empty seats waiting to be filled and the voices of a group of people together is far more powerful than the voice of the same number of individuals.  That is one reason citizens make their wishes known to politicians by a petition with many signatures rather than a lot of separate letters.

Many of us might argue that praying with devotion and passion by ourselves is better than mumbling words or sneaking peeks at our iPhones while with a group. That is a bit like the argument that children are better off with divorced parents than with parents who constantly scream at each other. Parents should work on relating respectfully to one another just as we should work on having  meaningful prayer in a group. Divorce or praying alone (we aren’t comparing the two, simply trying to make a point) might be necessary, but it certainly is far from the ideal. Every effort to solve the problem should be attempted rather viewing surrender as a solution.

While we cannot read God’s mind, of course, it is interesting that praying in a group forces human interaction and human relationships have been shown to be one of the most important features for both emotional and physical health. In fact numerous studies on heart health show that people who regularly attend worship services enjoy a distinct health advantage. This makes perfect sense to us.We would say that while prayer should frequently be on our lips whether we are alone or with others, it is highly important to find a group with whom to pray.

Prayerfully yours,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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