Pacific Jewish Center | Rabbi

The Rabbi on the Beach @ The Shul on the Beach

Human Beings Are Social Beings

I have had my critiques of David Brooks from the NY Times.

But today,  I think he got it right. Really right. Like, 100% right.

He was asked about the “Big Three”. No, not GM, Ford, Chrysler. No, not Harvard, Yale, Princeton. Not, Clemenceau, Wilson, George either.

The new Big Three is Guns, Gays and Abortion.

Brooks was asked his opinion of why the trend in the country is towards Gay rights, the trend is to ignore Gun rights and the trend is against Abortion after the first trimester. In the “asker’s” opinion, there seems to be tension pulling these issues from opposite sides. One is trending “left”, one is trending “right”, and one is not trending at all.

What she really wants to know is why isn’t the left or right winning on all these issues? How come they are trending in three different directions.

Brooks answers very profoundly and eloquently. His basic premise is that Americans seek to maintain the social fabric of their existence.

Most Americans have gay friends, co-workers, relatives, neighbors etc. and therefore it preserves the social fabric of the American’s existence to provide rights for their gay acquaintances.

Guns is a rural vs. urban issue so it depends on where you live that you seek to preserve your social environment. Thus, there is little movement on this issue.

Finally, on abortion, he proclaims most Americans are torn by the issue. We are uncomfortable imposing any opinion on our fellow Americans because it is such a sensitive issue. Thus, most people fall in the middle and trend slightly to the left or the right but are not vocal about it. Therefore, change is not likely on the abortion issue.

Wow. Brooks really did a great job explaining how our country works. Really, he has explained how humans work. How our world works. We care about our social environments and we try to preserve them.

Truthfully, humans are social beings. This is what really separates man from beast. We interact in a more complex way than any other being in our world.

We consider any hominid existence prior to the establishment of a social environment such as cities as prehistoric. History begins when we begin to socialize our existence.

We continue socializing in our lives to this very day.

When we meet new people we are socializing.

When we have guests join us for a meal we are socializing.

When we use social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook and blogs we are socializing.

I believe that the synagogue is a social place. Certainly, our Shul on the Beach is a social place. Yes, we worship in shul, but that could technically be done solo.

We are mandated by Halacha to create and foster houses of worship and to attend them as a group to appeal to the social needs of man.

So come join us!

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4 Responses

  1. Tzvi Haber says:

    So basically people don’t like change in their social lives, (or any other aspect of their lives for that matter).
    In juxtaposing to Judaism – when Chazal say don’t be part of a Moshev Leitzim, don’t have ‘evil’ friends, etc. I take that to mean that yes, we know that socialization is an important part of human nature, and that should be utilized. We don’t go for seclusion and such, but make sure you do it right. If you can’t, go to the Maimonidean desert, and separate yourself from society.
    So where does that leave us as Orthodox Jews in a very multicolored society?

    • rabbifink says:

      Tzvi: Thanks for commenting.

      He is not saying that people don’t like change. He is saying that political / ethical / moral change come from our social environment. So if we are socially connected to a lot of people who are gay, we will not want to withhold rights from those people. So long as gay people were small in number / in the closet etc. it was not an issue that people connected with socially.

      It leaves Orthodox Judaism in the same place as everyone else. Your social environment will influence your way of thinking. Therefore, Halachic Judaism emphasizes many socially Jewish activities to maintain our social needs and remind us of our own values.

      I stress this to remind folks that living a Halachic lifestyle tends to our social needs and we should use them to our advantage. For example going to Shul and having guests on Shabbos is a great way of using our social needs within a Jewish framework.

  2. E. F. Shaar says:

    Have you clarified in what way we humans are morally superior to the socially networking bees in a beehive. Are we?

    And what about Jewish life? What is qualitatively better about the shul experience than the Facebook experience?

    • rabbifink says:

      I see you want to take this to the next level.

      Perhaps a future post will best address these issues.

      Standing on one foot, humans are morally superior purely because of our morality. Because we can choose to act outside our natural instinct we can control our animalistic tendencies. Bees cannot.

      As to your second point. The shul experience has built into the experience morally good behavior, prayer, liturgy, Torah learning and studying. Thus, it is intrinsically useful for personal growth. Add to that, the social mechanism of shul and you have a double winner. Facebook, while great for the social aspect is not intrinsically good morally.

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June 2009

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