A new research project announced last week will study how Shabbat dinners can be used as a tool to build social connections, decrease feelings of loneliness and help humans flourish.

The initiative is supported by the Templeton World Charity Foundation and led by the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) at George Washington University in partnership with OneTable, a national nonprofit that helps young adults find and share Shabbat dinners with others.

CASJE’s Managing Director Arielle Levites is leading the research team. The team includes Dr. Julianne Holt-Lundstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University and a national expert on loneliness who advises the U.S. Surgeon General. Also participating is Dr. Adam Cohen, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University who studies how religions affect a person’s well-being.

“There’s a national epidemic of loneliness, there’s deep political divisiveness, there’s a real fraying of society and social connectedness,” said Levites. “Shabbat dinner, in particular, is often used by Jewish communities as a tool for fostering connection and community. Now we have an opportunity to use empirical data to test this hypothesis.”

“Social connection is a fundamental, universal human need,” she added. “By deepening our understanding of the Shabbat dinner experience and its potential effects, we hope to reveal new ways to promote connection among people.”

When the study is completed in three years, its findings will be shared with the public, particularly mental health and community-engagement organizations as well as leaders of interfaith and civic organizations.

The research project is also supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the BeWell Initiative at the Jewish Federations of North America.

Levites said, “There has been little research to date about the relationship between Jewish practice and flourishing; as such, this study fills a critical gap in the research literature.”

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