The first line of the Shema,
"Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God,
the Lord is One" (Shema Yisrael Adonai
eloheinu Adonai ehad) (Deuteronomy 6:4) is repeated throughout the prayer services.
It is said in the morning blessings, in the musaf Amidah of Shabbat and holidays,
when the Torah is taken out of the Ark on
Shabbat and holidays, as a bedtime prayer,
as part of the deathbed confessional, and
at various other times.
The commandment of saying Shema is fulfilled
by reciting it in the shacharit and maariv services. The Shema should be said more audibly that the Amidah. Since
the Shema reaffirms the basic tenets of Jewish faith, it is important
to hear clearly what one is saying. The Shema may be said while
standing or sitting. The Jews of Israel used to stand to show the Shema's
importance and to demonstrate that saying Shema is an act of
testifying in God (testimony in a Jewish court is always given while
standing). In the ninth century, the Karaite sect used the practice of standing to claim that only the Shema passages of the Torah were of divine origin, so Jewish leaders stopped
standing. Today, some Reform and Conservative congregations
stand out of respect for the Shema. Orthodox congregations sit because the passages are from the Torah so it is as if a person is studying Torah when he or she recites them,
and sitting is the position for study.
It is customary for worshipers wearing a tallit to hold the four fringes in the left hand while reciting the Shema.
In the third paragraph of the Shema, when the word "tzitzit"
is said three times and when the word "emet" is said
at the end, it is customary to kiss the fringes as a sign of affection
for the commandments.
When a person is praying alone, he begins the Shema with the phrase "God, Faithful King" (El melekh ne'eman)
to bring the number of words in the Shema up to 248, the number
of parts in the human body. This indicates that the worshiper dedicates
his or her whole body to serving God. With a minyan, the chazzan repeats the end of the Shema so this phrase is unnecessary.
Jewish law requires a greater measure of concentration
on the first verse of the Shema than on the rest of the prayer.
People commonly close their eyes or cover them with the palm of their
hand while reciting it to eliminate every distraction and help them
concentrate on the meaning of the words. The final word, echad,
should be prolonged and emphasized. Often, the last letter of the first
and last words of the Shema verse are written in larger print
in the siddur. This is because these letters form the word "ed,"
witness, and remind Jews of their duty to serve as witnesses to God's
sovereignty by leading exemplary lives.
The next line of the Shema originated in the
ancient Temple service.
When the priests recited
the first verse of the Shema during the service each morning,
the people gathered in the Temple would respond "Blessed is the
name of His Glorious Majesty forever and ever" (Barukh shem
kvod malkhuto l'olam va-ed). This line became incorporated as the
second line of the daily Shema. To indicate that it is not part
of the Biblical passage of the Shema, it is said quietly, except
for on Yom Kippur when
it is recited out loud.
The three paragraphs of
the Shema, comprised of biblical verses,
were also said in the daily Temple service. The first paragraph is the continuation
of the Shema verse, from Deuteronomy 6:5-9, starting with the word "v'ahavta."
This paragraph deals with the acceptance of
Divine rule. This section consists of an affirmation
of belief in God's unity and in His sovereignty
over the world, an unconditional love of God,
and a commitment to the study of His teachings.
It emphasizes the religious duties to love
God, to teach Torah to one's children, to
talk of Torah at every possible time, to put
and to place mezuzot on the doorpost of one's home.
The second passage is from Deuteronomy 11:13-21, beginning with the word "v'haya."
It declares the Jews' acceptance of the commandments
and their undertaking to carry out the commandments
as evidence of their loyalty to God. It talks
of the fundamental principle in Jewish belief
of reward and punishment that is based on
the fulfillment of God's commandments.
The third paragraph is from Numbers 15:37-41, beginning with the word "vayomer."
It deals with the commandment of wearing tzitzit,
which remind the wearer of God's commandments.
It mentions the exodus from Egypt, which Jews
are obligated to refer to each day. The last
word of the Shema, "emet"
(truth) is actually part of the next blessing
and is not part of the Biblical passage. It
is said as part of the Shema so that
one can declare, "Hashem, your God, is
true" (Adonai eloheichem emet).
In Reform prayer books, the second paragraph of the Shema is often omitted
because the doctrine of retribution is different in the Reform movement.
The third paragraph is also left out because Reform Jews do not accept
the commandment regarding fringes.
Reform prayer books do include the end of this third section, from Numbers 15:40.