Shema Yisrael (Hebrew: שמע ישראל) are the first two words of a section of the Hebrew Bible that is used as a centerpiece of all morning and evening Jewish prayer services and closely echoes the monotheistic message of Judaism. It is considered the most important prayer in Judaism
Originally, the Shema consisted only of the one verse: Deuteronomy 6:4 (see Talmud Sukkot 42a and Berachot 13b). The recitation of the Shema in the liturgy, however, consists of three portions: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41. These three portions relate to the central issues of Jewish belief.
Additionally, the Talmud points out that subtle references to the Ten Commandments can be found in the three portions. As the Ten Commandments were removed from daily prayer in the Mishnaic period, the Shema is seen as an opportunity to commemorate the Ten Commandments.
שמע ישראל אדני אלהינו אדני אחד
"Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad."
The first portion relates to the issue of the kingship of God. The first verse, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord," has ever been regarded as the confession of belief in the One God. It should be noted that there is more than one way of translating the text of the "Shema," including:
"Listen, Israel! YHWH is our God! YHWH is One!" and
"Listen, Israel! The LORD is our God - the LORD alone."
Many commentaries have been written about the subtle differences between the translations. As can be seen, there is in the above examples an emphasis on the one-ness of God, on the one hand, and emphasis on the sole worship of God by Israel, on the other. There are other translations as well, though most retain one or the other emphasis.
The following verses (commonly referred to by the first word of the verse immediately following the Shema as the "V'ahavta", meaning "And you shall love...") contain the commands to love God with heart, soul, and might; to remember all commandments and instruct the children therein; to recite the words of God when retiring or rising; to bind those words "on the arm and the head" (a reference to tefillin), and to inscribe them on the door-posts and on the city gates (a reference to mezuzah).
The passage following the "Shema" and "V'ahavta" relates to the issue of reward and punishment. It contains the promise of reward for the fulfilment of the laws, and the threat of punishment for their transgression, with a repetition of the contents of the first portion.
The third portion relates to the issue of redemption. Specifically, it contains the law concerning the tzitzit as a reminder that all the laws of God are to be obeyed, as a warning against following the evil inclinations of the heart, and, finally, in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt. For the prophets and Rabbis, the exodus from Egypt is paradigmatic of Jewish faith that God will redeem them from all forms of foreign domination.
The commandment to recite the Shema, twice daily is ascribed by Josephus to Moses ("Antiquities" 6:8), and it has always been regarded as a divine commandment (see, however, Sifre, Deut. 31.)
The reading of the Shema morning, and evening is spoken of in the Mishnah as a matter of course, and rests upon the interpretation of ("when thou liest down, and when thou risest up"; Deut. 6:7, see Talmud tractate Berachot 2a).
The Benedictions preceding and following the Shema are traditionally credited to the members of the Great Assembly. They were first instituted in the Temple liturgy.
According to the Talmud, the reading of the Shema morning and evening fulfils the commandment "You shall meditate therein day and night". As soon as a child begins to speak his father is directed to teach him the verse "Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob" (Deut. 33:4), and teach him to read the "Shema'" (Talmud, Sukkot 42a). The reciting of the first verse of the Shema is called the acceptance of the yoke of the kingship of God" (Mishnah Berachot 2:5). Judah ha-Nasi, being preoccupied with his studies, put his hand over his eyes and repeated the first verse in silence (Talmud Berachot 13a).
The first verse of the Shema is recited aloud, simultaneously by the hazzan and the congregation, which responds with the rabbinically instituted "Baruch Shem" in silence before continuing the rest of Shema. Only on Yom Kippur is this response said aloud. The remainder of the Shema is read in silence. Sephardim recite the whole of the Shema aloud, except the "Baruch Shem".
Night time Shema
Before bedtime, the first paragraph of the Shema is recited. This is not a Biblically instituted commandment, but is derived from the verse "Commune with your own heart upon your bed" (Psalms 4:4).
The Shema was the battle-cry of the priest in calling Israel to arms against an enemy (Deuteronomy 20:3; Talmud Sotah 42a). It is the last word of the dying in his confession of faith. It was on the lips of those who suffered and were tortured for the sake of the Law.
Rabbi Akiva patiently endured while his flesh was being torn with iron combs, and died reciting the Shema. He pronounced the last word of the sentence, "Echad" (one) with his last breath (Talmud Berachot 61b).
Quote in New Testament
Shema is one of the sentences that are quoted in the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark 12:29 mentions that Jesus considered the Shema the beginning exhortation of the first of his two greatest commandments: 'And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, "Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord."' (KJV).
Shahadah, the Islamic affirmation of monotheism and the prophethood of Muhammed
Allahu Akbar, the traditional Islamic battle cry and dying words
Last updated: 05-07-2005 14:34:05
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04