Shema Yisrael (Shema Israel or Sh’ma Yisrael; Hebrew: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל; “Hear, O Israel”) is a Jewish prayer (known simply as the Shema) considered the essence of Judaism.
The first verse, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our GOD, the Lord is One” (Heb: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֶחָֽד׃) is found in Deuteronomy 6:4 also foundations of Christianity (Mark 12, 29-31) and Islam (Quran 112).
The first part can be translated either as “The LORD is our GOD,” and the second part either as “the LORD is One,” since Hebrew does not normally use a copula in the present tense, so translators must decide by deduction. The word used for “the Lord” is the tetragrammaton YHWH.
Observant Jews regard the Shema as the most important part of the prayer service in Judaism, and its recitation twice a day as a mitzvah (religious commandment). In addition, it is traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words, and for parents to teach their children to say it before going to bed at night.
The term Shema is used by extension to refer to the entire portion of the daily prayers that begins with Shema Yisrael and includes Deuteronomy 6, 4-9, 11, 13-21, and Numbers 15, 37-41. These sections of the Torah are read in the weekly Va’etchanan, Eikev, and Shlach portions of the Torah, respectively.
It is generally considered the most heartfelt prayer, perhaps along with the Kaddish. Its reading (Qiriat Shema) occurs twice a day, in the morning and evening prayers.
“Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our GOD, the LORD is One.
(Recite the following verse in an undertone:)
Blessed be the Name of His glorious Kingdom forever and ever.
You shall love the LORD your GOD with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.
(Longer version continue with:)
And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart.
You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise.
You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.
And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the LORD your GOD and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil.
And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them.
For then the LORD’s wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which the LORD gives you.
Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes.
You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates – so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to attach a thread of blue on the fringe of each corner.
They shall be to you as tzizit, and you shall look upon them and remember all the commandments of the LORD and fulfill them, and you will not follow after your heart and after your eyes by which you go astray – so that you may remember and fulfill all My commandments and be holy to your GOD.
I am the LORD your GOD who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your GOD; I, the LORD, am your GOD. Amen.
The Shema is one of the Old Testament sentences quoted in the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark 12, 29-31 mentions that Jesus the Nazarene considered the opening exhortation of the Shema to be the first of his two greatest Commandments and linked with a second (based on Leviticus 19, 18b): “The first of all the Commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The LORD is our GOD, the LORD is One: And thou shalt love the LORD thy GOD with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first Commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” In Luke 10, 25-27 the Shema is also linked with Leviticus 19, 18, only by the questioner, before Jesus’ agreement. The verses Deuteronomy 6, 5 and Leviticus 19, 18b both begin with ve’ahavta, “and you shall love.” In Luke’s Gospel it appears that this connection between the two verses was already part of cultural discussion or practice.
Theologians Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch noted that “the heart is mentioned first (in Deuteronomy 6, 5), as the seat of the emotions generally and of love in particular; then follows the soul (nephesh) as the centre of personality in man, to depict the love as pervading the entire self-consciousness; and to this is added, “with all the strength,” i.e. of body and soul”.
The Shema has also been incorporated in Christian liturgy, and is discussed in terms of the Trinity. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer in use in Canada since 1962, has included the Shema in its Summary of the Law. Since 2012, when the Anglican Use version of the BCP was adapted for use in Canada, it has been recited by Roman Catholics as well.
The Orthodox Church of the Culdees utilize the Shema in the Daily Services.
Arabic: قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ – Qul Huwa ‘Llāhu ʾAḥad (“Say, He is ALLAH [GOD] the One”)
Hebrew: :שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יהוה אֶחָד – Sh’ma Yisra’el YHWH ELOHEINU YHWH Eḥad
First part (VeAhavtà) Dt 6, 4-9
Recite: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength. And thou shalt put these words, which I command thee this day, into thy heart, and shalt teach them unto thy children, saying them when thou restest at home, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou sleepest, and when thou risest up. And you shall bind them to your arm, and use them as a separator between your eyes, and you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (of the cities).
Second part (VeHayà) Dt 11, 13-21
Recite: And it shall be, if you listen to My Commandments, which I give you this day, to love your GOD and to honor Him with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, (then) I will give you dew for your lands, spring and summer rain, so you will gather your grains your wine and your oil, and I will give grass for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. But beware of opening your hearts to turn to the worship of other gods, and of worshipping them, for (then) the wrath of GOD will be against you, and he will close the heavens, and there will be no dew, and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will pass away (be extinguished) quickly from the good land which GOD has given you. And (therefore) put these words in your heart and in your soul, and let them be as words on your hands and between your eyes, and teach them to your children, and speak them when you rest in your houses, when you walk in the street, when you fall asleep and when you rise, and write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your doors. Thus shall your days be multiplied, and the days of your children be multiplied in the land which God promised your fathers to give them, as long as the days of heaven on earth last.
Third part (VaYòmer) Num 15, 37-41
Recite: And GOD said to Moses: Tell the children of Israel to make bangs in the corners of their clothes from now on, and let there be a blue thread in each of these bangs. These shall be your zizzit, and looking at them you shall remember the divine precepts, and observe them, and not follow the (vices of)your heart and (the images of)your eyes, which cause you to deviate by following them. So you shall remember and observe all the precepts, and you shall be saints to your GOD. I am the LORD your GOD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your GOD; I am the LORD your GOD.
- “Judaism 101: Shema”. www.jewfaq.org
- Moberly, R. W. L. (1990). ““Yahweh is One”: The Translation of the Shema”. In Emerton, J. A. (ed.). Studies in the Pentateuch. Vetus Testamentum, Supplements. 41. Leiden: Brill Publishers. pp. 209–215. doi:10.1163/9789004275645_012. ISBN 978-90-04-27564-5.
- With all your heart: the Shema in Jewish worship, practice and life By Meir Levin, ISBN 1-56871-215-4, page 207-212