The Sh'ma is a traditional Jewish prayer that in English is translated to, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One." It professes the central tenet of Jewish faith: there is only one god. This belief is what differentiated the Judaism from all of the other polytheistic religions in the days of old. Furthermore, it continues to differentiate Judaism from Christianity by stressing that there is only one god and as opposed to the three-in-one idea held by many Christian sects.

The Sh'ma is very widely used, and occasions upon which it is said include during prayer and at death.

by Primo Levi
You who live here secure
In your warm houses,
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labors in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or a name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.
Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

This poem, which is clearly an exhortation to remember the Holocaust, was written by Holocaust survivor Primo Levi. It's title comes from the Jewish prayer, the Sh'ma. This prayer is the first that most Jewish children learn. The words of the Sh'ma are:

Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad.

"Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One."

Later passages in this prayer instruct the Jew to "keep these words upon your heart", "teach them to your children", recite them "when you sit in your home and when you walk on your way", "when you lie down and when you arise".

In the Sh'ma, G-d says that if the Jews do not obey his commandments, He will turn His face from them and they will be driven from their land. In this poem, Primo Levi is saying that if the Jewish people do not remember the Holocaust, they will be destroyed.

The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai pointed out that "sh'ma" is a haiku!
Sh'ma Yisrael
Adonai eloheinu
Adonai ekhad.
The splitting into lines is excellent, and certainly in accordance with the text: it corresponds to the commas in lemuru's translation.

As Maayan mentioned above, the Shema is also prayer.

The Shema is one of the most important prayers that any Jew knows. Pretty much all Jewish children are taught the Shema from a young age.

Strictly speaking the Shema is not a prayer, as it is not addressed to God, but is instead addressed from God to us as people. The Shema (lit. "Hear") is a declaration of the basic tenets of Jewish faith. It is a covenant between man and God. We (Jews) are commanded to recite the Shema twice daily. For as it says within the prayer itself "and you shall speak of them... ...when you lie down, and when you rise up".

It is a measure of the centrality of the prayer to Jewish life that you can recite the Shema whatever position you are in. This is in comparison to others of the most important Jewish prayers, such as the Amidah, for which one is commanded to stand and to face Jerusalem. The Shema is considered to be so important that you should not waste time when coming to recite it and instead just recite it in the position that you are in at the time. Because of the importance of the Shema you will also often see Jews reciting it in times of crisis. There are several Talmudic tales about Rabbis who, while being killed by the Romans, died with the words of the Shema apon their lips and thus ensured their place in the life to come.

The Shema is structured into three paragraphs, each from different parts of the Old Testament. The first paragraph (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) deals with the Unity of God. It tells us of our duty to love him and and to teach our children about him and his commandments. We are told to dedicate ourselves to God through our heart, action, thoughts and senses.

The second parapgraph (Deuteronomy 11:13-21) promises the Children of Israel rain if they obey Gods commandments and warn of drought and exile if we foresake that which he has commanded us. The third paragraph (Numbers 15:37-41) tells the people Israel how to make Tzitzit with sky-blue thread to be attached to each of the corners of a four cornered garment "so that you shall remember to do all of my commandments and be holy to your God".

These there paragraphs can be pictured as follows:

There are two traditions which many people keep when saying the first paragraph. The first is that you cover your eyes as you say the first line, so that you can better focus on it and what it means. The second is that the second line is said silently. This is because the second line is not a direct quote from the bible, as the rest of the paragraph is.

The Shema

Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad.
Barukh Shem k'vod malkhuto l'olam va-ed
V-ahavta et Adonai Elohecha b-chol l'vavcha u-v-chol naf'sh'cha u-v-chol m'odecha.
V-hayu ha-d'varim ha-ayleh asher anochi m'tzav'cha ha-yom al l'vavecha.
V-shinantam l-vanecha, v-dibarta bam b-shivt'cha b-vaytecha, u-v-lecht'cha ba-derech, u-v-shachb'cha u-v-kumecha.
U-k'shartam l'ot al yadecha, v-hayu l-totafot bayn aynecha.
U-chtavtam al m'zuzot baytecha u-vi-sharecha.

Hear, O'Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

V-haya im shamoa tish'mu el mitzvotai asher anochi m'tzaveh etchem ha-yom, l-ahavah et Adonai Elohaychem, u-l-avdo b-chol l'vavchem u-v-chol nafsh'chem.
V-natati m'tar artzchem b-ito, yoreh u-malkosh; v-asafta d'ganecha, v-tirosh'cha v-yitzharecha.
V-natati aysev b-sad'cha li-b'hem'techa; v-achalta v-savata.
Hishamru lachem, pen yifteh l'vavchem, v-sartem va-avadtem elohim achayrim, v-hishtachavitem lahem.
V-charah af Adonai bachem, v-atzar et ha-shamayim v-lo yihyeh matar, v-ha-adama lo titayn et y'vulah; va-avadtem m'hayrah mayal ha-aretz ha-tovah asher Adonai notayn lachem.
V-sam'tem et d'varai ayleh al l'vavchem v-al naf'sh'chem; u-kshartem otam l-ot al yedchem, v-hayu ltotafot bayn aynaychem.
V-limadtem otam et b'naychem l-daber bam b-shivt'cha b-vaytecha, u-v-lecht'cha baderech, u-v-shachb'cha u-v-kumecha.
U-ch'tavtam al m'zuzot baytecha u-vi-sharecha.
L'ma'an yirbu y'maychem vi-y'may v'naychem al ha-adamah asher nishba Adonai la-avotaychem latayt lahem ki-y'may ha-shamayim al ha-aretz.

And it shall come to pass if you surely listen to the commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul,
That I will give rain to your land, the early and the late rains, that you may 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 you will be satisfied.
Beware, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn and serve other gods, and worship them.
And anger of the Lord will blaze against you, and he will close the heavens and there will not be rain, and the earth will not give you its fullness, and you will perish quickly from the good land that the Lord gives you.
So you shall put these, my words, on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them for signs on your hands, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
And you shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
In order to prolong your days and the days of your children on the land that the Lord promised your fathers that he would give them, as long as the days that the heavens are over the earth.

Vayomer Adonai el Mosheh laymor.
Daber el b'nay Yisrael v-amarta alayhem, v-asu lahem tzitzit al can'fay vi-g'dayhem l-dorotam, v-natnu al tzitzit ha-canaf p'til t'chaylet.
V-hayah lachem l-tzitzit, u-r'iytem oto u-z'chartem et kol mitzvot Adonai, va-asiytem otam v-lo taturu acharay l-vavchem v-acharay aynaychem, asher atem zonim acharaychem.
L'ma-an tiz'k'ru v-asitem et kol mitzvotai, vi-h'yiytem k'doshim laylohaychem.
Ani Adonai Elohaychem, asher hotzaytiy etchem mayeretz Mitzrayim, li-h'yot lahem laylohim. Ani Adonai Elohaychem.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying...
"Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, they should make themselves tzitzit (fringes) on the corners of their clothing throughout their generations, and give the tzitzit of each corner a thread of blue.
And they shall be tzitzit for you, and when you look at them you will remember all of the Lord's commandments and do them and not follow after your heart and after your eyes, which lead you astray.
In order to remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.
I am the Lord, your God, who lead you from the land of Egypt to be a god to you. I am the Lord, your God.

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