word of the verse, or chapter, recited as the confession
of the Jewish faith. Originally, the "Shema'" consisted
only of the one verse, Deut. vi. 4 (see Suk. 42a; Ber.
13b); the regular "Shema'" in the liturgy, however,
consists of three portions: Deut. vi. 4-9, xi. 13-21,
and Num. xv. 37-41. 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. The first of
the three portions of the "Shema'" contains the command
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, and to inscribe
them on the door-posts and on the city gates. The second
portion contains the promise of reward for the
fulfillment of the laws, and the threat of punishment
for their transgression, with a repetition of the
contents of the first portion. The third portion
contains the law concerning the ẓiẓit, 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.
The commandment to read the "Shema'", twice daily is
ascribed by Josephus to Moses ("Ant." iv. 8), and it has
always been regarded as a divine commandment (see,
however, Sifre, Deut. 31 [ed. Friedmann. p. 72b. note
The reading of
the "Shema'" morning, and evening is spoken of in the
Mishnah (Ber. i. 1-2) as a matter of course, and rests
upon the interpretation of
thou liest down, and when thou rises up"; Deut. vi. 7).
The school of Shammai takes it literally, saying that
the evening "Shema'" shall be read in a reclining or
resting posture, and that the morning "Shema'" shall be
read standing; the school of Hillel asserts that it
refers not to the posture, but to the times of reclining
and rising. The time for reading the evening "Shema'"
begins with twilight and ends four hours after,
according to R. Eliezer, or at midnight, according to
the "ḥakamim" (the majority of rabbis); or it lasts till
the rise of the morning star, according to R. Gamaliel (Ber.
i. 1-3). This difference of opinion, rests on the
interpretation of "lying down," as to whether it means
the regular or the latest hour of retiring, or the whole
time during which people usually sleep—that is, all
night. Similarly, the time of reading the morning "Shema'"
is fixed by the ḥakamim to begin at daybreak, when there
is sufficient light to distinguish between purple and
white, or to recognize a person, after a short
acquaintance, at a distance of four ells, and to last
until the sun's rays are seen. R. Joshua, however,
extends the time until three hours of daylight have
passed, because princes and men of leisure do not rise
till then (ib.). Queen Helen of Adiabene fixed a
gold candelabrum in front of the Temple, which reflected
the first rays of the sun and thus indicated the time of
reciting the "Shema'" (Yoma 37b).
Benedictions preceding and following the Shema'" (Ber. i.
4) are credited to the members of the Great Assembly.
They are of Essene origin (see Rapoport in his biography
of Ḳalir), and were first instituted in the Temple
liturgy (comp. Tamid v. 1). The composition of the "Shema'"
itself developed gradually. R. Judah b. Zabida, in
explaining why the portion regarding ẓiẓit was
incorporated, says that the Rabbis had proposed to add
the chapter of Balak (referring especially to Num.
xxiii. 18-24), but that they finally decided not to do
so, because they thought the "Shema'" already
sufficiently long, and they did not care to overburden
the congregation (Ber. 12b).
the Talmud, the reading of the "Shema'" morning and
evening fulfils the commandment "Thou shalt meditate
therein day and night" (Josh. i. 8; Men. 99b). 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. xxxiii.
4), and teach him to read the "Shema'" (Suk. 42a). The
reciting of the first verse of the "Shema'" is called
the acceptance of the yoke of the kingship of God" (Ber.
ii. 5). Judah ha-Nasi, being preoccupied with his
studies, put his hand over his eyes and repeated the
first verse in silence (Ber. 13a).
The response "Baruk
Shem" ("Praised be the name of His glorified kingdom
forever and ever") is ascribed to the patriarch Jacob by
R. Joshua b. Levi, who says: "Jacob, just before he
died, was about to reveal the 'end of days' to his
children, when the Shekinah suddenly turned away from
him. Jacob feared that perhaps some one of his children
was unworthy. But they all exclaimed, 'Hear, O Israel:
the Lord our God, the Lord is One,' by which they meant,
'In God we are all one'; whereuponJacob
responded, 'Baruk Shem'" (Pes.
56a; comp. Gen. R. xcviii.).
The first verse
of the "Shema'" is recited aloud, first by the ḥazzan
and then by the congregation, which responds with "Baruk
Shem" in silence. Only on Yom Kippur is this response
said aloud (comp. Zohar, Terumah, p. 133b). The
remainder of the "Shema'" is read in silence. This
custom was approved by R. Hai Gaon and R. Solomon b.
Adret (Moses b. Isaac Alashkar, Responsa, No. 10,
Sabbionetta, 1553); it is the Ashkenazic custom; but the
Sephardim recite aloud the whole of the "Shema'" except
the "Baruk Shem." Pronouncing the evening "Shema',"
however, is not obligatory, though it is meritorious.
The evening "Shema'" is based on the verse "Commune with
your own heart upon your bed" (Ps. iv. 4). R. Isaac
said: "Whoever reads the 'Shema'' on his couch is as one
that defends himself with a two-edged sword." "Let them
sing aloud upon their beds . . . a two-edged sword in
their hand" (Ps. cxlix. 5-6). Rabina said: "Though one
that is affrighted [in the night-time] sees nothing
himself, his star [guardian angel] sees the apparition;
his recourse is to read the 'Shema''" (Meg. 3a).
The Zohar, with
reference to Num. xxviii. 24, says, "One shall, before
lying down, sanctify the High Name with the 'Shema'
Yisrael'" (Zohar, Balaḳ, p. 211a). R. Simeon b. Yoḥai
said the "Shema'" preserves Israel from a foe. It was
the battle-cry of the priest in calling Israel to arms
against an enemy (Deut. xx. 3; Soṭah 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. R. Akiba patiently endured
while his flesh was being torn with iron combs, and died
reciting the "Shema'." He pronounced the last word of
the sentence, "Eḥad" (one) with his last breath (Ber.
61b). During every persecution and massacre, from the
time of the Inquisition to the slaughter of Kishinef, "Shema'
Yisrael" have been the last words on the lips of the
dying. "Shema' Yisrael" is the password by which one Jew
recognizes another in every part of the world. Eldad the
Danite, in describing the wars which his tribe had waged
with its Gentile neighbors, said that on the flag of the
tribe was inscribed the words "Shema' Yisrael" (Jellinek,
"B. H." iii. 9; A. Epstein, "Eldad ha-Dani," pp. 26, 27,
During the Shema on Yom
Kippur, the second line, Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuto
LeOlam V’aed, "Blessed is the Name of His Glorious
Kingdom for all eternity" is read aloud. Moshe
originally heard this line from the angels when he was
on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from G-d. Though
normally said quietly, on Yom Kippur it is said out
loud. Normally, we dare not utter angelic phrases
loudly, but on Yom Kippur, it is as if we are
spiritually raised to the level of angels and we say the
verse out loud.