Shema as a Love Story


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The three paragraphs of the Shema can be interpreted allegorically by connecting each of the three paragraphs to a different stage of a growing, loving relationship.

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Starting from the insight of the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides that the language of the first paragraph of the Shema is best understood through the near-universal experience of falling in love, the author sees the remaining two paragraphs as the love that follows "falling in love."

"What is the love of God that is appropriate? It is to love God with an exceedingly strong love until one's soul is tied to the love of God. One should be in a continuous rapture, like a person who is 'lovesick,' whose thoughts cannot turn from his love for a particular woman. He is preoccupied with her at all times, whether he is sitting or standing, whether he is eating or drinking. Even more intense should the love of God be in the hearts of those who love him, possessing them always as we are commanded 'with all your heart and with all your soul' (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is what Solomon expressed allegorically 'for I am sick with love' (Song of Songs 2:5), and indeed, the entire Song of Songs is a parable for this concept."—Maimonides, Laws of Repentance, 10:3

Although Maimonides adapts the language of the first paragraph of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-8), known as v'ahavta--תבהאו, "and you shall love"--he is clearly echoing the language of the first paragraph. "When you sit in your house, when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up" (6:7).

When one falls in love, this is what it is like. The object of one's love is all there is; the love and the relationship create a complete unity of experience. A person in love wants to shout out "Do you hear! I am in love! This is the one!" That's not too far from "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one!" When one falls in love, one wants to learn everything about that person ("and you shall speak of them"), the conversations last all day and even through the night ("when you lie down and when you rise up").

Sometimes people exchange personal items--it used to be a sweater or a pin or a handkerchief--which they keep with them in order to be tied to that person even when outside of the beloved's physical presence. This, of course, recalls the tefillin, the leather boxes and straps that are worn each morning during prayers, but which, in earlier times, were worn by some pious Jews all day long. And photographs serve like mezuzot, the physical reminders of God with the words of the Shema, inside boxes placed on doorposts. When one first discovers God, when authentic spirituality is experienced, one is entirely enraptured by it, as one is when one first falls in love.

After one falls in love, a relationship moves into a more serious mode. The initial rapture of infatuation moves toward learning about each other, really listening to each other, creating rules for the relationship, including general ones (such as, "Don't have this kind of relationship with anyone else") and specific ones (such as, "Don't talk about my nose"). As long as the rules are observed, the relationship flourishes. When the rules are not observed, the ties that connect seem less bountiful, the relationship withers and falls apart.

Similarly, the second paragraph of the Shema (Deuteronomy 11:13-22) begins "If you will truly listen/understand/obey (ועמשת עמש םא) my mitzvot" and focuses on the need to pay attention in order to understand the "rules" of the human-divine relationship. Then the Shema presents the following condition: If you observe the commandments, God will send rain in the appropriate season; the fields will produce plenty of wine, grain, and oil; and you will eat and be satisfied. If you don't observe the commandments, the rain will stop, the land will dry up, and you will starve.

The Bible was written for people who understood the cycle of rain. The rain literally and figuratively connects heaven and earth. The mitzvot are the commands that tie Israel to God and God to Israel. When they are observed, the relationship with God grows and produces fruit. When the mitzvot are ignored, the relationship withers away. The paragraph concludes with a view to the future. "[Do these things] so that your days upon the land be multiplied." As this stage in a relationship matures, the couple begins to think about the long-term implications of their relationship.

The ultimate stage in this loving relationship is marriage and the declaration that the relationship will last. The marriage is marked by the use of a public sign and reminder, a wedding ring. The ring reminds the wearer of the marital covenant and is a sign to onlookers that the person is part of an eternal relationship. This is most crucial in avoiding "wandering hearts and eyes" through which a person prostitutes the relationship. In rabbinic terminology, the marital relationship is called kiddushin (sanctification) to indicate that the two are sanctified to each other .

In the final paragraph of the Shema (Numbers 15:37-41), Israel is commanded to make tzitzit (fringes) upon the corners of their garments as public signs and as reminders. The reference to the corner of the garment (kanaf)recalls the use of the language in the book of Ruth, where to come under the corner of one's garment symbolizes the commitment to marry (Ruth 3:9). Nowadays, we take the tzitzit in our hand when reciting the Shema and kiss them. The tzitzit are designed to be public signs and also personal reminders "that you not go scouting-around after your heart, after your eyes which you go whoring after" (15:39, following Everett Fox's translation). Do all of this, the Torah enjoins, "in order that you remember and do all of the commandments and thereby be sanctified (kedoshim) to your God" -- םכיהלאל םישדק םתייהו (15:40).

Maimonides asks "What is the love that is appropriate for God?" His response is to love God as if you are falling in love, only more so. But humans don't love that intensely all of the time. Judaism is not just for the moments of spiritual ecstasy or radical religious insight. Judaism is about Israel loving God for the long-term, and as the Shema teaches, that means learning the rules and making a long-term and public commitment.

Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.

Hebrew Calendar

Jewish Calendar
Lu'ach Iv'ri (in Hebrew)

Level: Basic

• Based on moon cycles instead of sun cycles
• "Leap months" are added to sync up with sun cycles
• Used to be calculated by observation
• Calculated mathematically since 4th century
• Years are numbered from Creation

A few years ago, I was in a synagogue, and I overheard one man ask another, "When is Chanukkah this year?" The other man smiled slyly and replied, "Same as always: the 25th of Kislev." This humorous comment makes an important point: the date of Jewish holidays does not change from year to year. Holidays are celebrated on the same day of the Jewish calendar every year, but the Jewish year is not the same length as a solar year on the civil calendar used by most of the western world, so the date shifts on the civil calendar.

Background and History

The Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical phenomena: the rotation of the Earth about its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon about the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth about the sun (a year). These three phenomena are independent of each other, so there is no direct correlation between them. On average, the moon revolves around the Earth in about 29½ days. The Earth revolves around the sun in about 365¼ days, that is, about 12.4 lunar months.

The civil calendar used by most of the world has abandoned any correlation between the moon cycles and the month, arbitrarily setting the length of months to 28, 30 or 31 days.

The Jewish calendar, however, coordinates all three of these astronomical phenomena. Months are either 29 or 30 days, corresponding to the 29½-day lunar cycle. Years are either 12 or 13 months, corresponding to the 12.4 month solar cycle.

The lunar month on the Jewish calendar begins when the first sliver of moon becomes visible after the dark of the moon. In ancient times, the new months used to be determined by observation. When people observed the new moon, they would notify the Sanhedrin. When the Sanhedrin heard testimony from two independent, reliable eyewitnesses that the new moon occurred on a certain date, they would declare the rosh chodesh (first of the month) and send out messengers to tell people when the month began.

The problem with strictly lunar calendars is that there are approximately 12.4 lunar months in every solar year, so a 12-month lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than a solar year and a 13-month lunar is about 19 longer than a solar year. The months drift around the seasons on such a calendar: on a 12-month lunar calendar, the month of Nissan, which is supposed to occur in the Spring, would occur 11 days earlier in the season each year, eventually occurring in the Winter, the Fall, the Summer, and then the Spring again. On a 13-month lunar calendar, the same thing would happen in the other direction, and faster.

To compensate for this drift, the Jewish calendar uses a 12-month lunar calendar with an extra month occasionally added. The month of Nissan occurs 11 days earlier each year for two or three years, and then jumps forward 30 days, balancing out the drift. In ancient times, this month was added by observation: the Sanhedrin observed the conditions of the weather, the crops and the livestock, and if these were not sufficiently advanced to be considered "spring," then the Sanhedrin inserted an additional month into the calendar to make sure that Pesach (Passover) would occur in the spring (it is, after all, referred to in the Torah as Chag he-Aviv, the Festival of Spring!).

A year with 13 months is referred to in Hebrew as Shanah Me'uberet (pronounced shah-NAH meh-oo-BEH-reht), literally: a pregnant year. In English, we commonly call it a leap year. The additional month is known as Adar I, Adar Rishon (first Adar) or Adar Alef (the Hebrew letter Alef being the numeral "1" in Hebrew). The extra month is inserted before the regular month of Adar (known in such years as Adar II, Adar Sheini or Adar Beit). Note that Adar II is the "real" Adar, the one in which Purim is celebrated, the one in which yahrzeits for Adar are observed, the one in which a 13-year-old born in Adar becomes a Bar Mitzvah. Adar I is the "extra" Adar.

In the fourth century, Hillel II established a fixed calendar based on mathematical and astronomical calculations. This calendar, still in use, standardized the length of months and the addition of months over the course of a 19 year cycle, so that the lunar calendar realigns with the solar years. Adar I is added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the cycle. The current cycle began in Jewish year 5758 (the year that began October 2, 1997). If you are musically inclined, you may find it helpful to remember this pattern of leap years by reference to the major scale: for each whole step there are two regular years and a leap year; for each half-step there is one regular year and a leap year. This is easier to understand when you examine the keyboard illustration below and see how it relates to the leap years above.

Keyboard illustrating pattern of leap years

In addition, Yom Kippur should not fall adjacent to Shabbat, because this would cause difficulties in coordinating the fast with Shabbat, and Hoshanah Rabbah should not fall on Saturday because it would interfere with the holiday's observances. A day is added to the month of Cheshvan or subtracted from the month of Kislev of the previous year to prevent these things from happening. This process is sometimes referred to as "fixing" Rosh Hashanah. If you are interested in the details of how these calculations are performed, see The Jewish Calendar: A Closer Look.

Numbering of Jewish Years

The year number on the Jewish calendar represents the number of years since creation, calculated by adding up the ages of people in the Bible back to the time of creation. However, this does not necessarily mean that the universe has existed for only 5700 years as we understand years. Many Orthodox Jews will readily acknowledge that the first six "days" of creation are not necessarily 24-hour days (indeed, a 24-hour day would be meaningless until the creation of the sun on the fourth "day"). For a fascinating (albeit somewhat defensive) article by a nuclear physicist showing how Einstein's Theory of Relativity sheds light on the correspondence between the Torah's age of the universe and the age ascertained by science, see The Age of the Universe.

Jews do not generally use the words "A.D." and "B.C." to refer to the years on the civil calendar. "A.D." means "the year of our L-rd," and we do not believe Jesus is the L-rd. Instead, we use the abbreviations C.E. (Common or Christian Era) and B.C.E. (Before the Common Era), which are commonly used by scholars today.

Months of the Jewish Year

The "first month" of the Jewish calendar is the month of Nissan, in the spring, when Passover occurs. However, the Jewish New Year is in Tishri, the seventh month, and that is when the year number is increased. This concept of different starting points for a year is not as strange as it might seem at first glance. The American "new year" starts in January, but the new "school year" starts in September, and many businesses have "fiscal years" that start at various times of the year. Similarly, the Jewish calendar has different starting points for different purposes.

The names of the months of the Jewish calendar were adopted during the time of Ezra, after the return from the Babylonian exile. The names are actually Babylonian month names, brought back to Israel by the returning exiles. Note that most of the Bible refers to months by number, not by name.

The Jewish calendar has the following months:

Hebrew English Number Length Civil Equivalent
Nissan (in Hebrew)  Nissan 1 30 days March-April
Iyar (in Hebrew)  Iyar 2 29 days April-May
Sivan (in Hebrew)  Sivan 3 30 days May-June
Tammuz (in Hebrew)  Tammuz 4 29 days June-July
Av (in Hebrew)  Av 5 30 days July-August
Elul (in Hebrew)  Elul 6 29 days August-September
Tishri (in Hebrew)  Tishri 7 30 days September-October
Cheshvan (in Hebrew)  Cheshvan 8 29 or 30 days October-November
Kislev (in Hebrew)  Kislev 9 30 or 29 days November-December
Tevet (in Hebrew)  Tevet 10 29 days December-January
Shevat (in Hebrew)  Shevat 11 30 days January-February
Adar I (in Hebrew) Adar I (leap years only) 12 30 days February-March
Adar (in Hebrew)
Adar II (in Hebrew)
(called Adar Beit in leap years)
(13 in leap years)
29 days February-March

The length of Cheshvan and Kislev are determined by complex calculations involving the time of day of the full moon of the following year's Tishri and the day of the week that Tishri would occur in the following year. After many years of blissful ignorance, I finally sat down and worked out the mathematics involved, and I have added a page on The Jewish Calendar: A Closer Look, which may be of interest to those who want a deeper understanding or who want to write a Jewish calendar computer program. For the rest of us, there are plenty of easily accessible computer programs that will calculate the Jewish calendar for more than a millennium to come. I have provided some links below.

Note that the number of days between Nissan and Tishri is always the same. Because of this, the time from the first major festival (Passover in Nissan) to the last major festival (Sukkot in Tishri) is always the same.

Days of the Jewish Week

Other than Shabbat, the name of the seventh day of the week, the Jewish calendar doesn't have names for the days of the week. The days of the week are simply known as first day, second day, third day, etc. Sometimes they are referred to more fully as First Day of the Sabbath, etc. Below is a list for those who are interested.




Yom Rishon First Day (Sunday)

Yom Sheini Second Day (Monday)

Yom Shlishi Third Day (Tuesday)

Yom R'vi'i Fourth Day (Wednesday)

Yom Chamishi Fifth Day (Thursday)

Yom Shishi Sixth Day (Friday)

Yom Shabbat Sabbath Day (Saturday)

Links to Jewish Calendars

I maintain a current Jewish calendar on this website. Unlike most Jewish calendars you will see, my calendar shows the Hebrew months with the corresponding civil dates.

Most printed Jewish calendars cover a 16-month period: from September of one year (to include Rosh Hashanah) to December of the following year. Be aware, however, that some show only the 12-month period from September to August, and some that claim to have the full 16-month period show only limited information about September to December of the latter year. They show the civil months with Jewish holidays, Torah readings, candle-lighting times and so forth. I am particularly partial to the London Jewish Museum calendar, which has illustrations of Jewish artwork from the middle ages to the 1800s, but there are many Jewish calendars available on Click here to check their catalog.

If you would like to look up the date of a Jewish holiday, from the Gregorian (civil) year 1 to the Gregorian year 9999, try I don't know how accurate this is (especially given that during the earlier dates, months were determined by observation), but I haven't caught any mistakes in it yet. Of course, the earlier Gregorian dates are artificial, since the Gregorian calendar did not exist until the 16th century and was not accepted in many parts of the world until much later (they used the less accurate Julian calendar). There is also a very nice, quick and easy converter to and from Hebrew dates on Chabad's website.

If you would like to make your own computerized Jewish calendar, my page on The Jewish Calendar: A Closer Look explains in detail how the calendar works and provides illustrative


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Tzitzis Shot.JPG

The tzitzit of one corner of a tallit

Halakhic sources*
Texts in Jewish law relating to this article:
Bible: Numbers 15:38
and Deuteronomy 22:12
Babylonian Talmud: Menachot 39-42
Mishneh Torah: Ahavah (Love): Tzitzit
Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chayim 8-25
* Not meant as a definitive ruling. Some observances may be rabbinical, or customs, or Torah based.

Tzitzit or tzitzis (Hebrew: Biblical ציצת Modern ציצית) are "fringes" or "tassels" worn by observant Jews on the corners of four-cornered garments, including the tallit (prayer shawl) and tallit katan. Since they are considered by Orthodox tradition to be a time-bound commandment, they are worn only by men; Masorti (Conservative) Judaism agrees that the commandment is time-bound but regards women as exempt from wearing tzitzit, not as prohibited.



[edit] Origin and practice

The Torah states in Numbers 15:38: "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner fringe a blue (tekhelet) thread."

Wearing the tzitzit (plural: tzitzyot) is also commanded in Deuteronomy 22:12, which says: "You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself."

Tzitzyot are attached today only to Jewish religious garments, such as a tallit gadol ("large prayer shawl"). This is because today's clothes do not have four corners, and thus the fringes are not necessary. Traditional Jewish men wear a tallit katan ("small prayer shawl") constantly in order to fulfill this commandment at their own volition, and some consider it a transgression to miss a commandment that one has the ability to fulfill. The tallit katan is also commonly referred to as "tzitzit," though this name technically refers to each of the fringes only.

Various reasons are given for the commandment. The Torah itself states: "So that you will remember to do the commandments". In addition, it serves as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt (Numbers 15:40). The Talmud equates its observance with that of all the mitzvot. Rambam (Comm. Pirkei Avot 2:1) includes it as a major mitzvah along with brit milah ("circumcision") and the korban pesah ("Paschal lamb").

[edit] Threads and knots

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The fringe (tzitzit) on each corner is made of four strands, each of which is made of eight fine threads (known as kaful shemoneh). The four strands are passed through a hole (or according to some: two holes) 1-2 inches (25 to 50 mm) away from the corner of the cloth. There are numerous customs as to how to tie the fringe. The Talmud explains that the Bible requires an upper knot (kesher elyon) and one wrapping of three winds (hulya). The Talmud enjoined that between 7 to 13 hulyot be tied, and that "one must start and end with the color of the garment." As for the making of knots in between the hulyot, the Talmud is inconclusive, and as such poskim ("decisors of Jewish law") have varyingly interpreted this requirement.[1] The Talmud described tying assuming the use of tekhelet dye, however, following the loss of the source of the dye, various customs of tying were introduced to compensate for the lack of this primary element.

Though many methods exist, the one that gained the widest acceptance can be described as follows:

The four strands of the tzitzit are passed through holes near the four corners of the garment (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 11:9-11,15) that are farthest apart (10:1). Four tzitzyot are passed through each hole (11:12-13), and the two groups of four ends are double-knotted to each other at the edge of the garment near the hole (11:14,15). One of the tzitzit is made longer than the others (11:4); the long end of that one is wound around the other seven ends and double-knotted; this is done repeatedly so as to make a total of five double knots separated by four sections of winding, with a total length of at least four inches, leaving free-hanging ends that are twice that long (11:14).[2]

Before tying begins, a Hebrew blessing is said (it's more of a "declaration of intent"): L'Shem Mitzvat Tzitzit ("for the sake of the commandment of tzitzit").

Blue and white tzitzit knotted in the Sephardi style, the all white is Ashkenazi. Note the difference between the 7-8-11-13 scheme and uninterrupted windings (between the knots) on the Ashkenazi, vs. the 10-5-6-5 scheme and ridged winding on the Sfaradhi tzitzit.

The two sets of stands are knotted together twice, and then the shamash (a longer strand) is wound around the remaining seven strands a number of times (see below). The two sets are then knotted again twice. This procedure is repeated three times, such that there are a total of five knots, the four intervening spaces being taken up by windings numbering 7-8-11-13, respectively. The total number of winds comes to 39, which is the same number of winds if one were to tie according to the Talmud's instruction of 13 hulyot of 3 winds each. Furthermore, the number 39 is found to be significant in that it is the gematria (numerical equivalent) of the words: "The Lord is One" Deuteronomy 6:4). Others, especially Sephardi Jews, use 10-5-6-5 as the number of windings, a combination that represents directly the spelling of the Tetragrammaton (one of God's names).

Rashi, a prominent Jewish commentator, bases the number of knots on a gematria: the word tzitzit (in its Mishnaic spelling) has the value 600. Each tassel has eight threads (when doubled over) and five sets of knots, totalling 13. The sum of all numbers is 613, traditionally the number of mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah. This reflects the concept that donning a garment with tzitzyot reminds its wearer of all Torah commandments.

Nachmanides disagrees with Rashi, pointing out that the Biblical spelling of the word tzitzit has only one yod rather than two, thus adding up to the total number of 603 rather than 613. He points out that in the Biblical quote "you shall see it and remember them", the singular form "it" can refer only to the "p'til" ("thread") of tekhelet. The tekhelet strand serves this purpose, explains the Talmud, for the blue color of tekhelet resembles the ocean, which in turn resembles the sky, which in turn is said to resemble God's holy throne - thus reminding all of the divine mission to fulfill His commandments.

[edit] Color of the strings

[edit] Tekhelet

Main article: Tekhelet
A set of tzitzit with blue tekhelet thread

Tekhelet (תכלת) is color dye which the Hebrew Bible commands the Jews to use for one, two, or four of the eight half-strings hanging down. At some point in Jewish history, the source of the dye was lost and since then, Jews have worn plain white tzitzyot without any dyes. Tekhelet, which appears 48 times in the Tanakh - translated by the Septuagint as iakinthinos (Greek: ὑακίνθινος, blue) - is a specific blue dye produced from a creature referred to as a chilazon, other blue dyes being unacceptable (Tosefta). Some explain the black stripes found on many traditional prayer shawls as representing the loss of this dye.

Where tekhelet is used, only one thread in each fringe is dyed with it, the rest being left white or self-coloured. The dyed thread is always made of wool, regardless of the material of the garment or the other threads.

[edit] The other threads

The other threads in the tzitzit (all the threads, where tekhelet is not used) are described as "white". This may be interpreted either literally (by Rama) or as meaning the same colour as the main garment (Rambam). Normally, the garment itself is white so that the divergence does not arise.

Similarly the threads may be made either of wool or of the same fabric as the garment; again many authorities recommend using a woollen garment so that all views are satisfied.

[edit] Karaite tzitzit

A karaite pair of tzitzit

Karaites wear tzitzyot with blue threads in them. In contrast to Rabbinic Judaism, they believe that the tekhelet (the "blue"), does not refer to a specific dye. The traditions of Rabbinic Judaism used in the knotting of the tzitzit are not followed, so the appearance of Karaite tzitzit can be quite different from that of Rabbanite tzitzit. Contrary to some claims, Karaites do not hang tzitzit on their walls.

[edit] Rainbow (multi-colored) tzitzit

A pair of rainbow colored tzitzit

Rainbow tzitzit are tzitzit with multi-colored strings. There are many opinions in the Halakha as to what color the strings of the tzitzit should be. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 9:5) records a view requiring that the garment and Tzitzit be the same color, and recommends abiding by this stringency. The Mishna Berura explains that the reason for this is either to beautify the mitzvah, or because the tzitzit must be similar to the garment. The Rama (ad loc) says that the minhag of Ashkenazim is not to wear colored tzitzit, and that one should abide by that minhag. [3] Some people around the world have started wearing rainbow-colored tzitzit, but the validity of using colored strings (aside from tekhelet)is very questionable because colors may only be used if the garment is the color of the strings.

[edit] In archaeology and secular scholarship

Some archaeologists and non-traditional secular Biblical scholars speculate as to the source of the tradition. According to the modern documentary hypothesis, the reference to tzitzit in Numbers comes from the Priestly Code, while that from Deuteronomy comes from the Deuteronomic Code and hence they date to around the late 8th century BCE and late 7th century BCE respectively, some time after the practice began to be in use[4]. The custom however, clearly predates these codes, and was not limited to Israel; images of the custom have been found on several ancient Near East inscriptions in contexts suggesting that it was practiced across the Near East[5]. Some scholars believe that the practice among ancients originated due to the wearing of animal skins, which have legs at each corner, and that later fabrics symbolized the presence of such legs, first by the use of amulets, and later by tzitzit[6].

[edit] References

[edit] External links

  • - A group that promotes the Razyner Rebbe's view that the lost hillazon to be the common cuttlefish
  • Beged Ivri- A society which studies ancient Israeli customs takes on Ptil Tekhelet.
Comparison of all three methods

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Shema Yisrael

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Shema Yisrael (or Sh'ma Yisroel or just Shema) (Hebrew: שמע ישראל‎; "Hear, [O] Israel") are the first two words of a section of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) that is a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services. The first verse encapsulates the monotheistic essence of Judaism: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one," found in Deuteronomy 6:4.

Observant Jews consider the Shema to be the most important prayer in Judaism, and its twice-daily recitation as a mitzvah (religious commandment). It is traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words.

The term "Shema" is used by extension to refer to the whole part of the daily prayers that commences with Shema Yisrael and comprises Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37–41. These are in the weekly Torah portions: VaEtchannan, Eikev, and Shlach respectively.



[edit] History

Originally, the Shema consisted only of 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. The three portions relate to 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.

Notice that the two larger-print letters in the first sentence ('ayin ע and daleth ד) spell "עד" which in Hebrew means "witness". The idea thus conveyed is that through the recitation or proclamation of the Shema' one is a living witness testifying to the truth of its message. Modern Kabbalistic schools, namely that of the Ari, teach that when one recites the last letter of the word 'echadh' (אחד), meaning "one", he/she is to 'intend that he is ready to "die into God".

[edit] Content

[edit] Shema Yisrael

The first paragraph of the Shema seen in a Torah scroll

The first, pivotal, words of the Shema are:

שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד - Shema Yisrael YHWH Eloheinu YHWH Echad

Rabbinic Judaism teaches that the Tetragrammaton (י-ה-ו-ה) is the ineffable name of God, and as such is not read aloud in the Shema but is traditionally replaced with אדני, Adonai ("Lord"). For this reason, the Shema is recited aloud as:

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad - Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One

The literal word meanings are roughly as follows:

Shemalisten, or hear & do (according to the Targum, accept)
Yisrael — Israel, in the sense of the people or congregation of Israel
Adonai — often translated as "Lord", it is read in place of the Tetragrammaton
Eloheinuour God, the word "El" or "Eloh" signifying God (see also: Elohim), and the plural possessive determiner suffix "-nu" or "-enu" signifying "our"
Echad — the Hebrew word for the number 1

In common with other ancient languages, connective words such as "is", and conventions regarding punctuation, are usually implied rather than stated as they would be in modern English.

This first verse of the Shema relates to 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. Due to the ambiguities of the Hebrew language there are multiple ways of translating the Shema:

"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God! The LORD is One!" and,
"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God — the LORD alone."

Many commentaries have been written about the subtle differences between the translations. There is an emphasis on the oneness of God and on the sole worship of God by Israel. There are other translations, though most retain one or the other emphases.

[edit] V'ahavta

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 all one's heart, soul, and might; to remember all commandments and "teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit down and when you walk, when you lie down and when you rise" (Deut 6:7); to recite the words of God when retiring or rising; to bind those words "on thy arm and thy head" (interpreted as tefillin), and to inscribe them on the door-posts of your house and on your gates (referring to mezuzah).

[edit] V'haya im shamoa

The passage following the "Shema" and "V'ahavta" relates to the issue of reward and punishment. It contains the promise of reward for serving God with all one's heart, soul, and might (Deut 11:13) and for the fulfillment of the laws. It also contains punishment for transgression. It also contains a repetition of the contents of the first portion -but this time spoken to the second person plural, (Where as the first portion is directed to the individual Jew, this time it is directed to the whole community, all the Jews).

[edit] Vayomer

The third portion relates to the issue of redemption. Specifically, it contains the law concerning the tzitzit as a reminder that all laws of God are obeyed, as a warning against following evil inclinations and in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt. For the prophets and rabbis, the exodus from Egypt is paradigmatic of Jewish faith that God redeems from all forms of foreign domination. It can be found in the portion "Shlach Lecha" in the book of Numbers.

[edit] Summary

In summary, the content flows from the assertion of the oneness of God's kingship. Thus, in the first portion, there is a command to love God with all one's heart, soul and might and to remember and teach these very important words to the children throughout the day. Obeying these commands, says the second portion, will lead to rewards, and disobeying them will lead to punishment. To ensure fulfillment of these key commands, God also commands in the third portion a practical reminder, wearing the tzitzit, "that ye may remember and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God."

The full content verse by verse, in Hebrew, English transliteration and English translation, can be found here.

The second line quoted, "Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever", was originally a congregational response to the declaration of the Oneness of God; it is therefore often printed in small font and recited in an undertone, as recognition that it is not, itself, a part of the cited Biblical verses. The third section of the Shema formally ends at Numbers 15:41, but in fact traditionally Jews end the recitation of the Shema with the following word from the next verse, Emet, or "Truth", as the end of the prayer.

[edit] Recitation and reading

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Shema Yisrael (שמע ישראל) Recitation

The Hebrew Bible states that "these words" be spoken of "when you lie down, and when you rise up" Deuteronomy 6:7.

The first book of the Talmud, tractate Brachot, opens with a discussion of when exactly the Shema needs to be recited. The Mishna connects the time of recitation with details of the rhythm of the life of the Temple in Jerusalem, saying that the Shema should be recited in the evening when the Kohanim (Jewish priests) who were Tamei (ritually impure) (and had been unable to serve) enter to eat their Terumah (heave offerings). The Gemarrah contains a wide-ranging discussion of exactly when this occurred, with general agreement that it occurred in the evening, either after sunset or after three stars were visible. A similar discussion describes the morning Shema, which can be recited at first light prior to sunrise, as soon as colors can be discerned.

The Shema does not have to be recited in Hebrew. It may be recited in any language the worshipper understands (Berakhot 2:3). However, it is an almost universal custom among observant Jews to recite it in Hebrew.

In Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, the Shema should be recited twice daily, whether or not one is able to attend services with a congregation, wherever one is. Even a requirement of decent surroundings (e.g. not to recite it in the bathroom) can be waived if necessary.

The Shema, or as much of the first verse of it as can be said under the circumstances, is traditionally recited by a dying person as part of an affirmation of faith upon death. It is also recited near the end of Ne'ila service on Yom Kippur.

[edit] Women and the Shema

In Orthodox Judaism, women are not required to recite the Shema (as a command from the Torah),[1] as with other time-bound requirements which might impinge on their traditional familial obligations, although they are obligated to pray at least once daily without a specific liturgy requirement and many discharge that obligation through prayers like the Shema.

However, the practice among all Jews - women, men, and children - is to recite it[2]. The Mishnah[3] suggests that the time for recitation should not be more than 3rd hour, but if it is after that time, it should still be read, since it contains expressions of the unity of God, belief in a Creator etc[4]. For this reason, women should say it.

It is incumbent to teach children to recite the first verse, and subsequent paragraphs as soon as they are able to understand its meaning. Women are not time bound in its recitation and therefore are not required to say it within its time.

Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt [2] approvingly cites the Rashba, who holds that the last set of Blessings are on the Shema, based on the rulings of Maimonides.

Conservative Judaism generally regards Jewish women as being obligated to recite the Shema at the same times as men.

Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism do not regard gender-related traditional Jewish ritual requirements, including obligations for men but not women to pray specific prayers at specific times, as necessary in modern circumstances; instead, both genders may fulfill all requirements.

[edit] Accompanying blessings

The Benedictions preceding and following the Shema are traditionally credited to the members of the Great Assembly. They were first instituted in the liturgy of the Temple in Jerusalem.

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" (kabalat ol malchut shamayim) (Mishnah Berachot 2:5). Judah ha-Nasi, who spent all day involved with his studies and teaching, said just the first verse of the Shema in the morning (Talmud Berachot 13b) "as he passed his hands over his eyes" which appears to be the origin of the Jewish custom to cover the eyes with the right hand whilst reciting the first verse.

The first verse of the Shema is recited aloud, simultaneously by the hazzan and the congregation, which responds with the rabbinically instituted Baruch Shem ("Blessed be the Name") 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. Reform Jews also recite the whole of the first paragraph of the Shema aloud, but including the Baruch Shem.

[edit] Bedtime Shema

Before going to sleep, the first paragraph of the Shema is recited. This is not only a commandment directly given in the Bible (in Deuteronomy 6:6–7), but is also alluded to from verses such as "Commune with your own heart upon your bed" (Psalms 4:5).

Some also have the custom to read all three paragraphs, along with a whole list of sections from Psalms, Tachanun, and other prayers. altogether this is known as the Kerias Shema She'al Hamita. According to the Arizal, reading this prayer with great concentration is also effective in cleansing one from sin. This is discussed in the Tanya.[5]

[edit] Other instances

The exhortation by the Kohen ("priest") in calling Israel to arms against an enemy (which does not apply when the Temple in Jerusalem is not standing) also includes Shema Yisrael. (Deuteronomy 20:3; Talmud Sotah 42a).

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). Since then, it has been traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words.

Roi Kline, a major in the IDF, said the Shema before jumping on a live grenade, in accordance with the traditional Jewish practice of reciting the Shema when one believes one is going to die.

[edit] Music

Arnold Schoenberg used it as part of the story to his narrative orchestral work A Survivor from Warsaw (1947).

In Parade (musical) the main character Leo Frank, wrongly accused of the murder of a child worker at the pencil factory he manages, recites the Shema Yisrael as a vigilante gang kidnap and hang him in the final scenes of the work. The musical is based on a true story...

Pop versions have been published by Mordechai ben David and Sarit Hadad.

[edit] Divine Unity of the Shema in Hasidic philosophy

Maimonides articulated Divine Unity in Medieval Jewish philosophy
Schneur Zalman of Liadi articulated Divine Unity in Hasidic philosophy

The second section of the Hasidic text the Tanya, by Schneur Zalman of Liadi (Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah-Gate of Unity and Faith), brings the mystical Panentheism of the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, into philosophical explanation. It explains the Hasidic interpretation of God's Unity in the first two lines of the Shema, based upon their interpretation in Kabbalah. The emphasis on Divine Omnipresence and immanence lies behind Hasidic joy and dveikut, and its stress on transforming the material into spiritual worship. In this internalisation of Kabbalistic ideas, the Hasidic follower seeks to reveal the Unity and hidden holiness in all activities of life.

Medieval, rationalist Jewish philosophers (exponents of "Hakirah"-rational "investigation" from first principles in support of Judaism), such as Maimonides, describe Biblical Monotheism to mean that there is only one God, and His essence is a unique, simple, infinite Unity. Jewish mysticism gives a deeper explanation, by distinguishing between God's essence and emanation. In Kabbalah and especially Hasidism, God's Unity means that there is nothing independent of His essence. The new doctrine in Lurianic Kabbalah of God's Tzimtzum ("Withdrawal"), received different interpretations after Isaac Luria, from the literal to the metaphorical. To Hasidism and Schneur Zalman, it is unthinkable for the "Withdrawal" of God that "makes possible" Creation, to be taken literally. Tzimtzum only relates to the Ohr Ein Sof ("Infinite Light"), not the Ein Sof (Divine essence) itself. God's true infinity is revealed in both complimentary infinitude (infinite light) and finitude (finite light). The "Withdrawal" was only a concealment of the Infinite Light into the essence of God, to allow the latent potentially finite light to emerge after the Tzimtzum. God Himself remains unaffected ("For I, the Lord, I have not changed" Malachi 3:6). His essence was One, alone, before Creation, and still One, alone, after Creation, without any change. As the Tzimtzum was only a concealment, therefore God's Unity is Omnipresent. In the Baal Shem Tov's new interpretation, Divine Providence affects every detail of Creation. The "movement of a leaf in the wind" is part of the unfolding Divine presence, and is a necessary part of the complete Tikkun (Rectification in Kabbalah). This awarenes of the loving Divine purpose and significance of each individual, awakens mystical love and awe of God.

Schneur Zalman explains that God's Unity has two levels, that are both paradoxically true. The main text of Kabbalah, the Zohar, describes the first verse of the Shema ("Hear Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One") as the "Upper level Unity", and the second line ("Blessed be the Name of the Glory of His Kingdom forever") as the "Lower level Unity". Schneur Zalman gives the Hasidic explanation of this. In Kabbalah, all Creation is dependent on the immanent, potentially finite, "Light that Fills all Worlds", that each Creation receives continually. All is bittul-nullified to the light, even though in our realm this complete dependence is hidden. From this perspective, of God knowing the Creation on its own terms, Creation exists, but the true essence of anything is only the Divine spark that continuously recreates it from nothing. God is One, as nothing has any independent existence without this continual flow of Divine Will to Create. This is the Lower Level Unity.

In relation to God's essence, Creation affects no change or withdrawal. All Creation takes place "within" God. "There is nothing but God". The ability to create can only come from the infinite Divine essence, represented by the Tetragrammaton name of God. However, "It is not the essence of the Divine, to create Worlds and substain them", as this ability is only external to the Infinite essence. Creation only derives from God's revelatory "speech" (as in Genesis 1), and even this is unlike the external speech of Man, as it too remains "within" God. From this upper persective of God knowing Himself on His own terms, Creation does not exist, as it is as nothing in relation to God's essence. This Monistic Acosmism is the "Upper Level Unity", as from this persective, only God exists.[6]

[edit] Shema in Christianity

Shema is one of the sentences that is 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). Jesus also refers to the Shema in The Gospel of John 10:30. A group of Jews in the Temple in Jerusalem at the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, asks him if he is Messiah, the anointed one of God. Jesus concludes his response with the words "I and my Father are one" (KJV).

In addition, the apostle Paul reworks the Shema in 1 Corinthians 8:6 vis-à-vis the risen Christ: "yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist."[7]

The Shema is used to reject the concept of the Trinity, and is sometimes used by Christians to support the Trinity .[8] The Hebrew word for "one" in the Schema is "Echadh" Echadh can be the number one or can mean a unity of more than one.

Greek: ἀλλ᾿ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατὴρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς δι᾿ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι᾿ αὐτοῦ (cf. to LXX of Deut. 6:4: ἄκουε Ισραηλ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν).

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ [Mishnah Berurah, O.C. 106:1 §7]
  2. ^ a b [Shailos and Teshuvos, Rav Ephraim Greenblatt, Rabbavot Ephraim, Vol. 1, (O.C) §52]
  3. ^ [Mishnah, Berachos 1:2]
  4. ^ [Mishnah, Berachos 1:2].
  5. ^ Tanya, p. 23
  6. ^ English translation and commentary on the second section of Tanya: Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah-Gate of Unity and Faith from Retrieved Oct. 2009
  7. ^ cf. N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 1994; E. Waaler, The shema and the First Commandment in First Corinthians, 2008
  8. ^ Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (1978), "The Growth of Medieval Theology Volume 3 of The Christian Tradition Series", University of Chicago Press: 247, ISBN 0226653757,, retrieved 2009-09-09 

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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