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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q9.12 TOC Q9.14 >

Question 9.13:
What is the "Shema"?


The "shema" is perhaps the "supreme" statement of Jewish belief. Traditional Jews recite it four times a day and was to be the last statement on a Jew's lips as they slip from life. The four times are:

Children are often taught it at bedtime. The last letter "dalet" is the numerical number "four"; in Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism), this is a daily reference to the divine in the mystical "four corners of the earth", similar to the tzitzit on the four corners of the garment. Reform Jews have refered to it as the "affirmation of Jewish faith."

The main part of the Shema reminds us to hear and remember that G-d is one. It commands us to write the shema on the doors of our house and on our gates (mezuzah), to speak the shema when we get up and when we go to bed. It commands us to wear garments that remind us of G-d with fringes.

Note the differences between the first and second paragraphs of Shema. The first paragraph of Shema is written to the individual, and therefore is in the singular. There is little guarantee in this world that the righteous would prosper or the wicked fail. Therefore, the first paragraph enjoins us to "love Hashem your G-d with ... all that you have". Be it more, or be it less. The second paragraph is written in the plural because it addresses the nation as a group. The fate of the Jewish people does depend on whether or not we are found deserving. Although this only holds in a group sense -- the group suffers, not necessarily the least worthy of the nation. When the nation is undeserving, there would be a famine in Israel. Eventually, we deserved exile altogether. Therefore, when speaking to the nation as a unit, the contingent basis of our posessions is noted.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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© (c) 1993-2004 Daniel P. Faigin <>