Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ ה’ אֶחָד.
Foundations for Planning
- How is prayer a vehicle to help us access connections to God?
- How can I experience moments of connection to God?
- How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
- How does this prayer connect us with our past?
- How does this prayer connect us with other Jewish communities?
The verse “Shema Yisrael…” is considered to be a central statement of the Jewish religion. It is a declaration of faith in the covenant between the Jewish people and God and in God’s unity. It is an expression of the belief in monotheism that...
The verse “Shema Yisrael…” is considered to be a central statement of the Jewish religion. It is a declaration of faith in the covenant between the Jewish people and God and in God’s unity. It is an expression of the belief in monotheism that has made Judaism unique from its earliest beginnings. It is important to note that the idea of believing in one god was an innovation of Judaism, which developed in the context of polytheistic nations. This verse comes from Deuteronomy (6:4), where it is part of Moses’ speech to the nation before his death. Moses commanded the people to listen and to observe God’s commandments. He called out to them:
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ ה’ אֶחָד , Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.
The Shema serves as a call to the Jewish people as a whole and as a call to each individual Jew to remember the principles of Jewish belief.
The verse is recited three times a day: during Shacharit in the morning, during Maariv in the evening and before going to sleep. Each Jewish child is expected to know this verse. The verse bears witness to the connection between one generation and the next and the connection of the individual Jew to Jewish tradition. This verse is also considered to be the last thing a Jewish person should say before they die. Many stories of Jewish martyrs describe how those martyrs said the Shema before they died. One example of such a story is that of Rabbi Akiva, who was tortured by the Romans and called out the Shema in his last moments (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot 61b).
As we say the Shema, it is customary to cover our eyes with our hand, to help us concentrate on the words and to transfer our gaze inward instead of outward. The Shema is not a regular prayer, in that it does not include any request/praise/thanksgiving and is not directed at God. It is a declaration of faith directed at ourselves and the community.
Describe the context in which the verse “Shema Yisrael …” appears in the Torah. In his last speech to the Children of Israel in the desert, Moses gives them a message to remember forever. He declares that there is a God in whom we believe and that God is One Being. This was a very important message because at the time, the surrounding nations believed in many gods.
- Ask the students to think of an important message that they would like to share with the world. The students can draw a picture of themselves standing on a mountain, with their message in a speech bubble.
- Alternatively, you can act this out. Prepare a “mountain” (a chair) and ask the students to take turns standing on the chair and calling out their messages.
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- When we say the Shema, who are we talking to? What do we want them to hear/understand?
- Have you ever heard this verse before? If so, in what contexts have you heard it?
- “Shema Yisrael …” is a statement familiar to Jews throughout history and throughout the world, even those who are not necessarily that closely connected with Jewish tradition. What does this teach us about this statement?
- “Shema Yisrael …” is a statement with an important message in Jewish tradition. What is that message?
- Why do you think that Shema is said several times a day? What happens when we repeat a message several times?
- Do you ever use statements of this type — statements with an important message — that you’ve heard other people use?
- Over the generations, the Shema has linked Jews from different places. What other things connect Jews from different places?
- Why do you think that it is customary to cover one’s eyes when saying the Shema? There’s an idea that closing our eyes helps us to concentrate. Does closing your eyes help you to concentrate on what’s going on inside of you? What other things help you to concentrate?
To help understand how the Shema prayer connects us with the past and with Jewish tradition, here are some activities concerning things that are passed from one generation to the next.
- Ask the students to think about aspects of their appearance or personality that they’ve inherited from their parents or grandparents (for example, eye color, tendency to be quiet, etc.).
Teachers should use their judgement about doing this exercise in classes that include adopted children.
- Like the Shema, there are expressions and sayings that reflect a family’s beliefs and are passed along from one generation to the next. Ask the students if their families have any sayings that serve as a motto: things that their grandparents and their parents say all the time that they might say, too.
- Ask the students to bring an object from home that has been passed down in their family and which carries meaning and memory, or to tell about such an object.
- Listen to the song “Shema Yisrael” by Tzvika Pick.
- Additional information and activities on the Shema can be found in the Kriyat Shema resource for ages 9-14.
- You can read the story of Abraham who went searching for the creator of world and came to believe in one God who created the whole world:
When our ancestor Abraham was three years old he went out to the fields and wondered: Who created the sky and the land? Who created me? He looked up, saw the bright sun and thought, it must have been the sun! Abraham prayed all day to the sun, but when evening came the sun disappeared! In its place, Abraham saw the moon rise and the stars surrounding the moon. Abraham thought, I guess I was mistaken, the moon has sent the sun away, it is stronger than the sun! The moon must have created the skies, the land and me, and the stars must be the moon’s helpers. Abraham stood all night and prayed to the moon. In the morning the moon wasn’t to be seen. Abraham saw the sun once again shining above. Abraham thought and thought, and then he concluded: the sun didn’t create the world, and neither did the moon. There must be a force above them – who created both the sun and the moon. There must be a God who created the whole world, including everything I see around me, who created me.
(the original story can be found in Bet Ha-Midrash Jellinek, b)
- The Shema prayer is found inside the mezuzah. You can bring a mezuzah parchment into class to show the students what it looks like and what it says. Have the students look and see where they can find mezuzot in your school. The mezuzah is a symbol of a Jewish home. Why do we put the Shema inside our mezuzot?