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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Worship, Conversion, Intermarriage (5/12)
Section - Question 9.13: What is the "Shema"?

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                                  Answer:
   
   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:
     * During the morning service (shacharit)
     * During the afternoon service (mincha)
     * During the evening service (ma'ariv)
     * When sleeps come upon one
       
   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.

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