The Shema is among the most famous of all Jewish sayings. But contrary to popular belief, it is not a prayer. It is a declaration of faith, an affirmation and a pledge of allegiance to one God.
In English, the Shema is translated as — “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
This sacred affirmation is among the first words that a Jewish child learns, and the last words a Jew pronounces before passing from this life. The Shema literally connects the circle of life.
Religion teaches us that the Shema must be pronounced twice daily: once as we awaken in the morning, and just before falling asleep at night. The Shema is so ingrained in the collective Jewish psyche, that it has actually been used to save lives.
Many may not know that shortly after the end of World War II, a band of rabbis embarked on a perilous journey to bring back the orphaned children of many Jews who perished in the death camps. The babies and children who were spared and saved, often by strangers, ended up in orphanages and pretty much stripped of their Jewish identities.
In order to help identify the Jewish kids in a sea of desperate orphans, the rabbis would recite the Shema while the children slept. Those who were brought up in Jewish homes would begin to cry, remembering the Shema as the song their mothers sang to them at bedtime.
The popularity of the Shema in cultural Judaism has exploded in recent years.