The Shema is the expression of the monotheistic core of Judaism from the first verse of the Jewish daily prayers: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” from Deuteronomy 6:4. The term comes from “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear, [O] Israel”), the first two words of Jewish prayers. As the beginning and most important part of the prayer service, reciting it twice daily is a commandment—a mitzvah—for observant Jews. By extension, the term “Shema” can be used to refer to the sections of Jewish daily prayer that begin with “Shema Yisrael,” which are comprised of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41.
The Shema is an important part of religious practice for observant Jews across denominational lines. Jews are expected and often required to recite the Shema before bed and upon waking, as well as reciting as much of the verse as possible before death as one’s last words. Parents must also teach their children the Shema as soon as the children are able to understand its meaning. Outside of Judaism, Jesus quotes the Shema in the New Testament as an exhortation beginning his teaching of the greatest commandments, including the commandment to love the one true God. This usage points to the shared monotheistic heritage of both Judaism and Christianity, though some have also used the Shema to argue against the concept of the Christian Trinity.