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Laws of Reciting the Shema (Part II)

Laws of Reciting the Shema (Part II)

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Click here for Part I of this article.

Kavanah (Concentration)

  1. When one recites the Shema, he should do so tremulously, with concentration, reverence and awe, as people are wont to do when reading a new communication issued by the king. The message of Shema should always be considered precious, like a new message each day, not like an old message that has become stale.1
  2. Before beginning to read the Shema, one should take a moment to contemplate that he is now going to fulfill G‑d's commandment.2 In addition, one must concentrate on the meaning of Shema's words, at the very least while reciting the verse of Shema. If one did not concentrate on the meaning of the words of this verse, he must repeat it.3 (If one therefore says the verse twice in a row, he should say it quietly the second time.4)
  3. Although one should continue concentrating on the meaning of the words for the rest of Shema, if one didn't do so, he has still fulfilled the mitzvah.5
  4. It is important to have in mind the meanings of the names of G‑d employed in the verse of Shema.6 The Tetragrammaton (pronounced "Adonai") implies that G‑d was, is, and will always be—at once (i.e., He is beyond time), and that He is the Master of all. The name Elohim (or Eloheinu) alludes to His strength and power, and that He has the ability to carry out His will in the upper and lower worlds.7
  5. Every Hebrew letter also has a numerical value. When saying echad ("one"), a person should concentrate on the fact that G‑d is the only One (alef) in the seven heavens and in the earth (together these equal chet, eight) as well as in all four directions (dalet).8 These three letters spell echad.
  6. "Whoever lengthens the word echad is rewarded with a long life."9 This refers to one who spends time on the aforementioned meditation.10
  7. When one says the verse of Ve'ohavtah ("and you shall love G‑d"), he should try to actually introduce love of G‑d into his heart.11
  8. In order to enhance concentration, one may not do anything or even motion to others while reciting the first section of Shema. While reciting the second and third sections, one may motion to another if it is for the purpose of a mitzvah.12 For this reason, one should not recite the Shema while driving.13

How to Recite the Shema

  1. One may recite the Shema while sitting or standing.14 Some permit reciting the Shema while laying on one's side. Others only permit this in cases of need.15 One should not go out of his way to stand for the Shema as our Sages did not require this.16
  2. One who is walking should stop walking while reciting the first verse and Baruch Shem and may then continue walking while reciting the remainder.17
  3. One should cover his eyes with his right hand while saying the verse of Shema in order to reduce distractions and enhance concentration.18 For the same reason, the first verse should be said aloud.19
  4. One should say the first verse as follows: Shema Yisrael (Hear O Israel), pause, Adonai Eloheinu (the L-rd is our G‑d), pause, Adonai echad (the L-rd is one). The pauses emphasize the meaning of the words.20
  5. The second verse ("Baruch shem…") is recited in an undertone, except on Yom Kippur when it is recited out loud.21
  6. One should be careful to enunciate each word and letter of the Shema properly.22
  7. When saying the morning Shema, men should hold their tzitzit and kiss them at certain intervals. See the instructions in the prayebook for more information.
  8. If one is praying with a minyan, at the end of Shema, one should listen to the cantor repeat the last three words ("Adonai Eloheichem emet").23
    Our sages tell us that the 248 words of the Shema correspond to the 248 limbs in the (male) body. Each limb is healed by one of the words of Shema. Since the Shema actually only contains 245 words, the chazzan repeats the last three words in order to reach the total number of 248. The congregation should listen to these words, even if they have not yet finished reciting the Shema,24 but they do not repeat them themselves.
    If someone is saying the Shema without a minyan, Chabad custom is for the individual to repeat the words "ani Adonai Eloheichem" twice.25

When in Doubt

If one is not sure whether or not he recited the Shema, he must recite it again.26


Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 61:1- 2.


Ibid. 60:5.


Some say this also applies to the second sentence, Baruch Shem, as well—Magen Avraham 61:11; see Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 63:5.


Ibid. 61:8; 63:5.


Ibid. 60:5.


Halichot Shlomo 1:3.


Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 5.


Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 61:6.


Talmud, Brachot 13b.


Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 7.


Charedim, Positive Mitzvot That Are Dependent On The Heart ch. 9.


Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 63:7-9.


Piskei Teshuvot, 63:3.


Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, ibid. .




Ibid. 2.


Ibid. 4.


Ibid. 61:5




Ibid. 14.


Ibid. 13.


See ibid. 15 to 22 for details.


Ibid. 61:3


Sha'arei Halacha Uminhag vol. 1 page 148.


See Alter Rebbe's Shlchan Aruch 61:3-4 for other customs.


Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 67:1.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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Anonymous September 23, 2017

is it permissible to say the Shema after awakening without Tefillin and then again with Tefillin later in the morning as I borrowed some for the second repetition? Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside August 23, 2016

For the individual Yes, the lone individual is different than a chazan in this regard.You'll find this in the notes on the new edition of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Siman 61 Reply

Anonymous Israel August 22, 2016

Question Does the lone individual repeat "Ani Hashem Elokeichem", unlike the chazan, who says "Hashem Elokeichem, emes"? I always assumed the lone individual repeats what a chazan would repeat. I will have to check Shulchan Aruch haRav.
Thanks Reply

pinchas goldstein woodmere ohio January 14, 2015

thank you for this explanation rabbi! :) Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl October 10, 2011

Covering with the right The reason given that a leftie should use his right hand for Shema is that he is supposed to hold the tzitzit in his left hand opposite the heart. As you point out, this reason does not apply to the night time Shema. In addition, this reason does not apply to women who do not wear Tzitzit. Thirdly, as my son who is a leftie poited out, if a leftie is supposed to hold his tzitzit with his left hand, how does he kiss the Tefillin (which one is supposed to do during Shema) that are on his right arm?
Despite these questions, the sources I have seen all say to use the right hand. Perhaps there is another reason which I am not aware of. Reply

Anonymous San Diego, CA October 10, 2011

Covering the Eyes with One's Right Hand If one is to cover one's eyes with the right hand for the beginning of the Sh'ma because it is the stronger hand, then why can't left-handed people cover their eyes with their left hand (their stronger hand?) If, as you said, tefillin is worn on one's weaker side to strengthen one against sinning, then using that logic, why shouldn't one's strong hand (right for right-handed people and left for left-handed people) be used to cover one's eyes for the sh'ma?

The only time one is holding the tzitit in the left hand while saying the sh'ma is during Shacharit. It would seem at all other times (Ma'ariv, nighttime prayers, etc.), a left handed person could cover one's eyes with one's left hand. Unless, of course, there are other reasons to cover one's eyes only with one's right hand.... Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl July 28, 2010

Why we use the right hand Actually, the Torah does instruct us to put Tefillin on the weaker hand. This is why right-handed people place the Tefillin on the left arm and vice versa. The Tefillin are supposed help us counquer our "weaker" (more sinful) side.
So even in a simple thing like which hand to use, there are meanings.
In this case, the right hand is used both because it is stronger (for most people) so we honor G-d by using our stronger hand to serve him. Also because men hold the tzitzit in the left hand (opposite the heart) while reciting the Shema. So the right hand is available for this. Reply

Susan Levitsky July 28, 2010

why do we have to use the right hand? This sounds like some old superstition to me. Both hands were created by God. If tefillin can be worn on either arm, then why can't a person use either hand to cover one's eyes. Reply

Chani Benjaminson, February 11, 2010

Audio Hi! Here's a link to an audio version of the Shema. Reply

janesfilms edmonton, canada February 4, 2010

Pronunciation Where can I find an audio link so I can hear the pronunciation of the Shema prayer? Thank you Reply

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