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Your group can gain a deeper understanding of its faith and connection to God and each other through furthering an understanding of the Sh知a. You and your group can rediscover the awe and sense of oneness that this blessing sparks. Exploring Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler痴 historical and personal perspective on the Sh知a will encourage you to bring your own experience and outlook on these holy words to your book group. Journey together through the history of this important prayer and delve into the wide variety of meanings it has held for: Moses, Akiba ben Joseph, Saadia Gaon, Moses Maimonides, Haim Vital, Moses Haim Luzzatto, Abraham Isaac Kook, Leo Baeck, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and each of you! Learn to listen to each other and the Sacred and find a new appreciation for these powerful words.

6 x 9 176 pp, Quality Paperback, 978-1-58023-400-9   

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An exploration of Judaism’s most sacred statement and world-changing idea.

“Hear O Israel, the Eternal is Our God, the Eternal is One!” There is arguably no more important statement in Judaism than the Sh’ma. Its words—calling us to hear, to listen, to pay attention—defy direct translation and have meant different things throughout history.

In a deeply personal exploration of this sacred proclamation, command, and prayer, Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler delves into the spiritual history of the Sh’ma, inspiring you to claim your own personal meaning in these enduring words. By examining how the Sh’ma has been commented upon by ancient sages and contemporary thinkers, he opens the doors between each generation that has found a different dimension of truth in the Sh’ma.

Each chapter focuses on a major historical figure and includes a sacred story, an exploration into the story’s many meanings, and a suggestion for a new way of “hearing” the voice in the story. Experience the Sh’ma through the lives of:

  • Moses—Fighting Idolatry
  • Akiba ben Joseph—The Sages Offer Their Lives
  • Saaida Gaon—Proving the One
  • Moses Maimonides—Nothing Like God
  • Haim Vital—Communing with the One
  • Moses Haim Luzzatto— “Master of the Universe”
  • Abraham Isaac Kook—A Nation Reborn
  • Leo Baeck—One Moral Standard
  • Abraham Joshua Heschel—A Prophecy: “One World or No World”

“Contain[s] wonderful insights on the ‘oneness’ of both God and the Jewish people…. An ideal Jewish book club choice.”

Jewish Book World

“Investigates the spiritual history of the Sh’ma by looking at how some key Jewish scholars and believers have interpreted the phrase…. An excellent addition to public, synagogue, and academic libraries.”      

Library Journal

“By presenting such a variety of approaches to the meaning of the Sh’ma, the author gives the reader a rich and full picture of what this important liturgical/biblical verse can mean. An excellent contribution to our understanding of the Sh’ma.”              

Jewish Media Review

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  • What are the different possible meanings of the word hear?
  • Why is it important to try to understand what we are saying when we recite the Sh知a?
  • Discuss the original meaning of the Sh知a as said by Moses. In what ways does his interpretation resonate with you today?
  • What does it mean to say the Sh知a as a protest to idolatry or oppression, like Akiba ben Joseph and others did? How is saying the Sh知a related to facing death?
  • How is the idea of God as Creator linked to the Sh知a痴 statement that God is One?
  • How is God being One related to God being Unique (as Maimonides states)? Infinite (Haim Vital)? All-knowing (Moses Haim Luzzatto)?
  • How can the Zionist belief in the oneness of the people Israel on one land be reconciled with the oneness of God?
  • Leo Baeck felt that one God meant one moral standard for everyone, and Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, 典here will either be one world or no world. How does the oneness of God imply the oneness of humanity?
  • Which figures presented in this book are most meaningful to you? Why? Who, historically, has been missing from the writing of Jewish theology?

Why did you want to write about the   Sh知a?
The Sh知a is a great place to start if anyone is at all curious about what Jews believe about God. It is the cornerstone of Jewish spirituality, and the first prayer we learn in Hebrew school. It is the declaration converts make as they enter Judaism, and the word that many Jews aspire to say before they die. It is powerful, but it is also basic enough so that many Jewish people know it. If people want to explore the spiritual history of Judaism, then understanding the words of the Sh知a is the first step.

If the  Sh知a is so basic, what is there to learn about it?
The six Hebrew words of the Sh知a have been interpreted to mean different things at different times in history. On a most basic level, 滴ear O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One is a simple declaration of monotheism, the belief that there is only one God. But people have understood 登neness to mean very different things, depending upon the refractions of time and place. What Moses meant when he said the Sh知a is different from what subsequent generations meant. In the book, I present nine different thinkers and what they meant when they said the Sh知a, beginning with a story about each of them and the world they lived in.

If the Sh知a has meant so many things to so many people, how can anyone know which is the correct interpretation?
Judaism is not about having one right answer or one correct interpretation. We do not have to have absolute certainty in our faith to be good Jews. Instead, we are supposed to question and have the freedom of conscience to change our minds. Judaism demands that we think seriously about the words we are saying, such as when we say the Sh知a during prayer services, and struggle with what the oneness of God might mean to us. What we believed as children might be different than what we believe now as adults, and it will most likely change in the future. We can pick and choose from among numerous people痴 interpretations, including from the figures I present in this book, in an effort to find our own.


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