Sh'mah Yisrael (Hebrew: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל; "Hear, [O] Israel") are the first two words of a section of the Torah, and is the title (sometimes shortened to simply Sh'mah) of a prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services. The first verse encapsulates the monotheistic essence of Judaism: "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Hebrew: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ ה' אֶחָד), found in Deuteronomy 6:4, sometimes alternatively translated as "The LORD is our God, the LORD alone." Observant Jews consider the Sh'mah to be the most important part of the prayer service in Judaism, and its twice-daily recitation as a mitzvah (religious commandment). It is traditional for Jews to say the Sh'mah as their last words, and for parents to teach their children to say it before they go to sleep at night.
The term "Sh'mah" is used by extension to refer to the whole part of the daily prayers that commences with Sh'mah Yisrael and comprises Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37–41. These sections of the Torah are read in the weekly Torah portions Va'etchanan, Eikev, and Shlach, respectively.
Sh'mah can also be transliterated as Shema or Sh'ma. Harry Turtledove uses Sh'mah more frequently in his writings. The prayer appears briefly in many of them, with the more important examples listed below.
Although Jewish, Jacob Dreyfus was not a particularly religious man. Nevertheless, he had a subconscious intuition that he should recite the Sh'mah before looking into the time-viewer to see what existed before the Big Bang. It was very likely that this spiritual reinforcement was what strengthened him enough to avoid automatically expiring upon seeing the face of God, like four Gentiles had before him.
The Sh'mah was among the first elements of Judaism to be ritually taught to the children of secret Jews in NaziGermany, after they were informed by their families of their true ancestry, beginning on their 10th birthdays.
The Sh'mah was turned into a weapon of insurrection by the Second Irgun in the 22nd century. When Irgun agents Yakov, Sarah, Miriam, and Aryeh hijacked a bus in Palestine, they demanded that the passengers prove themselves to be Jewish. Eight of them immediately recited the Sh'mah and were let go, while the remaining 30 were gunned down as they attempted to flee. On the same night, Yakov hacked into Palestine's public address system to replace automated minarets' Muslim prayer calls with the Sh'mah and the "Hatikvah." Ironically, the Irgun undid their own cause by making a martyr out of Rabbi Chaim Perelman, who died at the hands of Yakov and Miriam with the Sh'mah on his lips.