Kriyat Shema in Catholic School

Real questions, submitted by actual OU Torah followers, with their real answers. NOTE: For questions of practical halacha, please consult your own rabbi for guidance.

Q. Hi, I am a Religion teacher in a private Catholic school. I have two Jewish students who do not want to say the Lord's Prayer; I understand so I do not require it of them. However, I would love to incorporate a Jewish prayer in my classroom that benefits my Jewish students. Is there a prayer you can recommend?

A. Thank you for your question and for your sensitivity to your students' needs. I recommend what we call the Shema (pronounced shma), which is the twice-daily recognition of God's unity from Deut. 6:4. The standard (though not particularly contemporary) translation is "Hear, O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." This is typically followed by three paragraphs of Bible verses, the first of which would be the most important to recite: Deuteronomy 6:5-9. (I think that Deut. 6:4-9 inclusive should be about the same length as the Pater Noster, so if all your students are reciting their prayers simultaneously, it shouldn't require anyone to have to wait too long for anyone else.)

Please get back to me with any further questions you may have.

Q. Thank you for your quick reply. Would you be so kind as to write exactly what you think Shema should say? My students are in the 5th and 7th grades.  

A. Here is the Shema (including the first paragraph) in a traditional translation, which I think is perhaps more appropriate for liturgical purposes. (For example, I assume the Lord's Prayer still says "hallowed be Thy name" rather than "Your name is holy." It just has more gravitas.)

Hear, O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.*

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.

And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart.

And you shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.

And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.

And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

Please feel free to reach out to me with any follow-up questions you might have.

A. Thank you SO much! Your help and generosity are felt. My students will love learning and reciting this prayer in class! God bless you.

*Readers might be curious as to why I didn't include the line of "Baruch Shem." I had two reasons: (1) I assume that the teacher has easy access to a Bible that includes Deut. chapter 6. "Baruch Shem" is extra-Biblical and won't appear in the text; (2) I was concerned that the silent recitation of that one line might needlessly complicate things, so I kept it simple. I think that reciting Shema in English in Catholic school is good enough without being concerned about "Baruch Shem."

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