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October 13, 2015 | 30th Tishrei 5776

  1. Personally, I do not cover my eyes while reciting the Sh'ma, but I do close my eyes. I find that by closing my eyes I am better able to concentrate on the significance of the prayer and attain a degree of kavanah, which isn't always easy for me. I don't believe that it is a "shortcut to spirituality" for me at all. I need my community and pray as part of the community every week. The reason that I do not cover my eyes is that I would be the only one in my congregation to do so and I don't wish to call attention to myself.

    In her article in Reform Judaism Magazine, Diana Harmon Asher wrote: "By closing our eyes and imitating 'more religious' Jews, we give the appearance of being more devoted worshipers." I have a hard time with this because I AM a devoted worshiper and I am not pretending to be anything. I merely close my eyes because it is meaningful for me to do so.


  2. By covering my eyes during the Sh'ma, I find I am more able to focus inward and upward - just like closing my eyes during the silent prayers and meditations...For me the service ebbs and flows with moments of "community" prayer and moments of "personal" prayer. I don't believe that those of us (at least I don't) who are adding some of the traditional movements to our prayer practice are making any statement about how others pray but only adding practices that enhance our individual practice.

    The beauty and joy of Reform Judaism, as I understand it, is that we are encouraged to study and develop a personal, informed practice.


  3. Mar 2005 Digest 054

                Does anyone have a short, mystical explanation of why we sometimes might choose to sing the word Sh’ma, holding the note for as long as we can, before moving on to the rest of the declaration?

    1300 Families

  4. Mar 2005 Digest 054

                …the first word of the Sh’ma is an invitation to listen. We might want to extend it a bit so that we take a moment to consciously turn our attention to the central statement of our faith.


  5. Mar 2005 Digest 054

                I agree with the idea of preparation to hear or listen or however you want to define the word “Sh’ma.” It is a call for us to heed G-d, as well as to get the rest of Yisroel to “hear” g-d. The extended Sh’ma also prevents us from rushing through this declaration that is at the core of our being.


  6. …One tradition is that since prayer requires focus, the first word should grab our attention and put us in the correct frame of mind to meditate on the remainder of the prayer. The tradition to cover one’s eyes during the remainder of the recitation allows us to meditate without outside visual distraction. A tradition regarding the Sh’ma specifically is that since the first word is “Hear,” it is truly necessary to hear the word in order to satisfy the mitzvah.


  7. Mar 2005 Digest 055

                …look at the Sh’ma in a sefer Torah--see the big “Ayin?” See the big “Dalet?” Together these make the word “ed”--lit. “witness”--so by emphasizing these letters, we emphasize our own witnessing aspect.


  8. Mar 2005 Digest 055

                At camp, we refer to this practice as the "Shemantra"--a quazi-meditative way of focusing more intently on the Sh’ma. Unless I am mistaken, there is no other traditional prescribed reason for doing so.


  9. Mar 2005 Digest 055

                I've read in several places that because of the importance of the Shema Yisroel, each word needs to be pronounced distinctly without running the final sound of one word and the initial sound of the next word together. By holding the note on each word as long as one can, one avoids slurring two words together and can pronounce each word distinctly. In some siddurim, a vertical bar appears between the words that are most commonly joined together when reciting Sh’ma in haste.

    In Talmud Bavli, tractate Berachos, it is mentioned that one should hold the sound of the last letter in echad as long as it takes one to contemplate the concept of the sovereignty of G-d.


  10. Nov 2006 Digest 179

              I have adopted the traditional practice of closing my eyes while reciting the Sh’ma for several reasons:

    1. This being the central prayer, I want to be able to give it my full attention; closing my eyes eliminates any visual distractions and allows me to fully concentrate on the meaning of the words
    2. The primary theme of the Sh’ma is the Oneness of God. When I close my eyes I am less aware of separations. I try for this brief time to truly feel connected to God that fills and surrounds everything. In this way I also appreciate my connection to the rest of creation
    3. In closing my physical eyes I can better support an inner seeing, a deeper knowing I do not expect everyone in my congregation to pray in the same way (in fact, I suspect that few do), but I hope they respect my practice. Worshipping in community does not demand that we all pray the same words or adopt the same choreography.


    900 families
  11. Nov 2006 Digest 179

                When I was growing up in Hebrew school in Portland, Oregon in the late 60's, we were taught to look up towards HaShem and close our eyes when reciting the Sh’ma only. Since the Baruch Shem Kavod is a reply, we were told to open our eyes, lower our heads and whisper the reply.


    350 Families
  12. Nov 2006 Digest 180

                In our family and in our temple community that has deaf members, we keep our eyes open when we pray the Sh’ma in sign language. The sign we use for the word "Sh’ma" is not hear or listen, but rather the sign "pay attention."


    220 member units
  13. Nov 2006 Digest 180

                I too close my eyes during the Sh’ma. I am a meditator, and find that the few moments of the Sh’ma gives me the opportunity to still my mind, and enter into a brief oneness of mind, body, spirit which is the heart of meditative practice. It also brings me closer to my congregation during those moments of heightened awareness combined with shared recitation.

                My husband, who is not a meditator, was raised in a Conservative congregation and closes his eyes during the Sh’ma because he feels that it connects him to the prayer and its meaning. I am certain that at any given service, there are others around me who pray Sh’ma with eyes open, and some who, like me, pray with eyes closed.

                One of the strengths of our Reform tradition is the ability to accommodate differences and respect one another.


    700 member units
  14. Dec 2006 Digest 184

                …One of the items [re why some do or do not close…eyes during the Sh’ma] was that in the Torah, the Sh’ma has two ending letters bigger than the others, the end of Sh’ma and the end of echad. And those two letters together mean witness which usually requires that to witness something one's eyes are open…


    66 families

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