Sh'ma means "hear" or "listen". It's the first word of a key prayer proclaiming the "oneness" or unity of g-d and testifying to a belief in a monotheistic G-d. So when people talk about the Sh'ma, they are referring to this prayer. Sometimes they are only referring to the first sentence (shown below with and without the diacritic marks that indicate vowels) and sometimes to that sentence and a few more verses that follow (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) There are also slight variations in interpretation or translation.
- שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד. or שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד
- transliteration: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
- translation: Hear, O Israel: the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one. or Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is one.
The Sh'ma is often chanted or sung. There are many different tunes.
Like many other transliterated words, sh'ma can be spelled multiple different ways in other languages. In English another common spellings is shema.