The Sh’ma is the Jew’s central proclamation of God’s unity. From the time we are children until the moment of death, we recite the Sh’ma as an affirmation of faith.
As Reform Jews, it has long been customary to stand when saying the Sh’ma. However, this practice is not mandatory. In fact, the Mishna records a debate between the schools of Shammai and Hillel whether one should stand or sit.
Shammai advocates that in the evening you should recline for the Sh’ma and in the morning you should stand. But the opinion of Hillel, as usual, contradicts Shammai and says you can either stand or sit. What is important is that you do it at set times, that is, in the evening and morning (Mishna B’rachot 1.3).
The option of standing or sitting is neatly summarized in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which states “The Sh’ma may be read sitting or standing. If the worshipper happens to be seated, he is not permitted to rise.” (17.2)
At Temple Beth Torah, it has been our practice to rise for the call to worship (Bar’chu) and to remain standing for additional prayers until we conclude reciting the Sh’ma. I have come to view this practice as unduly burdensome not only for those who are able bodied but especially for those for whom standing for a length of time is challenging.
I brought this to the attention of our Worship Committee earlier this year. We studied rabbinic commentaries about the Sh’ma and came to the conclusion that as a congregation we will now be seated for this prayer.
Beginning this month, we inaugurated this observance which will be our new custom henceforth. During our fast approaching Rosh Hashanah services, may this practice awaken in us our readiness for change in the New Year.