Most Important Prayer
I have heard many different opinions and would like to know which prayer is the most fundamental to Jews, the Amidah or the Shema?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
It is impossible to compare, because the Shema is not really a "prayer" at all, while the Amidah is the optimum prayer.
The Shema is not a "prayer" in the ordinary sense of the word, even though it is an integral part of the prayer service. The Shema is a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to One God, an affirmation of Judaism. It is the first "prayer" that Jewish children are taught to say. It is said on arising in the morning and on going to sleep at night. It is said when one is praising God and when one is beseeching Him. It is the last words a Jew says prior to death. It is the expression of Jewish conviction, the historic proclamation of Judaism's central creed.
On the other hand, the Shemona Esrei (a.k.a. the Amidah) is the heart of every prayer service. It contains the basic components of prayer: praising God, petitioning Him, and thanking Him. Whenever the Talmud refers to "Tefilah" (the Hebrew word for "prayer") it means the Shemona Esrei, and not any other blessing or supplication. The obligation to pray three times a day is fulfilled only by reciting the Shemona Esrei three times a day.
So you see, the Shema and the Amidah fulfill completely different purposes.
To learn more, read "To Pray As A Jew" by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, from which this answer was derived.