NISHMAT KOL ḤAI (Heb. נִשְׁמַת כָּל חַי; "The soul of every living being"), the initial words and name of a prayer recited
Nishmat consists of three main sections. The first contains an avowal of God's unity: "Besides Thee we have no King. Deliverer, Savior, Redeemer… We have no King but Thee." Some scholars believed that this passage was composed by the apostle Peter as a protest against concepts foreign to pure monotheism (A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 6 (19382), 12; Maḥzor Vitry, ed. by S. Hurwitz (19232), 282; Hertz, 416). The second section starting with the words: "If our mouths were full of song as the sea… "originated in the tannaitic period. It is similar to the formula of thanksgiving for abundant rain recited in that period. The passage: "If our eyes were shining like the sun and the moon… we could not thank God for the… myriads of benefits He has wrought for us" especially, is thought to substantiate this ascription to the tannaitic period since it reflects the opinion of Rav Judah that God has to be praised for each drop of rain (Ber. 59b; Ta'an. 6b; Maim. Yad, Berakhot, 10:5). The third section, starting with the words: "From Egypt Thou hast redeemed us," is believed to have originated in the geonic period (c. tenth century C.E.). There is considerable disagreement among scholars about the original version of the Nishmat. There is, however, a general consensus that there existed an ancient but shorter version, called Birkat ha-Shir, which was later amplified and enlarged. This view is supported by the fact that the Nishmat in the Ashkenazi and in the Sephardi ritual, respectively, differ only in the wording of two or three sentences (compare Seder R. *Amram Ga'on, 27b and Maḥzor Vitry (1923), 148–54). In most prayer books the words ha-Melekh, Shokhen ad and ha-El are printed in large type, since the ḥazzan starts the central part of the morning service at these places, on High Holy Days, Sabbath, and festivals respectively. In the section Be-fi yesharim ("By the mouth of the upright") some prayer books mark an acrostic of the names Isaac and Rebekah, which was not customary in Jewish liturgical poetry prior to the Middle Ages. Some scholars consider it a later addition, but it could be also coincidental.
Eisenstein, Dinim, S.V.; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 113–4; Davidson, Oẓar, 3 (1930), 231–2; E. Levy, Yesodot ha-Tefillah (19522), 134–5, 228; E.D. Goldschmidt, Haggadah shel Pesaḥ, Mekoroteha ve-Toledoteha (1960), 66–68, 107–8; E. Munk, The World of Prayer, 2 (1963), 29–32; J. Heinemann, Ha-Tefillah bi-Tekufat ha-Tanna'im ve-ha-Amora'im (19662), 41–45, 152; idem, in: Tarbiz, 30 (1960/61), 409–10.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.