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Zimun (1)

Rav David Brofsky
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This week’s shiurim are dedicated in memory of
Lillian Grossman z”l – Devorah Leah bat Shlomo Ha-Levi
by Larry and Maureen Eisenberg



Dedicated le-zekher nishmot Amelia Ray and Morris Ray
on the occasion of their eighth yahrtzeits
by their children Patti Ray and Allen Ray




Last week, we discussed the kos shel Birkat Ha-Mazon. We noted that the Rishonim disagree as to whether one must say Birkat Ha-Mazon over wine. Some (Ba’al Ha-Ma’or, Pesachim 39a, for example) insist that one must say Birkat Ha-Mazon over wine. Tosafot (Pesachim 105b, s.v. shma mina berakha; see also Hagahot Maimoniot, Hilkhot Berakhot 7:60) records that while the Rashbam and Rabbeinu Yechiel of Paris maintain that even an individual must say Birkat Ha-Mazon over a cup of wine, it was customary to say Birkat Ha-Mazon over wine only when said with a zimun. Other Rishonim disagree, including the Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 7:15), who writes explicitly that Birkat Ha-Mazon need not be said over wine.


The Shulchan Arukh (182:1) cites all of the opinions. The Rema adds “It is still a mitzva min ha-muvchar to say the Birkat Ha-Mazon over a cup [of wine].” The Mishna Berura (182:4, 17) relates that it is customary to be lenient, although if one has wine in one’s house, “it is certainly a mitzva min ha-muvchar and all agree that one should say the blessing over the cup [of wine].” He adds that it is customary for an individual, even one who has wine in his home, not to say Birkat Ha-Mazon over wine.


We also related to halakhic ramifications of this question. For example, may one drink from the cup of wine used for Birkat Ha-Mazon after dark? When saying Sheva Berakhot at Se'udah Shelishit after dark, may one drink from the wine?


This week, we will discuss the Birkat Ha-Zimun, which is recited before the Birkat Ha-Mazon.


Birkat Ha-Zimun – Source and Definition


There are two aspects of the original practice of the zimun.


First, when three people eat together, they become obligated to say the Birkat Ha-Zimun: “If three people have eaten together, it is their duty to invite [one another to say grace]” (Mishna, Berakhot 45a). The gemara asks:


From where is this derived? R. Assi says: Because Scripture says, “Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together” (Tehillim 34:4). R. Abbahu derives it from here: “When I proclaim the name of the Lord, ascribe [plural] greatness unto our God” (Devarim 32:3).


Similarly, the Talmud (Berakhot 48b) teaches:


Our Rabbis taught: Where is the recitation of Birkat Ha-Mazon intimated in the Torah? In the verse, “And you shall eat and be satisfied and bless” (Devarim 8:10) – this signifies the benediction of “Ha-Zan” (“He who feeds”); “the Lord your God” – this signifies the benediction of zimun. (See Tosefta 6:1 and Hagahot Ha-Gra).


Although both passages seem to refer to the source of the zimun, Rashi (ibid. 45a s.v. mena) explains that the second source teaches that there is an obligation of zimun, while the first source teaches that a zimun is said with three people.


            The Ra’avad (Rif, Berakhot 44b) assumes that the zimun is a Biblical obligation. Most other Rishonim (see, for example, Ra’ah, s.v. mena, and Ritva, s.v. de-khtiv; see also Rashba 50a, s.v. ve-levarkhu) insist that zimun is only a Rabbinic obligation.


What is the nature of this Birkat Ha-Zimun? The Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 5:2) implies that the zimun is merely an additional blessing said before Birkat Ha-Mazon in the company of three or more people. When three people eat together, they become obligated to recite five blessings instead of four. Rashi (Berakhot 45b, s.v. ve-amar) offers a different understanding. He explains that when three eat together, “they combine their blessings together in the plural language, such as ‘and we bless.’” Rashi implies that the zimun in not an additional blessing; rather, the three or more people who eat join together to offer one blessing on behalf of the group.


This brings us to the second aspect of the zimun. The original practice of the zimun entailed the leader reciting the entire Birkat Ha-Mazon on behalf of the other participants. Indeed, Rashi (ibid. 45b, s.v. ve-amar) further implies that although one person may say the Birkat Ha-Mazon for another and fulfill his obligation through the mechanism of shome’a ke-oneh, when three people ate together, the Birkat Ha-Mazon said by the leader of the zimun is actually the Birkat Ha-Mazon of the entire group. The Rambam may also have adopted this understanding of the mechanism of the zimun, in addition to his understanding of the obligation of the zimun (see Shiurim Le-Zekher Abba Mari, vol. 2, p. 105). Although nowadays it is not customary for the leader to say Birkat Ha-Mazon for the entire group, the leader should say at least the entire zimun (see below) out loud, and the participants  should preferably say the words along with the leader, ending each blessing slightly before the leader in order to answer “amen” (Shulchan Arukh 183:7 and Mishna Berura 27-28).


            The Rishonim discuss the definition of the Birkat Ha-Zimun. The zimun traditionally begins when the leader says “Rabbotai nevarekh.” Based upon different understandings of a Talmudic discussion (Berakhot 46a, “ad heikhan birkat ha-zimun”), the Rishonim debate the length of the Birkat Ha-Zimun. The Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 5:2) and Rif (Berakhot 34b) rule that the Birkat Ha-Zimun includes only the zimun itself, until “barukh she-akhalnu mi-shelo.” Other Rishonim, including Tosafot (ibid. 46a, s.v. le-heikhan), the Rosh (ibid, 7:12) and the Tur (200), rule that the first blessing, Ha-Zan, is part of the Birkat Ha-Zimun. Therefore, one who stops eating in order to listen to the zimun of his friend should not resume eating until after the blessing of Ha-Zan. The Shulchan Arukh (200:2) rules in accordance with the Rif and Rambam, while the Rema rules like the Tosafot, Rosh, and Tur. Once again, the Rishonim seem to debate whether the Birkat Ha-Zimun is an additional, introductory blessing, or whether it integrates into the Birkat Ha-Mazon, transforming an individual’s blessing into a group blessing.


Saying Birkat Ha-Mazon Without a Zimun


The Talmud (Berakhot 45b) teaches:


Abaye said: We have a tradition that if two people have eaten together, it is their duty to separate. It has been taught similarly: If two people have eaten together, it is their duty to separate.


The gemara first rules that when two people have eaten together, they should recite Birkat Ha-Mazon separately; one should not recite it for the other. Interestingly, the Rosh (Berakhot 7:6) notes that although Rashi (s.v. mitzva) explains that preferably one should not even say the Birkat Ha-Motzi for another person, it is not customary to act in this manner, and even Rashi apparently did not insist that one person not say the Birkat Ha-Motzi for another.


In any case, the gemara qualifies this statement:


When is this case? When they are both educated men. But if one is educated and the other illiterate, the educated one says the benedictions and this exempts the illiterate one.


If one is not able to recite Birkat Ha-Mazon for himself, another may say it on his behalf, employing the principle of “shome’a ke-oneh.”


In this context, the Rishonim disagree as to whether one may fulfill the obligation for another even if he does not understand Hebrew. Historically, this question often referred to women, who were generally not educated and did not understand Hebrew. Tosafot (Berakhot 45b), as well as the Rosh (Berakhot 7:6), ask whether a man may recite Birkat Ha-Mazon for a woman who does not understand Hebrew.  They cite Rashi, who proves from the gemara (Megilla 17a) that just as someone who does not understand Hebrew fulfills his obligation of Kriat Megilla through hearing it read in Hebrew, even one who does not understand Hebrew may fulfill his obligation of berakhot and tefilla through hearing the recitation of another. Tosafot refute this comparison, explaining that since pirsumei nisa is the central element of Kriat Megilla, one can fulfill his obligation even without understanding; the same is not true in the case of berakhot


The Shulchan Arukh (193:1) rules that one may only recite Birkat Ha-Mazon for another person if that person understands Hebrew. R. Moshe Isserlis (Darkhei Moshe 193, Rema 199:7), however, notes that the custom follows the position of Rashi, who rules that one may fulfill an obligation through listening to another recite a Hebrew text even without understanding the meaning. The Mishna Berura (193:5) concurs, pointing out that common custom is for one to fulfill the obligation for another, regardless of whether the second person understands Hebrew. 


Incidentally, the Shulchan Arukh (183:7) writes that nowadays, each person recites Birkat Ha-Mazon to himself, even in the presence of a zimun, as it is difficult to listen and concentrate for the entire Birkat Ha-Mazon. The Mishna Berura, citing the Magen Avraham (193:2), adds that similarly, those who do not understand Hebrew should preferably repeat the text, even of Kiddush, word for word after the reader, as it is difficult to concentrate and listen to someone else’s recitation. 


Birkat Ha-Mazon with a Zimun


Under certain circumstances, when three people eat bread together, they become obligated to say the zimun. In other cases, they may pursue a zimun, although it is not obligatory. Regarding three people who ate together, the Talmud (ibid.) states:


If three people have eaten together, it is their duty to invite one another [to say Birkat Ha-Mazon], and they are not permitted to separate.


The gemara rules that when three people eat together, they must say the Birkat Ha-Zimun and they may not separate. If there are six or more people, they may divide into groups of three. However, if there are ten people, they should say Birkat Ha-Mazon with the special zimun of ten, which mentions the name of God (see Berakhot 50a).


            The Rishonim discuss the circumstances in which the people who eat together are considered to be a group that becomes obligated in the zimun. The Tur cites a debate between Rabbeinu Yona and the Tur’s father, the Rosh. Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 31a, s.v. ve-omer) implies that only when a group of people begin eating together do they incur the obligation of zimun; if they did not begin their meal together, they say Birkat Ha-Mazon separately. The Rosh (7:29) writes that as long as they ate part of the meal together, they become obligated in the Birkat Ha-Zimun and may not separate. The Shulchan Arukh (193:2) rules that as long as the people finish eating together, they become obligated to say the zimun. Therefore, the Mishna Berura (19) rules that if one begins to eat after the others and finishes first, he does not become obligated in the zimun, and he may say Birkat Ha-Mazon before the others finish. We will return to this point next week.


            As we have learned, when three people eat together, they may not separate and say the Birkat Ha-Mazon without participating in zimun. However, the gemara (Berakhot 45b) teaches that if two people need to leave, the third should interrupt his meal and answer the zimun of the other two. In contrast, two of the people are not obligated to stop their meal so that the third may say Birkat Ha-Mazon (see Shulchan Arukh 200). Furthermore, if two groups of more than three ate, but not together, since the individuals from each group became obligated in the Birkat Ha-Zimun, they may join together with members of the other group who have become obligated to say a zimun in order to say the zimun together. If, however, the members of the original groups have already said the zimum, those members of the group who did not participate in that zimun are now exempt and cannot group together with others in order to say the zimun (see Shulchan Arukh 193:5-6).


As mentioned above, although someone who did not eat bread with others is technically not obligated in the Birkat Ha-Zimun, it is meritorious to join other people in order to say the zimun. The Talmud (Berakhot 48a) even states:


R. Yehuda the son of R. Shmuel b. Shilat said in the name of Rav: If nine people have eaten… and another [eats] vegetables, they may combine. R. Zeira said: I asked R. Yehuda: What of eight, what of seven? And he replied: It makes no difference. Certainly if six [were eating] I did not need to ask. Said R. Yirmiyahu to him: You were quite right not to ask. What was the reason there [in the first case]? Because there is a majority; here too there is a majority. He, however, thought that perhaps an easily recognizable majority is required.


Although the gemara states that as long as six people at bread together, another three may join in order to say the zimun even if they only ate a vegetable, the Rishonim discuss whether this applies to a zimun of three as well, and which foods the minority must eat. The Rishonim cite those who believe that only if the third has bread may a zimun be said. They add that some believe that even if the third drank or ate other foods, he made join the zimun. The Shulchan Arukh (197:3) rules that even if the third person has a drink, he may join together with the other two for a zimun.


Next week, we will discuss whether one may separate and not participate in a zimun in extenuating circumstances.



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