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Laws of Zimun (3): How to Make a Zimun

The last two articles were dedicated to issues of zimun – the introduction to birkas ha-mazon when the meal was eaten as part of a group (of three or more). In the first article, we addressed the basic definition of zimun, and discussed the types of group eating that obligate bentching with a zimun, and also how a person leaving the group should act.

In the second article, we moved on to the laws of zimun, focusing on who should be honored with leading the ceremony, and on who is qualified to form part of the zimun group. We also discussed who is considered the ba’al ha-bayis, and which rights he has with respect to the zimun ceremony.

This week we wrap up the series on zimun with a number of important issues. We will discuss how the zimun is performed, what text is included in the zimun, how much does the mezamen need to say out loud, and until which point do participants who are still eating need to wait? Does the zimun require a cup of wine? What is the correct nusach for the zimun and the response to it?

These questions, and others, are addressed below.

Text of the Zimun

Although the text of the zimun ceremony is today well-defined, the Gemara (Berachos 46a) investigates the definition of zimun, and in response cites a dispute among Amoraim.

According to Rav Nachman, zimun continues only until “nevarech.” This means that zimun ends before the commencement of the usual birkas ha-mazon. Rav Sheshes, however, holds that zimun continues until “hazan” – through the end of the first blessing.

The Rosh (Berachos 7:12) points out that all participants in the meal surely recite the first blessing of birkas hamazon. Therefore he finds the opinion of Rav Sheshes, which states that zimun includes the first blessing, conceptually difficult: If all are obligated in the first blessing, how can this be a part of zimun, which is recited by one person alone? Moreover, the general principle is that the halachah (with regard to prohibitions) follows the opinion of Rav Sheshes – yet surely our practice is not according to Rav Sheshes’ opinion?

In response to this question, the Rosh suggest a new interpretation of the Gemara: “It seems that the question `until where is birkas ha-zimun’ is asking until where does one have to wait before resuming eating if he has stopped in order to answer the zimun.”

Concerning this question, Rav Sheshes states – according to the Rosh’s interpretation – that somebody who pauses in his meal to answer a zimun must wait until the end of the first blessing of birkas ha-mazon before continuing his meal. The reason for this, as the Rosh explains, is so that “it should be clear that they are being mezamen for him.”

Waiting Before Continuing the Meal

The discussion above has relevance to two distinct halachic questions. One question is until when a participant continuing his meal has to pause in answering a zimun. The second question is until where the mezamen has to read out loud.

On the first question the Shulchan Aruch writes (Orach Chayim 200:2, based on Rif and Rambam): “One only has to pause until baruch she-achalnu mi-Shelo. Following this, he can return and finish his meal without saying another blessing.”

According to the Shulchan Aruch, whose ruling is followed by many Sephardic Jews, a participant wishing to continue his meal need only wait until the end of the precursor to birkas ha-mazon. The ruling according to the Shulchan Aruch follows the opinion of Rav Nachman.

The Rema, however, writes (based on the Rosh and other authorities) that the Ashkenaz custom is different: “There are those that say (he should wait) until the mezamen says ha-Zan et ha-kol – and this is our custom.”

Ashkenazim, who follow the rulings of the Rema, must therefore pause until after the mezamen has completed the first berachah of bentching, and only then continue their meal.

Recitation out Loud

With regard to the question of until where the mezamen should recite out loud, it is important to realize that the original custom was that the mezamen recited the entire bentching out loud, and the others fulfilled their obligation by hearing him. This is ruled by the Rambam (Berachos 5:3): “And afterwards he recites… until he concludes all four blessings, and they answer Amen after each blessing.”

Because of concerns about dwindling concentration spans, later authorities suggested that it is preferable for each person to say his own blessings. This way, a slip in concentration will not affect the actual fulfillment of the mitzvah.

The Shulchan Aruch (183:7; see Mishnah Berurah 27-28) thus rules that although the mezamen still continues aloud until the end of the fourth blessing, everyone else says the blessings along with him quietly (This is the ruling of most authorities, including the Shulchan Aruch Ha-Rav 183:10; Chayei Adam 48:1 and others. According to the Bach, however, the participants must fulfill their mitzvah by listening to the mezamen.).

The Sephard custom is that even the ending of each blessing is recited by all in unison, and Amen is therefore not answered at the end of each blessing (for fear of interruption), whereas the Ashkenaz custom (as ruled by the Rema) is that participants make an effort to finish each of the blessings before the mezamen, so they can then answer Amen at the end of each of his blessings.

Although the ideal is that the mezamen recite the entire birkas ha-mazon out loud (with others reciting quietly with him), the Mishnah Berurah (28) writes that at the very least the first berachah should be recited aloud. This is in line with the opinion of Rav Sheshes, and specifically with authorities who understand his ruling as applying even to those reciting birkas ha-mazon, and not just to those who plan on continuing their meal (Rashi; Rach; Raavad; Tashbatz).

For this reason, it is important that at large gatherings the mezamen should have a loud enough voice to be heard by all. However, where this is not possible, one can rely on those opinions who rule like Rav Nachman (the Rif and the Rambam; according to Rav Nachman zimun ends with the precursor to bentching), or that the dispute applies only to those planning to continue the meal and not to those currently bentching (Tosafos; Rosh).

Wording of the Zimun Ceremony

In the procedure of zimun the mezamen turns to his colleagues and opens: “Let us bless He from whom we ate.” They answer him: “Blessed is Him from whom we ate, and in His goodness we live.” He follows with the same statement, and they begin to bentch.

It is customary to introduce the initial statement with the opening “let us bless” (in Yiddush “mir veln benchn“), or in Hebrew “rabbosai nevarech.” There is no specific wording that was enacted for this purpose, and therefore customs vary in what to say (Mishnah Berurah 192:2). Though it is not part of the zimun ceremony, it is customary to reply with the words: “Let the Name of Hashem be blessed from now and for eternity.”

It is customary for the mezamen to ask for permission to lead the ceremony: primarily from his father, his rabbi and other dignitaries, or kohanim who are present, and then from the entire assembly. The source for this practice is the Kol Bo, and it is also a matter of basic courtesy (see also Zohar, Terumah 168b).

When zimun is recited with the Name of Hashem (with ten or more people), some raise themselves (at least a little) upon mentioning the Name (Elokeinu). However, there is no formal obligation to do so (Chasam Sofer, Orach Chaim 51; Eshel Avraham (Butshatsh) 192).

Somebody who did not eat with the group (meaning, he did not eat a kezayis of any food or drink a revi’is of any drinkMishnah Berurah 198:1) cannot bless “Him from whom we ate,” and rather answers: “His Name is blessed, and it shall be blessed for eternity.” If a person enters the room only to hear the respondents conclude their response, he should answer Amen after them, and then Amen once again after the mezamen‘s blessing.

A Cup of Wine for Zimun

In principle, the requirement of reciting birkas ha-mazon over a cup of wine has no special connection with the mitzvah of zimun. The Gemara (Pesachim 105b) states that birkas ha-mazon requires a cup of wine, irrespective of the mitzvah of zimun. However, the Gemara does not explain under which conditions the cup of wine is necessary.

A three-way dispute is found concerning this matter:

  1. Tosafos hold that even an individual who is bentching requires a cup of wine. Indeed, according to this opinion, one shouldn’t wash hands for bread if wine will not be available for birkas ha-mazon (this is also the opinion of the Rosh and the Tur).
  1. The Rambam (Berachos 7:15) maintains that birkas ha-mazon never requires a cup of wine. According to his understanding, the idea of a kos shel berachah is meritorious, but not obligatory (this is also the opinion of the Rif, Rashba, Meiri, and Semag).
  2. A third opinion, which is mentioned by the Kol Bo in the name of Midrash Rus Ha-ne’elam (see Beis Yosef and Aruch Ha-Shulchan 182), holds that a cup of wine is required only when three are bentching together – a zimun (this is also the opinion of the Hagahos Maimonios).

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 182:1) notes all three opinions as yesh omrim, without deciding among them. Although there is a general principle that in such cases, the final opinion mentioned is the principle ruling (in this case, the Rambam), the Mishna Berurah (182:4) writes that the Shulchan Aruch did not decide the matter in favor of any one of the three opinions.

Yet, the Rema adds (citing the Ran) that according to all opinions it remains a mitzvah min ha-muvchar (a worthy practice) to bentch over a cup of wine.

The Mishna Berurah mentions further that “today” most people do not recite birkas ha-mazon over wine, unless wine is readily available. It is possible that for this reason it became customary to use wine specifically on Shabbos, when wine is already at the table.

Many have the custom to only bentch over a cup of wine when a zimun is present. This is perhaps because under such circumstances two out of the three opinions require wine, and according to the third it remains a commendable practice. Ensuring that one uses wine where a zimun is present is strongly recommended by a number of authorities (see Mishnah Berurah 182:4; Aruch Ha-Shulchan 182:3; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 45:1;  Ben Ish Chai Shlach 16)

Thus, although Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:69) explains the current practice by reference to the opinion of the Rambam, it is certainly better to use a kos shel berachah where zimun is performed.תחתית ה

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