ZIMUN - PARTY OF THREE / PART I
I. INTRODUCTION - THE BASICS
This week's topic, while relatively compact, involves several issues and raises several interesting questions. As such, it will be split up into a two-week Chabura. We will focus mainly on the text of the gemara itself this week, analyzing the main issues. Next week we will focus mainly on the treatment given to these issues by the Rishonim and later by the Poskim.
The basic requirement of zimun is stated in the first mishna of the seventh perek of Brachot (45a). There it states that three people who eat together must say a "zimun" before bensching (Grace After Meals). The Mishna then goes on to state what types of eating do not require this zimun, and what types do require it.
Our initial question must be what exactly is this zimun, and where does our obligation in it come from? The gemara begins by trying to answer this latter question, offering two possible verses as a source for zimun. The suggestion are either "Exalt Hashem with me" (Tehillim 34) or "When I call the name of Hashem, give greatness to our God." (Devarim 32) As both verses are written as if one person is speaking to a plurality of individuals, the gemara reasons that when there are at least three people present, they must offer some form of praise to Hashem.
However, neither of these answers are wholly satisfactory, as they both lack one essential element. Namely, neither verse has any implicit connection to bensching, and thus while they may provide us with the concept of praising Hashem while in a group setting, it does not relate to our case at hand. Thus, there is a third alternative, offered by the gemara on 48b. There, the gemara deals with the verse in Devarim 8 that serves as the source for having to say Grace after eating - "And you should eat and be satisfied and praise Hashem your God..." The gemara states that the clause "Hashem your God" is a reference to the idea of zimun, as it is an extra praise beyond the basic text of bensching, which is referred to in the first part of the verse.Ritva actually goes so far as to downplay the verses, and claim that the real force of this law is the idea of "b'rov am hadrat melech" - that there is more glory for the king among multitudes of his people, and thus zimun is an issue of respect for Hashem.
From this seemingly basic issue, we come to one of the main questions concerning zimun: is this extra prayer Torah-mandated (d'oraita) or a Rabbinic injunction (d'rabbanan)? If it has a strong intrinsic connection to bensching, then we may be inclined to say that it is d'oraita. However, if the initial suggestions of the gemara are viewed as the main sources, then perhaps the law is a Rabbinic one, and the verses serve not as the creative source of the law proper, but rather as related, but not integral, textual supports.
Does it make a difference how we answer this law? Either way, a group of three individuals would have to say the zimun when they have finished eating! While that is true, there are cases where the status of this law will make a difference. The most notable of these cases is the issue of women. The problem here is actually two-fold. Women's obligation in bensching itself may actually be only d'rabbanan. This law has two possible rationales. One is that they do not have "Brit v'Torah," namely that the references in the second paragraph to Brit Mila and Torah that Hashem has graciously given to us do not apply to women to the same way, since their commandment in each case is less than that of men. The second possibility is that since women were not given land in Israel when it was initially divided up during the time of Joshua, therefore they cannot say "for the good land that you have given us" with the same halachic force men do.
With this in mind, we will lay out the matrix of a woman's obligation in zimun. If women are obligated from the Torah to say Grace After Meals, then if zimun is intrinsically connected to bensching it would be likely that they are obligated in that as well. However, if their initial obligation in bensching is only d'rabbanan, then the intrinsic connection to zimun would weaken their potential obligation. On the other hand, if zimun is not really linked to bensching, but is its own issue, then if women are obligated in bensching d'oraita, it may not necessarily mean that they are obligated in zimun. Nevertheless, if they are obligated merely on a d'rabbanan level, that may not provide any insight about their obligation in zimun, and they may yet be required to do so.
There is another issue that may relate to both the source as well as to the status of the mitzva itself. The gemara deals with the question of whether or not two men may make up a zimun. The two sources cited on 45a would seem to indicate that three are needed, while the verse given on 48b does not deal with numbers, and is not interpreted to be dealing with number. As such, this latter verse may allow for a zimun of only two (one is obviously not sufficient, as there must be at least a minimum "group"). Hand-in-hand with this issue is that of a group splitting up. If three men eat together, may they finish eating at different times and say Grace by themselves, or are they bound by their obligation to say the zimun to stick together and say the zimun? Part of this issue depends on the force of the obligation of zimun, while part of it depends on how many people are needed to make a zimun. If only two men are needed, then one can certainly leave. However, if all three are needed, and there is a real obligation to say the zimun, then they may not split up and must wait until all have finished eating so that they can bensch together.
The next line in the gemara helps to highlight this last point. What happens in a case where a servant is attending to people at a meal, and that servant is catching a bite along the way? May that servant be counted towards the zimun? The big problem here is that the servant was not an established part of the participants in the meal (kvi'ut), and thus really should not be included. However, the gemara states that if the meal consisted of only two people, then the servant may be counted with them even if they did not specifically say so, while if there were three people or more, they must explicitly include him in the meal in order for him to take part in the zimun. The reasoning at work here is that since zimun is an obligation, the group of two would obviously want to fulfill it if possible and thus the servant can be included. While this would seem to imply that zimun requires three people, the gemara claims that it may yet require only two, and the servant is included so that the participants in the meal will be required to do a zimun (as is the case by three people) and will not merely be doing it as an optional activity (as is the case with two people). AsRashi notes, one who does a mitzva that he is commanded to do is greater than one who performs a mitzva that he is not commanded to do.
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