We begin this week with the issue of what constitutes a zimun. The first point in this discussion is how many people are needed for a zimun. We mentioned last week that although the accepted practice is to make a zimun with no less than three men (we will deal with women later on), the gemara seems to open the possibility of having a zimun with only two. It has been brought to my attention that there is a Yerushalmi in Berachot which connects this issue to the question of whether or not two or three people constitute the minimum size for a beit din (civil court). If there is a connection, then perhaps we can say that just as a beit din requires three, so too does a zimun. Beyond that, Ritva notes that zimun is a quasi-davar she-bikedusha (utterings that are holy, usually defined as kaddish, kedushah, barchu), and thus needs no less than three (a regular davar she-bikedusha needs ten). He also invokes the idea of b'rov am hadrat melech - that there is more glory for Hashem with a multitude of people. In the end, this issue disappears in all of the poskim, beginning with Rambam and running straight through the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch, and all agree that three is the minimum size for a zimun.

The next section of this topic is at what point can three people be said to be eating together so as to be able to say the zimun? Do they all have to eat together from start to finish? Can they come at different times? This issue is the subject of a major debate among Rishonim. According to Rif (cited in Tosafot), there is only an obligation to make a zimun if they all began eating together. However, if they began at different times, even if they finished together, they are allowed to say Birchat HaMazon without a zimun if necessary (e.g. if one of them has to leave early - more on that later on). Rabbeinu Yonah agrees with this view (as does Rivivan), and brings a proof from Berachot 42b concerning a case of people who were traveling together and decided to eat. The gemara there states that if they leaned (eating was traditionally done while leaning and thus it constituted k'viut - establishing a meal together) then they have to say the zimun. From that Rabbeinu Yonah infers that the obligation for the zimun is connected to the beginning of the meal.

Rosh, however, disagrees with this point. He claims that as long as all three eat a k'zayit together at some point during the meal they may make a zimun. The Shiltei HaGibborim comments on this that even Rabbeinu Yonah (and the Semag who sides with him) would allow for a zimun if the k'viut came at a point during the meal and not at the beginning, although optimally the k'viut should be at the beginning. Meiri emphasizes the view of Rosh, and states that even if each of the three individuals arrived at a different time they may still make a zimun together if their eating overlaps.

The Tur introduces one more twist to this debate. He states that even if the three have yet to eat a k'zayit together, as soon as they sit down to eat they are considered to have established themselves as a group and may no longer disband without making a zimun. The Shulchan Aruch agrees with this point, although there are those who claim that since a k'zayit is what is ultimately needed to make the zimun, there is no obligation until a k'zayit has been eaten, and thus they may break up at any time before that point.

This law extends even further. The Tur (O.C. 197) notes that if two people were eating and a third person joined them, they may make a zimun as long as the third person came before they decided to say Birchat HaMazon. The Beit Yoseif quotes Rambam and Rif as saying that as long as the two people would still eat food if it was brought before them, then their meal is not considered to be finished, and third person may eat and be considered to be part of the meal. Rosh and Rashba propose the view stated by the Tur, namely that saying "let us say Birchat HaMazon" constitutes the halachic end of the meal and prevents anyone else from being able to combine to make a zimun.

The next issue to explore is what does each person have to eat in order to be counted for a zimun? Does everyone have to eat bread? If so, how much? If not, do they have to eat anything at all or can they just be sitting there? Is there a difference between counting people for a zimun of three and counting them for a zimun of ten?

The Mishna at the beginning of the seventh chapter of Berachot presents an argument over how much one must eat in order to be part of a zimun. The Mishna says that a k'zayit must be eaten, while Rabi Yehuda holds that one needs to eat a k'beitzah (double as much). This argument stems from the fact that the first view is using the most common measurement that is used to halachically define eating, while Rabi Yehuda is using the word "and you shall be satiated" in the verse to teach us that a "measurement of satiation," usually defined as a k'beitzah is what is needed here. We will solve this suspense right away and note that across the board, the poskim require only a k'zayit in order for one to be included in a zimun. However, the view of Rabi Yehuda is not completely discarded. There may yet be a difference in one's obligation based on whether one ate a k'zayit or a k'beitzah. Tur cites the Behag who claims that one who eats only a k'zayit can lead the zimun for those who have also eaten a k'zayit, but not for those who have eaten a k'beitzah, because their obligation is d'oraita while his is only d'rabbanan. However, Ri opposes this view and says that even if one ate only a k'zayit, he may still lead the zimun for everyone. The Beit Yoseif refines this and states that one who ate a k'zayit may lead everyone if everyone is saying Birchat HaMazon to themselves. However, if they are all listening to him and merely saying "Amen" afterwards (as was the common practice), then he preferably should not lead if there are people there who have eaten a k'beitzah.

One final note at this issue. The is one view in the gemara that takes the word "and you shall be satiated" in the verse to mean that one must drink when he eats. This is taken by many poskim to be not merely good advice, but actually part of the requirements of leading a zimun. The Kol Bo and Shibbolei HaLeket both say that a person who does not drink while he eats may not lead a zimun. The Beit Yoseif disagrees with this approach, and the Magen Avraham sets the priorities straight, stating that it is better to be led by someone who ate until the point of satiation even if he did not drink than to be led by one who ate only a k'zayit but did drink (some say that the gemara may mean that one has to say a blessing whether he eats or drinks, but not that one has to do both in order to say a zimun).

All this has been presuming that one is eating bread. Can one take part in a zimun if he ate something other than bread? Rambam seems to say no, stating that three people who ate bread are needed to make a zimun. The Lechem Mishne (in contradiction to his name) cites Rosh who allows one to combine to a zimun if he ate "ma'aseh k'deirah," generally a reference to some cooked food that incorporated grains into the mixture, e.g. oatmeal. The Tur presents two possibilities. He first cites Rif who claims that one who ate vegetables can combine to make a zimun of ten, but cannot be the third for a party of three, while Ri allows such a person to even be the third link in the chain of a standard three-person zimun. Either way, such a person can only combine to help achieve the desired quorum, but may not lead the zimun. The Beit Yoseif allows a person to combine even if they merely had something to drink, so long as that drink was not water. The Aruch HaShulchan splits an even finer hair, allowing one to combine if they had even something as insignificant as flavored water ("seltzer, lemonade" in his words). However, the Magen Avraham allows one who drank water to count, since he can still thank Hashem for providing him with some form of sustenance.

Within this debate we have to answer another question: if we allow non-bread eaters to count, how many of them can count? Can one person who eats bread make a zimun if he has two friends who ate cookies? What about by ten - how many of the ten do not have to have eaten bread? Meiri states that as long as at least seven (a recognizable majority) have eaten bread, then it is fine if the other three have eaten only vegetables. The Yerushalmi requires that those three eat at least some grain product. Rambam agrees with Meiri, but states that with regard to a zimun of three, we require that all three to eat bread in order to be included. The Beit Yoseif cites the Aggur who allows for only six to have eaten bread in order to have a ten-person zimun (and thus invoke the name of Hashem). Mordechai notes that whatever we hold, any person who is joining a zimun must eat at least a k'zayit of whatever food they are eating.


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