We move now to the participatory role of women in a zimun. We have already touched lightly on the idea of the level of a woman's obligation in zimun (see Part I). The Mishna states that we do not include women, [Canaanite] slaves, or children in a zimun. The gemara elaborates on this and states that while women may not be included in a zimun with men, they may make their own zimun. An objection is then raised that in other contexts we consider even a hundred women to be tantamount to two men - how then can women ever constitute a halachic trio? The answer given is that by zimun the focus is "de'ot" - we need three distinct intellects coming together. This is not a question of how much status one has in the eye of halacha, but rather a simple counting of individuals, and thus three women count as three women when it comes to zimun.

Tosafot note that the daughters of Rabi Avraham were accustomed to making their own zimun, although such was not the usual practice. They then address the issue of a women's actual obligation in zimun, and conclude that while women may make a zimun, they have no obligation. Even further, they suggest that women may not be able to answer the zimun of men, since the women at that time did not understand Hebrew.

From this Tosafot we get two streams of discourse on this issue. The first is the obligation of women for themselves; the second is their ability to participate in a zimun of men, even if they are only answering and are not taking part. Tosafot discuss two possible proofs why women could answer the zimun of men, but they reject both. The first is that the gemara here rules that a learned individual may say Birchat HaMazon for one who is not learned, and the latter need only listen or follow along. Thus, even if women do not know Hebrew, this mechanism should enable them to answer the zimun. However, Tosafot claim that the unlearned people referred to here may at least have known Hebrew, and thus while they did not know what to say, they knew what was being said. The second possible proof comes from a case by Megillat Esther, where the gemara rules that a person who reads in Hebrew can read the Megilla for people who speak some other language and do not understand Hebrew. While this seems to be exactly our case, Tosafot claim that Megilla is a different situation since the main thrust behind the commandment to read is so as to publicize the miracle, and thus we allow situations that we would not normally allow.

Rosh claims, based on Erchin 3a ("all are obligated in zimun..."), that women are obligated in zimun. He further reasons that if they are obligated to say Birchat HaMazon, either on a d'oraita or a d'rabbanan level, then they should certainly be obligated in zimun as well! Clearly, he sees the two as being inherently connected to each other, a notion that may be strengthened by the opinion in the gemara on Berachot 46a that claims that the "Birchat HaZimun" goes until the end of the first blessing of Birchat HaMazon. Rabbeinu Yonah also claims, based on our gemara, that three women are obligated to make a zimun, but restricts them from helping to make up a zimun with men, even a wife with her husband, since such groupings are not favorably viewed within halacha. The Maimuni (I am unsure if this refers to Rambam or Hagahot Maimoniyot or some third party - of anyone knows, please let me know), cited in the Shiltei HaGibborim, restricts this law a bit further, saying that while women may make a zimun, if there are ten of them they may not do so with the name of Hashem (as Meiri points out, this is due to the fact that a zimun using the name of Hashem is a davar she-bikedusha, which are not given to women to do). The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (as well as the footnotes to the Mossad HaRav Kook edition of Ritva) claims that if there are three women at a table with three men, the women may break away from the men and make their own zimun. The import of this statement is that it implies that women have an obligation of their own without any connection to the men, a view that is not universally held.

A more shocking view is that of Rosh, Rabbeinu Tam, and Rabbeinu Simcha, all quoted in the Shiltei Giborim. They claim that women may be counted along with men in order to achieve a zimun of ten so as to be able to invoke Hashem's name. Furthermore, Rav Yehuda HaKohein used to do this in practice, while Maharam (and Meiri) opposed this idea (this debate is also cited in the Tur). Mordechai limits this to their being able to lead the zimun, but claims that even if women are only obligated on a d'rabbanan level they may still be included in a zimun. Even more radical, Ritva, in his Hilchot Berachot, goes so far as to say that since women are obligated to say Birchat HaMazon on a d'oraita level, therefore their obligation in zimun is equal to that of men, and they may even lead a zimun on behalf of men. Rambam rules that women are obligated to make a zimun, although he stops short of openly equating their obligation with that of men or of allowing them to use the name of Hashem if there are ten of them. Taking a more moderate approach, but still believing that women have a full obligation, the Sefer HaMichtam rules that the problem of including women in a zimun in specifically a meal-oriented problem, since under such conditions drunkenness and general levity are more common, and thus the institutionalized mingling of the sexes is not advocated by halacha. Meiri similarly holds that the real problem of including women assuming that their obligation to say Birchat HaMazon is d'oraita, is one of encouraging looseness between the sexes. Again, he believes that they can make their own zimun when on their own.

With regard to answering a zimun made by men, Meiri and the Hagahot Maimoniyot ignore Tosafot's rejection of their two suggested proofs and claims that women may absolutely answer such a zimun. The Beit Yoseif notes a responsa of Rosh, who rules that women should answer a zimun made by men. The Darchei Moshe cites a Semag who claims that it is better for women to make their own zimun if possible. However, he notes that the accepted custom is to follow Rashi and for women to answer a zimun made by men. The Shulchan Aruch uses even stronger terms, claiming that when they are eating with men, women have an obligation to answer the zimun of the men. Rav Getsel Elinson, in Bein HaIsha L'Yotzrah cites a Ben Ish Chai who claims that one should instruct his daughters to make a zimun whenever possible (and, he notes, such has become the custom in many girls' schools is both Israel and the Diaspora). However, Rav Elinson rules that women should not make a zimun if even one male is present (this is also the subject of debate, although I have not located other sources as of yet).


Although they are mentioned in the same line of the Mishna as are women, there are differences in the law concerning minors (boys under thirteen years of age). Rabbeinu Yonah distinguishes between minors who are "bnei da'at" and those who are not "bnei da'at," a term that loosely refers to their ability to be aware of what they are doing and who they are praying to. If they are bnei da'at, says Rabbeinu Yonah, then they may be included in a zimun. This idea may be connected to the notion of "de'ot" that we mentioned with regard to women. Once we can consider a child to have attained a certain level of intellectual capacity, then we may include him in a zimun. Ritva claims that a child who has reached the age of "chinuch" (usually given as six or seven years old) may be combined to make a zimun, although he may not lead it. Even further, Ritva allows for a zimun of ten to include up to three minors in their quorum. Arguing with this point, the Hagahot Maimoniyot first states that no more than one minor may be included in a zimun of ten, then notes that Ra'avyah held that not even one minor should be included unless it was absolutely necessary (keep in mind that there is a concept of trying as hard as possible to have a zimun with ten people so that the name of Hashem may be invoked). The Sefer HaMichtam highlights the difference between minors and women, stating that the minors will eventually become obligated to make a zimun when they turn thirteen, and thus they at least have that potential. Women, by contrast, will always have the same level of obligation or non-obligation, and thus their position is weaker.

Tur (O.C. 199) brings down a huge debate over including minors. He cites Rabbeinu Chananel, who does not allow a minor to be included, followed by Rif, who allows a minor to be included once he recognizes to whom he is praying, followed by Rambam, who allows inclusion of a minor even for a zimun of ten. He then notes an interesting view of Rav Hai Gaon and Rabbeinu Peretz, who allow a minor to be included for ten but not for three. The Beit Yoseif explains this view via a Yerushalmi which makes the statement that we try as hard as possible to get ten. The Tur also notes the custom to include a minor who is holding a Chumash, yet he states that this is not an accepted practice. The Beit Yoseif concludes that minors should not be included.

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