Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I know that in order to answer to a zimun (a joint bentching, or reciting of Birkat Hamazone)the third person needed does not have the same requirements as the first two. Could you give me some specific parameters?
Answer: You are correct that there is a difference between the first two and a third. This is primarily because two who ate together form the basis of the zimun, even though they need a third in order to actually do the zimun. The main distinctions are in the following areas, which we present one by one.
Looking for a zimun- It is desirable for two who eat together to make some effort (within reason) to include a third to eat with them so that they can make a zimun (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 193:2). Similarly, seven should preferably look for another three to do a zimun of ten,with Hashem’s name (Mishna Berura 193:12). We do not find that one has any reason to look for another two for a zimun.
Forcing a third to answer- If two are interested in bentching and the third is not, the two can require the third to take part in a zimun (Shulchan Aruch 200:1). Even if the third does not respond, they fulfill their obligation of zimun, although the third does not, if he did not respond (Mishna Berura 200:3). One person who is ready for Birkat Hamzone cannot demand of the other two to answer for him, although they can if they want.
If one bentched without waiting- If three ate together and bentched without a zimun, they lost the opportunity to do so, even if one of them has not yet bentched. However, if only one bentched and two did not, then they can do a zimun, which the third can respond to even after having bentched (Shulchan Aruch 194:1). However, if the third ate something other than bread and recited a beracha acharona (blessing after eating), they cannot include him in the zimun (Mishna Berura 197:9).
What they ate- Zimun is only for Birkat Hamazone and not for other berachot acharanot. Thus, two must have eaten at least a c’zayit (app. half a slice) of bread. However, a third person can answer the zimun even after having any food or drink, other than water (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 197:2). However, some Rishonim say that this is the case only regarding turning a regular zimun into a zimun of ten. According to them, if two ate bread and one ate fruit, they cannot do a zimun (ibid.). To stay out of doubt, Sephardim avoid the situation where two who eat bread together invite a third to eat something other than bread (other grain products are a question). If it happened that two ate bread and one ate something else, then they should do a zimun (ibid.). The minhag among Ashkenazim is that if the third prefers not eating bread, it is fine to give him something else to eat or drink and use him for the zimun (Mishna Berura 197:22).
Joining after the first two basically finished eating- The three must be united in their eating in some way, in terms of time and place. Yet if two ate together and a third came after they finished eating but had not yet bentched, he can create a zimun with them under the following circumstances. That which the third needs to eat is as above. Even if the two are not going to eat any more, they can still be united in their meal if they halachically may eat and would eat at least a little more if they were served particularly tasty food (Shulchan Aruch 197:1). If they already made preparations for Birkat Hamazone that preclude their continuing the meal (such as mayim acharonim- the details are beyond our present scope) then they cannot do zimun together. In a case where the two are still considered within their meal and the third concludes what he is eating, they may not bentch without zimun. However, if the group neither started nor finished together, they need not do a zimun (Mishna Berura 193:19). However, if they want to do the zimun, the two may use the latecomer even if he has not concluded eating (Piskei Teshuvot 193:6).
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