Talmud Tips

For the week ending 22 June 2019 / 19 Sivan 5779

Erchin 2-8

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Zimun for Women

“Women make a mezuman for themselves.”

In this beraita on our daf, Rashi and Tosefot explain that three or more women who ate together may make a mezuman for themselves, but a woman who ate with two men will not serve to complete the minimum required number of three people eating together that is needed to form a quorum for the mitzvah of zimun. The reason for this inability to combine, they explain, is that the texts of the Birkat Hamazon for women and men are different. The Birkat Hamazon for men contains two elements that are not said by women since they are not relevant to women: the mitzvah of brit milah and the allotment of the Land of Israel that G-d gave to our Forefathers as an inheritance. The Mishna Berurah, however, states a different reason: women and men do not combine for this purpose since Chazal did not command women to make a mezuman; and even if they would want to complete the required number for making a mezuman with men, this combining in order to constitute a basic unit for zimun is not considered an appropriate union. (Orach Chaim 199:6:12)

It appears evident that the Mishna Berurah offers a different reason than the one stated by Rashi and Tosefot since the halacha is that both men and women in fact say the very same text for the berachot of Birkat Hamazon despite the two factual differences mentioned by Rashi and Tosefot.

A few words of introduction to the mitzvah of zimun: When three or more people have eaten together they become obligated in the mitzvah of zimun. One person of the group leads the others, inviting them in a prescribed manner to say Birkat Hamazon together. The group’s leader is known as the mezamen — “the one who invites.” The group is called a mezuman.

According to most authorities the mitzvah of zimun was instituted by our Sages and is not a mitzvah of the Torah.

What is the reason for this mitzvah? In general, a person can make a beracha for someone else only if they form a single unit — as if they are one body. There is a very special pleasure derived by the diners when eating together as a group of three, a pleasure that binds them together as if they were one body. Therefore, it is correct that they also give praise to G-d in gratitude for their sustenance in this same combined manner of togetherness.

The Maharal of Prague explains the significance of the number three as being the “minimum of a multitude” that combine to form a single unit. We see this in geometry. If one takes one or two straight lines he cannot join them together to produce a closed form. However, with three lines he can make a triangle — a closed unit.

In Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 199:7 the halacha states: “Women may make a mezuman for themselves (i.e. they are not obligated to do so but have permission to do so). But when women meet together with (a mezuman of) men, they are obligated in the mitzvah of zimun.” What is the reason for zimun being merely permitted when they eat by themselves, as opposed to being an obligation when they eat with at least three men?

Two reasons are offered. One reason is that Chazal did not want to impose upon them the obligation for zimun when they eat by themselves because it was not certain that they would be sufficiently expert in the knowledge of the beracha of zimun. (Despite the quality of education for women having immeasurably improved since the time of initial decree of the mitzvah, there has been no change in the status of the application of this halacha.) A second reason for women not having an obligation on their own involves the halacha that the preferred manner for saying Birkat Hamazon when three people eat together is to say it over a cup of wine. (O. C. 182:1) Halacha considers it inappropriate for a woman to be drinking a cup of wine in this manner.

However, when women have eaten with a mezuman of men they are truly obligated in the mitzvah of zimun. When there is a mezuman of men there is no longer an issue of doubt as to whether the leader will know the text of the beracha of zimun and also a man will hold and drink the cup of wine. Some forty years ago I heard from Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg (zatzal) that when a woman has eaten with a mezuman of men, thus having a zimun obligation, it is important for the men to be sensitive to her obligation. This entails an obligation on them to call for her if she is busy away from the table when they are ready to say the beracha of zimun, and they also wait a reasonable amount of time for her to return so that she may fulfill her obligation along with them — an obligation that is identical to theirs.

  • Erchin 3a

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