Zimun and Grace after Meals 2

Author: Rav Duvdevani of Bet Shemesh, Cheshvan 5765/Oct 2004

In this Torah Talk, Rav Duvdevani continued the topic of his previous talk on women’s participation in zimun, the invitation to recite the Grace after meals.

We examine the functions of zimun and of the Grace after meals, birkat ha mazon in order to see how this affects the status of women in fulfilling these commandments. There is inevitably some overlap with the first talk on the subject.

We find the definition of zimun in Tractate Berakhot 45A, where the Gemara states that one person invites at least two other people to recite the Grace. The commandment to do this is based on a Biblical verse; both the verse ‘O magnify the Lord with me, let us exalt His name together’ (Psalm 34,4) and the verse ‘I will publish the name of the Lord; ascribe ye greatness unto our God’ (Deut.32,3) are adduced as the source for zimun.

Zimun, Rav Duvdevani explained, has two separate functions. One is a preparation for birkat ha mazon, the Grace, and one is to make of that birkat ha mazon a formal event.

Preparation is needed for all religious services. We see this in the morning service, where the Shema and the Amida are preceded by praise of the Almighty in blessings and Psalms. Indeed, the day begins with the modei ani prayer of thanks before any activity starts. This aspect of praise and preparation for the recital of the Grace is the basis of women’s obligation in zimun.

The second function, to make the Grace into a formal event does not involve the women. Therefore they are not counted as part of the quorum of at least three qualified men in the zimun of three or ten. They may say a zimun of their own, separately (Tosafot on Berakhot 45A).

We know that women are duty bound to say birkat ha mazon (Berakhot 20A).

To what extent is zimun a part of the Grace, even though it is seen as a separate mitzva (commandment)? Maimonides (Hilchot Berachot 5B) sees the two as one formal unit and this makes it more difficult to trace the extent of the women’s obligation. Can they join the zimun of the men? Can men fulfil their obligation when women say the zimun and the Grace? Can men respond to women’s zimun?

Much depends on the discussion as to how far birkat ha mazon is Biblical and how far it is Rabbinical. The Gemara (Berakhot 20B)examines this. If the women’s obligation is wholly Biblical, their recital would be able to exempt men who respond. The Gemara cites the fact that a woman’s Grace would exempt her husband, that is if her husband were incapable of reciting it. The Gemara firmly adds that such a deplorable situation is ‘cursed’.

Rashi, in his comment on this passage, states that women cannot have the obligation to thank the Almighty ‘because You gave as an inheritance to our forefathers a desirable, good and ample land’, as the text of the Grace has it, since the original distribution of the land was made to the male members of the tribes. If that were so, counters the Tosafot commentary, then the Cohen and the Levi, who have no share in the land, would not qualify, which is patently not the case. Tosafot conclude that women are not qualified for the men’s zimun on account of the phrase, ‘we thank You…for Thy covenant (britecha) that You have sealed in our flesh and Your Torah that You have taught us (women are exempt from the obligation to learn Torah, although they can take this upon themselves).

All agree that the recital of the Grace itself is a Biblical command, based on the passage ‘when the Almighty will bring you into a good Land…and you will eat and be satisfied and you shall bless (ve achalta ve savata u berachta) the Lord your God’ (Deut.8, 10). That Biblical statement applies to all the Israelites.

If the Biblical commandment is incumbent on all, can women’s Grace do duty for men? Is there a Rabbinical component that prevents this? The answer lies in the qualification of people to recite the formal service of the Grace after meals – which takes us back to the issue of zimun.

Grace with zimun may only be said if a minimum quantity of food has been eaten (an olive size amount). This quantity (shiur) was determined by the Rabbis. The status of a person who has fulfilled a Rabbinical injunction cannot confer a Biblical status of obligation.

Rabbi Duvdevani summed up: Women have a Biblical obligation to recite the Grace (ve achalta ve savata u verachta) and a Biblical obligation of zimun (‘Magnify the Lord with me’). Their recital cannot do duty for the men who have a Rabbinical requirement for zimun (to eat a shiur) . Nor can women’s zimun serve to make the Grace a formal service. Women may say thezimun by themselves and they may respond to the men’s zimun. Men may respond to the women’s zimun if they cannot form a quorum, but those responses do not constitute their zimun (Rav Auerbach cited by Rav Herzel Henkin, Responsa Benei Banim, part 3,1).