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Shabbat Parashat Matot 5771
Ask the Rabbi: Who leads zimun when some eat dairy and others meat?Rav Daniel Mann
Question: I understand that if three people eat together, where some are eating dairy and some eating meat, the one who is eating dairy leads the zimun because he can eat from his friend’s food but not vice versa. Is the same so if four people are eating, three meat and one milk, as the three do not require the dairy eater for the zimun? Should the dairy eater do zimun even if one of the others is a kohen?
Answer: The gemara (Arachin 4a) says that the Tannaic statement that kohanim and regular Jews can join together for zimun is obvious and posits that it is needed for a case where kohanim ate teruma (which is forbidden for a non-kohen) while the others ate regular food. The reason that they can join, says the gemara, is that the kohen can eat the food of the others.
Rishonim extend the concept to parallel cases, based on which the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 196:3) says that if the kohen ate something non-kohanim may not and the others ate a non-Jew’s bread, which the kohen is careful not to eat (a halachic question- see Yoreh Deah 112), they do not form a zimun. The Magen Avraham (196:1) raises the matter of dairy and meat and points out that they can join together because the one eating dairy can also eat meat. (Acharonim discuss what happens, according to the various opinions, regarding the necessary break between dairy and meat- see discussion in Piskei Teshuvot 196:10).
The Magen Avraham also raises your issue that when this group bentches, the dairy eater, who is the one who unites the individuals into a group for zimun, should “make the beracha to exempt the other.” One would have thought that the point is moot because the eating that creates the obligation of zimun is that of bread, which is classically pareve, and why should one care that the “side dishes” are meat and dairy, respectively. The Magen Avraham is sensitive to this and points out that the discussion applies to a case where the bread is “soiled” with meat and dairy. B’tzel Hachochma (IV, 169) points out that in a case (e.g., like at the seder), where one eats a k’zayit of bread, creating the zimun obligation, before meat is brought out, this matter does not apply. There is a machloket about a case where that which one ate was off limits to the other but bread which everyone can partake of is available (see Taz 196:2), but we assume that the matter is determined by what was eaten (see Hitorerut Teshuva III, 61).
It is not clear why, when they form a group for zimun, it makes a difference who leads the zimun (Aruch Hashulchan, OC 196:8), and indeed some Acharonim do not cite this ruling (see opinions in Sha’ar Hatziyun 196:12). Even those who cite it view it as a minhag, not an absolute requirement (Chayei Adam I, 48:19; Mishna Berura 196:9; Aruch Hashulchan, op. cit.). One can also point out that the Magen Avraham cites the practice regarding a case where the mezamen does the bentching and exempts the others, whereas current practice is that all bentch separately and the stakes regarding zimun are much lower. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the Sha’ar Hatziyun (op. cit.) says that if one of the meat eaters is a kohen, the more established halacha of giving respect to kohanim trumps the preference of the dairy eater.
Regarding your case of four eating together, where there is a zimun anyway, the matter probably depends on the Magen Avraham’s reasoning, which is not spelled out. If we prefer the person who is most connected to everyone, it still pays to have the dairy eater do the zimun. If it serves as a reminder that who ate what can affect the viability of the zimun, then when the zimun does not depend on the dairy eater, it should not be necessary. However, one can raise counter arguments. In any case, the matter is of so little importance that it does not warrant worrying which possibility is more likely, and one can do as he likes.
(Our answer does not relate to the precautions one should take when some are eating dairy while others are
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