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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah | 5769

Two Out of a Group Who Want to do a Zimun

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Question: If two people want to do a zimun and a third does not want to yet, the two can force the third to answer. What about if there are, say, five people? Can two pick one to force to join?

Answer: The gemara (Berachot 45b) says that if three eat together, one stops to answer for two who want to bentch, but two do not stop for one. Rashi explains that one should show proper manners to answer, implying that there is no halachic imperative that he must take a break in his eating to do so. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 200:1) rules like the Rishonim who say that it is halachically required for the third to answer, and even if he refuses to answer, the two (only) fulfill the requirement of zimun.

In order to answer your question, regarding two who want to use a third when there are more than three participants in the meal, we need to understand the reasoning behind the halacha above. Poskim explain that it is based on the concept of rov (majority) (Birkei Yosef, OC 200:5; Mishna Berura 200:2). The minority that is not yet ready to bentch has to follow the majority of the group that is interested. According to important poskim, this idea of rov can be extended to other groups. The Eliyah Rabba (OC 200:6), for example, says that six who want to do a zimun with Hashem’s Name also create a majority to force four to answer.

If the matter depends on rov, it does not appear that a minority of a group can force a majority or even two sub-groups of the same number of people cannot force one another to do a zimun. The Birkei Yosef (200:5) assumes simply that which the Eliyah Rabba implies: five cannot make five answer. One could claim that the important thing is to have a majority of the necessary quorum who are ready to bentch and then they can use whomever they want. Thus two could force any one they wanted, while five, which is only half way to the zimun of ten, could not. However, the language of the poskim implies that it is a matter of deciding when the most appropriate time is for the group to do the zimun. There is no reason to assume that two can select one from the main group and turn him into their minority.

The exact definition of what constitutes a rov in this regard is important for the following case. One person wants to bentch, and a second is not yet finished but agrees to help his friend by answering now. Can those two force the third? The Birkei Yosef (ibid.) (discussing five and five with one of the “non-bentchers” volunteering) leans toward the view that he cannot. The person who volunteers is still not an interested party who creates a rov who are bentching. On the other hand, Rav Kook (Orach Mishpat, OC 40) leans toward the approach that even when only one of the two is bentching now, the two can force the third. His impression is based on the following gemara (Berachot 45b). Rav Papa was eating with his son and a third person. Only his son was ready to bentch, and Rav Papa accommodated him. The gemara says that Rav Papa had gone beyond the letter of the law in agreeing. Rav Kook understands that once Rav Papa agreed, the third’s willingness was irrelevant. (One can deflect the proof and say that, given Rav Papa’s stature, it was clear that the third person would not object.) It seems that a majority of poskim accept the Birkei Yosef’s approach that only two who are actually bentching can force a third. In practice, most people do accommodate their friends anyway, which is good. (Vaya’an Avraham (OC 16) suggests the possibility that if the second agrees because he is halachically required to respect the person who wants to bentch, it would be considered a rov; he himself rejects the suggestion).

Let us remember that, for Ashkenazim, when someone answers zimun before bentching, he must wait until the end of the first beracha before resuming eating (Rama, OC 200:2).

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