Shabbat Parashat Behar Bechukotai | 5769
Ask the Rabbi: Minhagim about bentching after zimun
This is a classic case of a practice that has changed from the manner it was originally intended, with splintered variations arising. Let us proceed through the development.
Apparently, a mezamen originally would would recite all of Birkat Hamazon, while the others would listen silently and answer amen (see Bach, Orach Chayim 193; Mishna Berura 201:15). This most fully accomplishes the idea of praising Hashem together (see Berachot 45a). The minhag has developed for everyone to bentch himself, apparently out of concern that people will not listen well enough to the mezamen (see Beit Yosef, OC 183) or because one may have to understand the text he is hearing even if it is in Hebrew (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 193:1 and Mishna Berura 193:5).
What, if anything, is left to the idea of a joint bentching? When the Shulchan Aruch (OC 183:7) says that everyone bentches himself, he writes that they do so quietly. In this way, they can still hear the mezamen (Mishna Berura 183:27). The Rama (ad loc.) adds that the others should go ahead toward the end of the beracha to enable answering amen to the mezamen’s berachot (which one cannot do if he just finished the beracha himself, with not more than a few exceptions- see Shulchan Aruch and Rama, OC 215:1). Many people practice the Rama’s idea (usually the mezamen waits for the others rather than their speeding up, but it’s the same idea).
The Mishna Berura (183:28) points out that in his time it was common for everyone to bentch out loud so that no one heard the mezamen (now it is more common for everyone, including the mezamen, to do so quietly). He says that it is important for all to hear the mezamen at least for the first beracha (until “hazan et hakol”) because of the idea that this is the end of the zimun. The main ramification of this idea is that those who interrupt their meal to answer zimun are supposed to wait until after that point before resuming their meal (Rama, OC 200:2). The matter depends on a machloket Amoraim in Berachot (46a) whether zimun ends at “hazan et hakol” or at “u’vetuvo chayinu,” the addition to bentching that is inserted when there is a zimun. Sephardim follow the latter opinion (Shulchan Aruch, ad loc.). The Mishna Berura, ruling for Ashkenazim, posits that people must hear the mezamen until “hazan et hakol” for zimun to be done properly. The Magen Avraham (183:12) went a step further, saying that until that point, people should only listen to the mezamen and only afterward bentch themselves. The Mishna Berura (ibid.) says that only people who can concentrate on and understand the first beracha should follow the Magen Avraham.
Indeed, people do not always listen to the mezamen for even the first beracha. Because it is difficult to argue on a prevalent practice that has been followed by some knowledgeable people for a long time (see S’dei Chemed, cited in Kaf Hachayim, OC 183:38) different rationales for the leniency have been given. One is that, in regard to this manner, Ashkenazim rely on the Shulchan Aruch that zimun ends with “u’vetuvo chayinu” (ibid.). The Tzitz Eliezer (XVI, 1) also cites an opinion that, generally, it is better to bentch separately. The Chazon Ish also points out that regarding a zimun of ten, where Hashem’s name is invoked in the first part of the zimun, it is not necessary to listen to the mezamen until “hazan et hakol” (see Mishna Berura 200:10).
In summary, we recommend following the Mishna Berura’s position where there is not a clear minhag to the contrary. However, we do not discredit the other systems you have seen.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
Leiser Presser ben R'Aharon Yitzhak and Bracha
on the occasion of his yahrzeit, 24 Iyar,
and members of his family who perished in the shoah Al Kiddush Hashem.
As well as
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
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and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.