Shiur #56: Zimun (5) Can a Non-Observant Jew Join a Zimun?

  • Rav David Brofsky

The first mishna of the seventh chapter of Massekhet Berakhot (45a) enumerates those who may be included in a zimun and those who may not be included. Those mentioned include one who ate prohibited food, a servant, a non-Jew, women, children, and slaves. This week we will discuss the whether one who eats a prohibited food may join others to form a zimun.

The Talmud also discusses whether an “am ha-aretz” may join others to form a zimun. We will relate to this as well and question whether nowadays one may join with a non-religious Jew to form a zimun.

One Who Eats Prohibited Food

The mishna (Berakhot 45a) teaches:

One who has eaten tevel (food that was not tithed), or ma’aser rishon from which teruma has not been removed, or ma’aser sheni or sanctified food that has not been redeemed … may not be counted.

Apparently, one who eats prohibited foods may not join with others to form a zimun.

            The Rishonim debate the reason for this law. The Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 1:19; see also Rashba, Berakhot 45a) explains:

When a person eats a forbidden food – whether consciously or inadvertently – he should not recite a blessing beforehand or afterward. What is implied? If one eats tevel, even food that is classified as tevel by Rabbinical decree, the first tithe from which teruma was not separated, or the second tithe or sanctified foods that were not redeemed in the proper manner, one should not recite a blessing. Needless to say, this applies if one ate meat from an animal that was not ritually slaughtered or was treifa or if one drank wine used as a libation for idol worship.

The Rambam maintains that the mishna refers to a broader, universal principle: one does not say a berakha before or after eating prohibited foods, and therefore one certainly does not say the zimun. The Ra’avad (ibid.; see also Rosh 7:2) disagrees, explaining that after eating non-kosher food, one must still say the appropriate blessing. However, since one who eats non-kosher food lacks “kevi’ut,” he cannot join others to participate in the zimun.

            Interestingly, the Ra’ah (Berakhot 45a) notes that the Rambam most likely derived this principle from the Talmud (Bava Kama 94a), which states that if one steals wheat, grinds it, and then separates challa, he should not say a blessings, as “he is not saying a blessing, but rather being blasphemous.” He adds that eating prohibited foods does not provide hana’ah (benefit), but rather tza’ar (discomfort), and therefore a blessing is not recited.

The Beit Yosef (196) cites the view of the Ramah, brought by Rabbeinu Yerucham, who rules that even one who eats a prohibited food due to health concerns does not say a blessing. However, the Beit Yosef assumes that the Rambam maintains that one who is permitted to eat prohibited foods due to health concerns should say the appropriate blessings. Interestingly, the Ra’ah suggests that only one who eats foods that are prohibited mi-derabanan, be-heter (i.e. with permission), should say the appropriate blessing.  This may point to a fundamental distinction between food which are Biblically prohibited (issur cheftza) and those which and Rabinically prohibited (issur gavra).

The Shulchan Arukh (196:1-2) rules:

One who eats something which is prohibited, even it is only prohibited mi-derabanan, is not included in the zimun, and he should not say a blessing before or after [eating]. If he eats a prohibited food due to [health] danger, he says the blessing.

The Taz (1) adds that one who inadvertently ate non-kosher food should say a berakha acharona, although he may not join others to form a zimun.

Although all agree that if one ate a prohibited food he may not join with others to form a zimun, the Rishonim discuss whether three people who cannot eat the same food can join together for a zimun. The Talmud (Arakhin 4a) teaches:

All may be joined for a zimun, even Kohanim, Levi’im, and Yisra’elim. Is that not self-evident? No, it is necessary for the case where the Kohanim eat of teruma or of consecrated foods, whilst the non-priest eats of profane foods. I might have assumed that since the commoner, even though he desired to eat with the Kohen [of the latter's food], he could not do so, therefore he could not be joined to him [for the zimun] either, so we are informed that granted that the non-priest may not eat together with the priest, the priest could surely eat together with the non-priest.

The gemara explains that when a Kohen eats with a Yisrael, although the Yisrael cannot share the Kohen’s food (teruma), since the Kohen can eat the Yisrael’s food, they may join for a zimun. The Rishonim (see, for example, Tosafot, 45a s.v. akhal) rules that if one who is careful not to eat bread baked by a non-Jew (pat akum) eats with someone who is not stringent, they may join together to join a zimun, as the they may both eat from the pat Yisrael. However, if none of the people can eat from the food of the other – for example, if they took a vow not to eat of each other’s food – they cannot join together to form a zimun.

The Mishna Berura (9) adds that if two of the people are eating meat and one is eating dairy, since the one eating dairy may simply rinse his mouth and then eat meat, they are considered to be eating together and may form a zimun. He adds that according to the custom to wait after eating hard cheese before eating meat, if two eat meat and the third eat hard cheese, they may not form a zimun. If, however, they began their meal by eating pareve bread, they may join together for the zimun.

Am Ha-Aretz and the Contemporary “Chiloni

The Talmud (Berakhot 47) teaches that one does not invite an “am ha-aretz” to be part of the zimun. The phrase am ha-aretz generally refers to Jews during the late Second Temple period through the Mishnaic era who were either uneducated and/or not scrupulous regarding the performance of certain mitzvot. The Talmud relates that not only were there halakhic ramifications which stemmed from the different levels of knowledge and observance, at times, there were even ill feelings and animosity (Pesachim 49b) between the groups.

Regarding joining a zimun, the Talmud teaches that one should not invite an am ha-aretz to join a zimun. The gemara also attempts to define an am ha-aretz:

It has been taught: An am ha-aretz is not reckoned in for zimun…  Who is an am ha-aretz? Anyone who does not eat non-sacred food in ritual cleanness. So said R. Meir. The Rabbis, however, say: Anyone who does not tithe his produce in the proper way. Our Rabbis taught: Who is an am ha-aretz? Anyone who does not recite the Shema evening and morning. This is the view of R. Eliezer. R. Yehoshua says: Anyone who does not put on tefillin. Ben Azzai says: Anyone who has not a fringe (tzitzit) on his garment. R. Nathan says: Anyone who has not a mezuza on his door. R. Natan b. Yosef says: Anyone who has sons and does not bring them up to the study of the Torah. Others say: Even if one has learned Scripture and Mishna, if he has not served Torah scholars, he is an am ha-aretz. R. Huna said: The halakha is in accordance with the “Others.”

Furthermore, the gemara relates:

Rami b. Chama refused to count to zimun R. Menashiah b. Tachalifa, who could repeat Sifra, Sifre, and halakha. When Rami b. Chama died, Raba said: Rami b. Chama died only because he would not count R. Menashiah b. Tahalifa for zimun. But has it not been taught: Others say that even if one has learned Scripture and Mishnah but has not served Torah scholars, he is an am ha-aretz? R. Menashiah b. Tahalifa was different because he used to minister to the Rabbis, and it was Rami b. Chama who did not make proper inquiries about him.

            Why is the am ha-aretz excluded from the zimun? The Me’iri (Berakhot 47b) explains that he is not included in a zimun “since this person does not behave appropriately and in a manner in which it is fitting for a Torah scholar to join him, and to sit permanently at his meal.” However the am ha-aretz is still obligated to join a zimun. Therefore, when sitting with similar people, they are obligated to form a zimun.

            Interestingly, the Rishonim relate that after the days of the Talmud, this stringency was not observed. Thus, early authorities such as R. Hai Gaon (see Rashba, Berkahot 47b) and Rabbeinu Chananel (see Tosafot R. Yehuda 47b) testify that it is common for Torah scholars and the am ha-aretz to join together for a zimun. Some (R. Shemaya, cited by Tosafot R. Yehuda) even suggest that those who allow a child to join a zimun would certainly allow an am ha-aretz to participate.


            The Rishonim, based upon a passage in Chagiga (22a), offer two reasons why this stringency is no longer observed. Some (see Tosafot, Berakhot 47b, s.v. amar) suggest that we fear that if we separate from the ame ha-aretz, ultimately they will separate from the Jewish People, which is not the intended result. Alternatively, the Ri (Tosafot, Chagiga 22a, s.v. ke-man) explains that it is not proper to hold oneself as a “talmid chakham” and to separate from the am ha-aretz. In other words, the Rishonim differ as to whether we fear that the am ha-aretz or the scholar will separate from the rest of the community; both would be unfortunate and undesirable consequences of this stringency.

The Shulchan Arukh (199:3) rules that “nowadays, we join with a complete am ha-aretz in forming a zimun.”

Despite this lenient ruling of the Shulchan Arukh, the Magen Avraham (199:2) writes that “one who is a rasha in public, and transgresses many prohibitions, and so much more so one who has rejected Judasim (mumar), is not included in a zimun, as this person is no better than the am ha-aretz in the time of the Talmud.” The Mishna Berura (199:2) cites this view, and in the Be’ur Halakha (s.v. am) he notes that the laws of zimun are apparently stricter than the laws pertaining to reciting devarim she-bikedusha in a minyan. Regarding devarim she-bikedusha, only one who has actually be excommunicated (see Shulchan Arukh 55:11-12) cannot be counted towards a minyan; regarding zimun, “the obligation comes about because [three people] join together to eat and therefore afterwards they must come together to say Birkat Ha-Mazon. and regarding this the Magen Avraham said that if he is a rasha and violates the Torah publically it is certainly inappropriate to join with him for a zimun.”

Interestingly, he suggests that this stringency may only apply to a zimun of three, while the standards of a zimun of ten may be similar to those of devarim she-bikedusa, as described by the Shulchan Arukh elsewhere (ibid.). (See Tosafot R. Yehuda and R. Ha-Rosh, who imply that the Talmud refers to a zimun of ten as well).

The Acharonim discuss whether nowadays an individual who does not observe Torah and mitzvot may join with others to form a zimun. Some Acharonim (see, for example, Sefer Sha’arei Berakhah 5:17) maintain that all those who publically violate Torah prohibitions, such as violating the Shabbat and eating non-kosher food, may not join together to form a zimun. Alternatively, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Sefer Ve-Zot Ha-Berakha, p. 132; see also Sefer Piskei Teshuvot 199:2) asserts that nowadays, most Jews are considered to be “children taken captive among the non-Jews” (tinok she-nishba) regarding the mitzvot, and therefore one may include them in a zimun. Furthermore, even if they do not answer to the zimun, we only require that one, in addition to the mezamen, must answer to the zimun. When there is a zimun of ten, only six need to actively answer.

Next week, we will conclude our discussion of zimun