Joining a Zimmun - Chiddushim of the Gemara
The Sugya (Talmudic topic) of who is eligible to join a Zimmun, serves as a wonderful example of authentic Halachic development. The Gemara (Berachot 48a) presents the following rule in the name of the venerable Amora known as Rav: If nine men ate bread and one man ate a vegetable, they may join to create a Zimmun where “Nevareich Elokeinu” (for which ten participants are required) is recited. This statement in itself is a Chiddush since not every participant in this Zimmun will be reciting Birkat HaMazon. Rav teaches that nonetheless, he may join, since the overwhelming majority of the group will be reciting Birkat HaMazon.
The Gemara proceeds to cite Rabi Zeira who inquires of Rav Yehuda as to whether eight or seven men suffice for a Zimmun, if the other two or three men ate only vegetables. Rav Yehuda responds that seven or eight bread eating participants are indeed adequate. Rabi Zeira explains that he thought the question of six men who ate bread and four men who ate vegetables is rather obvious and needs not be discussed. But was this case clearly permissible or forbidden? The Gemara then cites Rabi Yirmiyah who explains that six men eating bread definitely suffices since Rav Yehuda simply requires a majority of the group of ten to have eaten bread. The Gemara concludes, however, that Rabi Zeira did not inquire about six eaters of bread since it is obvious that they do not suffice. This is due to the principle of “Ruba D’Minkar,” a noticeable majority of bread eaters is required. Since the Gemara accords the final words of this discussion to Rabi Zeira, Halachic decisors codify his view and require seven bread eaters in order to recite the special Zimmun of “Nevareich L’Elokeinu” (Rambam Hilchot Berachot 5:8, Tur Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 197 and Shulchan Aruch 197:2).
The Minority Drinking Wine - The Chiddush of the Rishonim
Tosafot (Berachot 48a s.v. Tishah) expand the discussion by adding that not only do vegetables suffice for the one to three people joining the ten men Zimmun, but wine does as well. This is surprising considering that in the Zimmun we say “Nevareich L’Elokeinu She’achalnu Mishelo” (let us bless our God from whose food we ate). How can drinking wine be described as “eating”? Tosafot answer by citing the Talmudic principle (Yoma 76a) of “Shetiyah Bichlal Achilah”, drinking is regarded as eating.
What about Water? - The Debate among the Early Acharonim
Tosafot’s Chiddush is well reasoned and supported by a Talmudic principle (as well as a story recounted in the Gemara regarding King Yanai) and is endorsed by other leading Rishonim such as the Rosh (Berachot 7:21) and the Tur (op. cit.). Rambam (op.cit.), representing the Sephardic tradition, presents a Chiddush similar to Tosafot, establishing that it is sufficient for the one to three non-bread eaters to have simply had “Tzir” (brine) in order to be considered a member of the ten men Zimmun. Rambam’s example stems from the Gemara presented in Berachot 48b. Thus, it is not surprising that Tosafot’s assertion is codified by the Shulchan Aruch (op. cit.) without any protest from its many commentaries. The Shulchan Aruch, though, places a limitation on Tosafot’s Chiddush. He writes that this Chiddush applies to wine but not to water. Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, reaffirms in his Beit Yosef commentary to the Tur, that water does not suffice since it does not satiate, as stated by the Gemara (Eruvin 27a). The Magen Avraham (198:6), though, voices his disagreement with the Shulchan Aruch. He notes that Tosafot justified the use of wine with the principle of Shetiyah Bichlal Achilah; accordingly, water should suffice as well. Moreover, he cites Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 228:2) which states that if someone swore not to eat, he is forbidden to drink as well. Water is included in this prohibition, demonstrating that drinking water is viewed as eating. Thus, we may recite “Baruch Sh’Achalnu Mishelo” upon water.
How to resolve a debate between these two titans of Halacha, the Beit Yosef and the Magen Avraham? The Mishnah Berurah (197:12) does not arrive at a resolution of this issue. He first cites two major authorities: the Shulchan Aruch Harav (O.C. 197:2) and the Chayei Adam (48:13), who rule in accordance with the Magen Avraham that water suffices. On the other hand, the Mishnah Berurah then cites three lesser renowned authorities who rule in accordance with Rav Yosef Karo that water does not suffice. Thus, the Mishnah Berurah does not resolve this question, as he simply cites later authorities who have come down on either side of our issue. The Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 197:5), though, unequivocally rules in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch that water does not suffice. Not surprisingly, Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Yitzchak Yosef (Yalkut Yosef Kitzur Shulchan Aruch O.C. 197:6) rule that water does not suffice. Although the Shulchan Aruch permits even one who has drank any drink, Rav Yosef rules that only an alcoholic drink suffices. Rav Yosef seems to believe that the Shulchan Aruch’s exclusion of water, refers to any non-alcoholic drink. (Rav Yosef adopts a similar approach regarding Havadalah, see Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 2:38.) Accordingly, water suffices for Chabad Chassidim, who strictly adhere to the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch Harav, to join a Zimmun. However, water does not suffice for other Ashkenazic Jews to join a Zimmun. For Sephardic Jews, any non-alcoholic beverage will not suffice.
Seltzer and Lemonade - The Aruch HaShulchan
Both the Mishnah Berurah (citing the Bigdei Yeisha) and the Aruch HaShulchan explain Rav Yosef Karo’s exclusion of water not only on the basis of its lack of nourishment, but also due to its lack of Chashivut, significance. They explain that water is not sufficient of a drink to create a Tziruf, bonding, which is necessary to trigger an obligation to recite a Zimmun. Based on this explanation, the Aruch HaShulchan rules that “enhanced water” such as seltzer or lemonade does suffice to create a Zimmun.
Bottled Water - a Suggestion
Based on the Aruch HaShulchan, one may make a somewhat bold suggestion that today, bottled water should suffice for all Ashkenazic Jews to create a Zimmun. Bottled water, especially the fancier varieties, are more “Chashuv” than tap water ,as evidenced by the fact that hosts will very often offer bottled water to their guests. Thus, it is currently possible that in combination with the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch Harav and Chayei Adam, bottled water alone suffices for Ashkenazic Jews to join a Zimmun. However, I posed this question to two prominent Rabbanim, Rav Yaakov Luban and Rav Baruch Simon, both of whom agreed that bottled water is not considered more significant than ordinary tap water in regards to Zimmun.
The issue of non-bread eaters joining a Zimmun has enjoyed a robust development from the time of the Gemara until this very day. Each generation adds a layer continuing to expand the beautiful edifice. The beauty lies in the fact that each new generation utilizes the identical principles, methodology and spirit of its predecessors. The ever growing nature of Torah with its thorough rootedness in the past is what makes it a true and authentic “Eitz Chayim” (tree of life).
There is considerable debate within Tosafot as to whether the rules set forth in our discussion apply only to a Zimmun of ten but even to a Zimmun of three. The Rambam rules that it applies only to a Zimmun of ten but the Rosh believes that the same rules apply to a Zimmun of three. The Halacha has emerged that while it is best of the third person would eat bread, he may create the Zimmun even if he did not eat bread. This point is agreed by Sephardic, Ashkenaz and Chabad Jews (Shulchan Aruch Harav, Mishna Berurah, Aruch HaShulchan and Yalkut Yosef).