Three Mentchen Ready for Bentchen

Published Summer 2015

The scene is ever so common in Jewish homes.  A delicious meal is served and followed by mayim  achronim .  Then one of the participants of the  mezuman  proclaims, “ Rabosai mir vellin bentchen ”[1] (Gentlemen, let us recite  Birchas Hamazon ), and everyone present responds.[2]

The basic  halachos  are well known.  If three men who have reached the age of  Bar Mitzvah [3]eat bread[4] together, they form a “ mezuman. ”[5] One of them, known as the “ mezamein ” is the leader.[6]  If there are ten men, “ Elokeinu ” is added[7] by the  mezamein  between the words “ Nevoraych ” and “ She’ochalnu ”, and by the rest of the group between “ Baruch ” and “ She’achalnu ”.

The  Mishna  at the beginning of the seventh  perek  of  Brochos [8] tells us Rule #1 about a mezuman .  The food must be kosher.  The  Mishna  lists examples of questionable and prohibited food and explains that a  mezuman  is not formed, and a  brocha  is not even recited on such food.  The  Gemara [9] explains that the reason is derived from  Tehillim ,[10] where  Dovid Hamelech  says, “ Ubotzei’a Boreich Ni’eitz Hashem. ”  This passage teaches us that if a thief recites a  brocha  (on the food he has stolen), the act blasphemes  Hashem .  If one knowingly eats something non-kosher, even if the food is only rabbinically prohibited, there is no  mezuman and a brocha is not recited before or after consumption.[11]  Blessings are recited only over kosher food.[12]

I.        What Must Be Consumed?

All three men who are present are not required to eat bread; only two thirds (i.e., known as a “ rubah deminkra ”, a noticeable majority) is necessary.  This means at least two men must eat a  kezayis  of bread,[13] an amount that obligates them in  Birchas Hamazon .[14]  The third participant only has to eat a  kezayis  of any food.[15]   Any type of food, including cake, fruit, vegetables or even candy will suffice provided that one eats enough to require a  brocha acharona .  Alternatively, the third person can drink a revi’is [16] of any beverage (other than water or seltzer).[17]

To form a  minyan  for a  mezuman  (and say “ Elokeinu ”), at least seven men[18] must eat a kezayis  of bread.  The other three men can eat or drink as noted above.  The same applies to  Sheva Brochos .[19]

II.      Eating Together

Once three people eat together, they may not “break up” and recite  Birchas Hamazon without a  mezuman .  Similarly, if ten men eat together, they may not break up into smaller groups that cannot say “ Elokeinu ”.  If necessary, six people who ate together are allowed to split into two groups.  The same applies to 7-9 people; 20 or more people can also break up, if necessary.  A group of 10-19 people may not split.

In general, once one eats with others he has an obligation to join the  mezuman  and he cannot recite  Birchas Hamazon  without a  mezuman .  However, when necessary, if before sitting down to eat a person says that he has in mind not to formally join the group at the table (e.g., at a wedding),[20] he can recite  Birchas Hamazon  without a mezuman  before the rest of the group recites  Birchas Hamazon  with a  mezuman .[21]

Better yet, under the following conditions he can lead the  mezuman  before others are ready to recite  Birchas Hamazon .  If three men eat a meal and one of them is ready to recite  Birchas Hamazon  before the others finish their meal, the other two men may stop and respond to him.[22] To do so, they should not talk or continue eating until he finishes the first  brocha  ( Hazan Es HaKol ).  If two men are ready to recite  Birchas Hamazon , the third person who is still eating must stop and answer the  mezamein .[23] If two “new” people now sit down with the fellow who answered the  mezuman , and the three of them eat a  kezayis  of bread together, another  zimun  can be made.[24]

If the group occupies two or more tables, a  mezuman  is formed if they see each other and are part of one group, such as one family,[25] one  yeshiva ,[26] or any group that has come together to eat (e.g., a  simcha ).[27]  A  mezuman  of three men can be formed in a car, bus, train or airplane.  However, “ Elokeinu ” is not added if ten men are in transit together.[28]

If two men who ate bread together finished eating and continued to talk (i.e., they did not end the meal), and then a third man walks in and eats bread (or anything else), a mezuman  has been formed even though they did not “eat together”.  Since the original two men could have eaten with the latecomer had they desired to do so, this constitutes eating “together”.[29]  However, if the two men had already washed  mayim acharonim [30] before the third person came and ate, there is no  mezuman  as one may no longer eat after washing  mayim acharonim .[31]  Therefore, we do not consider them as having eaten “together”.

If three men ate bread and one of them forgot that there is a  mezuman  and recited Birchas Hamazon , one of the two remaining men can still lead the  mezuman  before he says  Birchas Hamazon .[32]  The other two men (including the one who already recited Birchas   Hamazon ) respond.  However, if only two men ate bread and one ate or drank something else, and any one of them forgot and recited the necessary  brocha acharona ,[33] it is too late to say  Birchas Hamazon  with a  mezuman .[34]

A  mezuman  should not be formed (i.e., three men should not sit together) at the seudas hamafsekes  on  erev Tisha B’Av  (that falls on a weekday).  At a  seudas havra’a ,[35] the  availim  should  l’chatchilah  not sit together to form a  mezuman .[36]   Availim  can form a  mezuman .[37]

III.       Someone Who Did Not Eat

If someone does not eat or drink anything[38] and is in the presence of three men who have formed a  mezuman , he can still answer “ Yehi shaim Hashem  …”  Then, when the mezamein  says “ Nevoraych  sheachalnu mishelo ,” this fourth person who did not eat should say the following (i.e., a different  nusach  than those who ate), “ Baruch umevorach shmo tamid l’olam vaed .”[39]  Similarly, if there are ten men answering, an “11th person” present who did not eat[40] should respond “ Baruch Elokeinu u’mevorach shmo  …”[41]


IV.       The  Mezamein  (Leader)

Ideally,[42] the  mezamein  holds a cup[43] ( kos ) of wine (or grape juice) when leading the mezuman .[44]  After completing  Birchas Hamazon , a  Borei Pri Hagafen  is recited and he drinks from the cup.[45]  It is  mehudar  to drink a  revi’is , however, one is  yotzai  even if he only drinks a small amount from this “ kos shel brocha ” (cup over which the blessing was recited).   L’maaseh , the prevalent  minhag  at most meals is not to recite  Birchas Hamazon  on a  kos .[46]  Nonetheless, many have a  kos  when there is a  minyan  or at a seudas mitzvah .  Some also use a  kos  on  Shabbos  and  Yom Tov .[47]

Although women do not form a  mezuman ,[48] if they eat together with a  mezuman  of men they must answer the  mezamein .[49]  If they are too busy to say  Birchas Hamazon at that time, they should answer the  mezamein  thereby participating in the  mezuman and then recite  Birchas Hamazon  later.

The  minhag  of  Ashkenazim  is that all three (or 10) members of the  mezuman  must be Bar Mitzvah .[50]   Sfardim  allow one of the three (or 10) men to be as young as 9 years old.[51]  If an Ashkenazi eats at the home of   Sfardim , and the  mezuman  consists of a Sfardi over the age of  Bar Mitzvah , a 9-year old Sfardi and the Ashkenazi, the Ashkenazi can participate but cannot be the  mezamein .[52]

Technically, the  baal habayis [53] can ask whomever he wants to be the  mezamein .[54]  It is praiseworthy to honor any of the following individuals to lead  Birchas Hamazon :  a guest,[55] a  Talmid chochom , a  kohen , a  Levi , one who has  yahrzheit  or who is in the 12 months of  aveilus .[56]


Sefer   Shoshanim  L’Dovid [57] asks why we say in  Birchas HaTorah  “ Barchu es Hashem ”, yet during a  mezuman  with a  minyan  we say “ Elokeinu” , a different name of  Hakadosh Boruch Hu ?  He answers that the name “ Elokeinu ” signifies din /judgment, and the name of  Hashem  that we recite signifies  rachamim /mercy. When we learn  Torah , it is a  shaas rachamim  (time of mercy).  However, when we eat it is a time of  din /judgment.  Indeed, when a  mezuman  is formed and there is a “public” display of praising the  Ribbono Shel Olam , this  zechus  allows all of those present to receive a favorable judgment for  parnassah ,  brocha  and hatzlacha .




[1] Or “ Rabbosai  Nevoraych ”

[2] The ancient custom was that the  mezamein  was  motzi  all those present by reciting the entire  Birchas Hamazon  out loud.  Today, the custom is that each person “answers” the  mezamein  at the beginning and then recites  Birchas Hamazon  by himself quietly.

[3] The custom of  Sfardim  regarding boys under  Bar Mitzvah  is addressed in Section IV.

[4] The same applies to any  hamotzi  item (e.g.,  matzah ) upon which  Birchas Hamazon  is recited.

[5] The full text of the  mezuman  is found in any  siddur  or “ bentcher ”.

[6] It is proper for the one who leads the  mezuman  to also recite the entire first  brocha  (through  Hazan es hakol ) out loud, while everyone else recites it quietly with him,  Shulchan Aruch   Orach Chaim (hereafter abbreviated  S.A. ) 183:7.  [See  Sefer Zimun K’hilchasa  pg. 13, which discusses the basis of those who do not recite the first  brocha  out loud.]  Furthermore, after the participants complete each brocha , the  mezamein  says the end of the  brocha  out loud for everyone to hear and answer “ Amen” . Note that sections of  Yaaleh v’yavo  recited out loud in  shul  should not be recited out loud during Birchas Hamazon , as the participants cannot answer “ Amen ” in the middle of  Birchas Hamazon (whereas in  shul , they are allowed to answer “ Amen ” during  chazaras hashatz ).

[7] There is an  inyan  to briefly rise when saying “ Elokeinu ” ( Eishel Avraham -Buchech 192:1), as long as it can be done without spilling the wine.

[8] This  perek , which begins on  Daf  45a, is dedicated primarily to the  halachos  of  Birchas Hamazon  and mezuman .

[9] Also found in  Bava Kamma  94a

[10]  Tehillim  10:3

[11]  S.A.  196:1 and  Mishna Brura  ( M.B. )  Seif Katan  ( S.K. ) 3.

[12] If one inadvertently ate non-kosher food, he should recite  Birchas Hamazon  (or an after- brocha , depending upon what he ate).  However, he may not be counted as part of a  mezuman  ( M.B.  196:4).  If a  choleh sheyaish bo sakana  (someone with a life-threatening illness) needs to eat non-kosher food, he should recite  brochos  and he can be part of a  mezuman  ( S.A.  196:2).

[13] This is true even if more people ate other food.  For example, a  mezuman  is formed if two men ate bread and six men ate fruit.  The two still constitute a noticeable majority of the minimum requirement of three.

[14] This means that the  kezayis  must be consumed  b’kday achilas pras .  Therefore, one must consume 1.33 fl. oz. (40 ml) of food ideally within a span of 2 minutes, but  b’dieved  even within a span of up to 4 minutes.

[15] However, he may not be the  mezamein .  He recites his  brocha acharona  after answering “ Amen ” to “ Hazan Es Hakol ”,  M.B.  183:28.  See  Chazon Ish Orach Chaim  30:2, who disagrees and says one may recite a  brocha acharona  immediately after answering the  mezamein .

[16] The third person should drink at least a  revi’is , 4 fl. oz. (118 ml), within 30 seconds.  The Biur Halacha  (197:2  sheyaish bo ) says one can possibly be  maykil  if the third person drank a “ rov revi’is ” – slightly larger than half a  revi’is  (2.1 fl. oz.).

[17] This is the opinion of the  S.A.  (197:2); others allow water.  For further discussion, see  M.B. 197:12 and  Sefer Zimun K’hilchasa  pg. 10.

[18] Seven is the minimum number that constitutes a “ rubah d’minkra ”, i.e., two-thirds of 10.

[19] This means that at least seven men must eat bread to recite  Sheva Brochos .  The other three who eat or drink something else cannot lead  Birchas Hamazon , but they could recite  sheva brochos .  There are other requirements for  Sheva Brochos  beyond the scope of our discussion (e.g.,  panim chadashos , etc.).

[20] See  Igros Moshe Orach Chaim  1:56, who says “ Yomru b’feirush kodem..she’ayn mischavinl’hitztaraph .”  This  heter  is for when he has a need to leave before  Birchas Hamazon  because the meal is lengthy (e.g., a wedding, when it is difficult to stay until the end) or due to another davar  nachutz  ( important matter).  See  Ba’er  Moshe  3:32 who adds that one should ideally also begin eating before or after the others at the table, thereby not forming  k’vius  with them.

[21] In such a case, if three men are ready to recite  Birchas Hamazon , they may make a mezuman .  At a wedding, if ten men are ready to recite  Birchas Hamazon  early, if they make a mezuman  they would need to also recite  Sheva  Brochos , which may prove to be impractical.

[22] If they do not want to interrupt their meal, they are not required to stop and he will have to wait to recite  Birchas Hamazon . Furthermore, if it is not urgent it is not  derech  eretz  for one person to ask two individuals to stop their meal unless he assumes that they will not be makpid .  A son must stop for a father and a student for his  rebbi  ( Shaarei Teshuva   Siman  200).

[23] See  S.A.  and  Rama siman  200:1 & 2.

[24]  M.B.  193:33.  Also see  M.B.  200:9, who discusses this case and an array of similar cases concerning a  mezuman  of three or ten.

[25]  M.B.  193:18.

[26]  HaRav  Moshe Heinemann,  shlit”a , noted that it is said in the name of  HaRav  Aron Kotler, zt”l  that individuals eating in a  yeshiva  dining room at a time set by the administration form a mezuman , even if they are eating at different tables, as long as they see each other.  This is true both on  Shabbos  and during the week.  A similar opinion is found in  Minchas Yitzchok (8:8:3).  For a full discussion, see  Sefer V’zos Habracha  Chap. 14 which quotes additional opinions on this issue.

[27] In a restaurant, if two men are at one table and two men are at a different table, there is no  mezuman   ( Minchas Yitzchok  8:8:3).  However, if three men are at one table and form a mezuman , individuals at other tables may respond (see  Piskei  Teshuvos  193:7).

[28]  M.B.  193:26

[29] See  S.A.  197:1

[30] According to some opinions, they can no longer form a  mezuman  with a third person even if they simply said, “Let’s  bentch ”  (see  Biur Halacha  197, “ Aval im …”).

[31] See  Rama  197:1.  Similarly, a  mezuman  is formed if two men ate meat and one ate dairy. In such a case, the custom is for the one who ate dairy to lead the  mezuman  because he is able to also eat meat.  See  M.B.  196:9, who also discusses cases where the dairy is hard cheese.

[32] Thus, the two people who recite  Birchas Hamazon  are  yotzai zimun .  The one who forgot is not  yotzai zimun  (“ parach zimun minay ”).

[33] In other words, either of the following inadvertently occurred without a  mezuman :  One of the men who ate bread recited  Birchas Hamazon , or the one who ate other food or drank recited the necessary  brocha acharona .  In either case, there is no  mezuman .

[34] See  Rama  197:1

[35] The meal the mourners eat after a funeral.

[36]  Gesher  Hachaim  2:18:1, if they did sit together at the  seudas  havra’a  they would  bentch b’mezuman  (without “ Elokeinu ”, even if there are ten men).  See  Shach  Yoreh Deah  379:6.

[37]  Shulchan  Aruch Yoreh Deah  379:6

[38] If he drinks water, although he is not  mitztaref  to the  mezuman , he can still respond like those who ate.  See  Aruch Hashulchan  (198:2).

[39] If he came in as they were already responding “ Baruch Sheachalnu ” – he should simply respond “ Amen ”.

[40] If this 11th person just had something to drink, see  M.B.  198:1.

[41] If he is at a  Sheva Brochos  and did not eat, he should respond, “ Boruch Elokeinu u’mevorach shmo tamid l’olam vaed shehasimcha b’mono ” ( M.B.  198:6).   Likutei  Maharich ( Seder   Birchas Hamazon ) says to insert “ shehasimcha  b’mono ” after saying “ Elokeinu ”.

[42] It is a  mitzvah min hamuvchar  to have a  kos  ( S.A.  192:1).

[43] The cup must hold at least a  revi’is  (3.8 fl. oz.) and in general is similar in  halacha  to a cup used for  Kiddush  (full, etc.).

[44] The custom is to hold the cup up through “ Al Yichasraynu ” ( Ktzos  Hashulchan  46:f21).

[45] If it is after sunset at the end of  Shabbos  or  Yom Tov , one does not drink from the cup (unless it is  Sheva Brochos ).  The custom in many  shuls  is to save it for  havadala .

[46]  Igros  Moshe Yoreh Deah  3:52:3.

[47] Of course, a  kos  is required at  Sheva Brochos  and it is customary at the  seuda  of a  bris (each of these occasions has a special  nusach  as printed in most  bentchers ).  A  kos  is also required at the  seder  on the first two nights of  Pesach  (even if there are less than three men, and the  “mezuman nusach”  is not recited).

[48] See  Biur Halacha  199:7, “ Nashim …ach haolam lo nahagen kayn .”

[49] See  S.A.  199:7 and  Biur  Halacha  “ V’yotzos … elah …”  For further discussion, see  Piskei Teshuvos  199:f9.

[50]  Rama  199:9

[51] See  S.A.  199:9 and  M.B. S.K.  24; however, the 9-year old cannot lead the  mezuman.   He can lead only after his  Bar Mitzvah .

[52] See  Sefer V’zos Habrocha  Chapter 14.

[53] When a guest leads  bentching , the custom is to add the words “ Birshus  Baal Habayis ”. Additions of “ Birshus  Harav ” or “ Birshus  Hakohain ”, etc. are added when relevant.

[54] See  Sefer Ktzos Hashulchan siman  45 in the  Badei Hashulchan  end of  oys  42 in the name of the  Levush .

[55] See  S.A.  201:1, who notes that the guest should also recite the  Yehi  Ratzon  insertion as a special  brocha  for the host.  See  Seder Birkas HaMazon  (Dayan Raskin, London 5774) , excerpt from forthcoming edition of  Siddur Rabeinu Hazaken im Tziyunim Mekoros ve’Heoros , pgs. 50-51 for an explanation as to why the  nusach  was not found in most earlier  siddurim  and why some are not  noheg  to say it.

[56] For more detailed specifics regarding which of the above takes precedence, see  S.A.  201 and the various  nosei keilim  on the  siman .

[57]  Brochos  7:3