Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sitting For Bentching

So it says in the gemara, Berachot 51a, at the very end of the 7th perek of Berachot. And this is cited by the Rishonic poskim. See e.g. Rif, Rosh.

Yet it is not so clear to me, or else I would not be posting with my take on it.

(Note: Need it be said? Sigh. OK. Not halacha lemaaseh.)

The aforementioned gemara states:
א"ר אבהו ואמרי לה במתניתא תנא האוכל ומהלך מברך מעומד וכשהוא אוכל מעומד מברך מיושב וכשהוא מיסב ואוכל יושב ומברך והלכתא בכולהו יושב ומברך
Rabbi Abahu said, and some say it was taught in a brayta: If one eats while walking, he bentches while standing (still). And when he eats while standing, he bentches while sitting. And when he eats while reclining, he bentches while sitting.
And the halacha is that in all of them, he sits and bentches.
Tosafot on the daf says that this is a chumra, a stringency, they imposed by bentching because it is diOrayta, Biblical.

What are the parameters of this, though. If I am traveling somewhere, eating a sandwich, do I really have to stop in the middle of Manhattan, sit down, and bentch? What if I am hiking somewhere, or doing some lengthy traveling? Depends who you ask. If you look through some of the halachic literature, some say that the walking refers to walking about within your own home, such that for bentching you should sit down, but while traveling on the road, they won't impose this difficulty upon you, more than they do by keriat Shema, because he won't be able to focus because his journey is being delayed (see the Rosh). Others say that sitting on your own donkey while traveling is considered sitting, so those who say this obviously hold that this includes real travel.

What about reclining? Well, the most common case of reclining is during the seder night. How do we read the gemara here, in saying that the halacha in all these cases is to sit while bentching, and furthermore where it says that if one eats while reclining, one should sit and bentch. Is sitting more formal in terms of bentching, such that it is a better level than reclining, such that the gemara is requiring sitting? Or is sitting less formal than reclining in terms of bentching, such that the gemara is teaching a leniency that one merely needs to sit and does not need to recline? What should we do by the Pesach seder, when we eat while reclining? Is bentching like this problematic (assuming no exemption for the seder because of cherut supersedes)?

Rashi defines מיסב as on a bed. Divrei Chamudos on the Rosh cites the Tur that one should not recline either during bentching, because it is a derech gaavah. Thus, it would seem to be a problem according to this approach.

I would venture that it is no problem by our reclining during the seder, because we don't really recline. It is one think to really recline on a bed, with your legs up, on your left side. On a hessebet, or even on a recliner (a big, padded, reclining chair). That is really heseiba, and is the way of kings. Frankly, I wonder if the way that we currently recline for the seder, on a narrow chair, crowded at the table, almost entirely sitting up, with perhaps a pillow, and feeling less comfortable than if we were merely sitting straight up, should really be considered heseiba. (I prefer not using a pillow but rather turning my chair sideways and leaning on the back of the chair, but even that is not so comfortable.) I also wonder if by the seder, regular sitting would be more derech cherut than our pretend heseiba. At any rate, this was not what Rashi meant by reclining, and not what the Tur meant by reclining when he said that it was derech gaavah, so it should not be a problem even if one does take that approach in the gemara.

It might well be a problem if one settles in on an easy chair (a recliner) and then wishes to bentch.

And it certainly seems to be a problem if someone was walking about, and now wishes to bentch while just standing. (Though it seems that bedieved, of course it would be OK.)

All the aforementioned is typical stuff. Now it gets more interesting. Let us see that gemara again:
א"ר אבהו ואמרי לה במתניתא תנא האוכל ומהלך מברך מעומד וכשהוא אוכל מעומד מברך מיושב וכשהוא מיסב ואוכל יושב ומברך והלכתא בכולהו יושב ומברך
Rabbi Abahu said, and some say it was taught in a brayta: If one eats while walking, he bentches while standing (still). And when he eats while standing, he bentches while sitting. And when he eats while reclining, he bentches while sitting.
And the halacha is that in all of them, he sits and bentches.
Several questions and points:

1) What is the nature of this vehilcheta? Who says this anonymous conclusion? It is not Rabbi Abahu or the brayta. Rather, it is anonymous. And it seems to contradict the explicit source given above, adding extra restrictions. And it does not give a basis.

It might well be the redactor, Ravina or Rav Ashi. However, I wonder in general at anonymous statements in the gemara. There are, after all, setama digmaras, which are post-Ravina and Rav Ashi, while Ravina and Rav Ashi were sof horaah.

I wonder especially at these vehilchetas, with the gemara's conclusions. If I recall correctly, one the gemara contrasts and resolves on vehilcheta on another vehilcheta, and more foggily a case where we don't hold like a vehilcheta (though that might have been an Amora's statement of what the halacha was). But further, working through translating the Rif for the past good while, I start to get a feel for the style. And the Rif often, after citing the relevant gemara, states vehilcheta, and gives his own conclusion. Which leads me to the theory that our gemara, pre-Rif, had some Savora doing a Rif-like job on it, in certain sugyot adding what he felt the halachic conclusion should be. And if so, perhaps we might take issue with the specific conclusion.

2) We seem to be skipping a step here. Rabbi Abahu stated:
If one eats while walking, he bentches while standing (still).
And when he eats while standing, he bentches while sitting.
And when he eats while reclining, he bentches while sitting.
What about eating while sitting? Shouldn't it state:
And when he eats while sitting, he bentches while sitting.
or something like that? Why leap directly to reclining?

3) More to the point, this feels almost like a scribal error. Rabbi Abahu was an Amora from Eretz Yisrael, and we have the following gemara, in the same place in Yerushalmi, at the end of the seventh perek of Berachot, on Berachot 56b:
רבי בא בריה דר' חייא בר אבא אכל מהלך עומד ומברך. אכל עומד יושב ומברך. אכל יושב מיסב ומברך. אכל מיסב מתעטף ומברך. אם עשה כן הרי הוא כמלאכי השרת
מה טעמא (ישעיהו ו) בשתים יכסה פניו ובשתים יכסה רגליו

Even though Rabbi Ba is short for Rabbi Abba, he presumably is not the Rabbi Abahu of our gemara (for there is a famous Rabbi Abahu). Yet the statement, in the same location, is roughly parallel but with important differences:
If one eats while walking, he bentches while standing (still).
And when he eats while standing, he bentches while sitting.
And when he eats while sitting, he bentches while reclining.
And when he eats while reclining, he bentches while wrapped in a tallit.
It seems that each form of eating requires the next level of permanence. Comparing with our gemara, it seems that there are at least two differences:
a) The statement about eating while sitting is entirely missing.
b) Instead of eating while reclining requiring the extreme of being wrapped in a tallit suring bentching, all that is required is sitting while bentching.

It almost looks as if a scribal error is in play. That scribal error would be taking וכשהוא יושב ואוכל מיסב ומברך and swapping the reclining and the sitting, to arrive at וכשהוא מיסב ואוכל יושב ומברך.

A further point. Look at the forms:
When eating while walking -- מברך מעומד. (This should be pronounced mei-omed, BTW, not meumad like you might expect.)
When eating while standing -- מברך מיושב. (mei-yosheiv)
When eating while reclining -- יושב ומברך.

But, if this is the same as the previous law, say מברך מיושב. Why say יושב ומברך?? Something seems off here. Perhaps because there is no easy form for eating while in heseiba. I would note, though, that this is precisely the formulation found in the Yerushalmi -- יושב ומברך. And the same formulation found in the vehilcheta.

4) Regardless, it really looks like we can dismiss the Tur's position that reclining is derech gaavah and as such sitting is optimal. Indeed, looking at the Yerushalmi, it is clear that reclining is a deeper form of permanence along the continuum, and of course would be good. As such, the statement in the gemara about sitting if you ate while reclining is that you merely need to sit (rather than reclining or, as the Yerushalmi says, wrap yourself in a tallit), and not that you are required to sit rather than recline.

This is an important kulla.

5) Indeed, I've wanted to do this wrapping in a tallit during the seder for several years now, since this is an instance of sitting while reclining (if only we were really reclining), and so we have opportunity to fulfill this Yerushalmi.

6) Perhaps we could suggest the following emendation to the gemara, or rather vector of development. This would be exceptionally "fanciful," with little concrete to back it up, but it would explain some of the irregularities:

The gemara's statement by Rabbi Abahu originally followed the style of the Yerushalmi in content. Thus, there was a statement of what one did when sitting while eating -- the result was than one reclined while bentching. And there was a statement of what one did when reclining when eating -- the result is that one wrapped in a tallit when bentching. Something like this:

א"ר אבהו ואמרי לה במתניתא תנא האוכל ומהלך מברך מעומד
וכשהוא אוכל מעומד מברך מיושב
וכשהוא אוכל מיושב מברך בהסיבה
וכשהוא אוכל בהסיבה מברך מעוטף

or something like that, perhaps even with the gemara's reversal of מיסב ומברך and עוטף ומברך.

However, the halacha for whatever reason is that one need not go to such extremes. (In the next point, I will discuss a plausible reason for this.) Sure, one who wraps himself is like one of the malachei haSharet, but it is not a requirement. Rather, while it is true that one should go one step deeper in permanence, that is only up to the level of sitting, but no more permanence/focus is needed.
Thus, והלכתא בכולהו יושב ומברך -- in the last three clauses, all we need is יושב ומברך.
Besides making that vehilcheta, someone fixed up the statement of Rabbi Abahu to match the halacha, much as people "fixed up" the Rambam to accord with their local halacha, and how the Rif often "fixes up" statements by Amoraim to accord with the setama digemara's conclusion of what they meant.

How do we "fix" this up? Well, we can leave כשהוא אוכל מעומד מברך מיושב alone, because it is already correct. For reclining, copy the conclusion made in the vehilcheta, so it becomes יושב ומברך, instead of the original language we see of מברך מיושב. And sitting while eating can be eliminated entirely, since it is obvious and we are giving the span.

If so, the entire point of the vehilcheta is to give a kulla, not a chumra.

And if so, the vehilcheta is only going on the last three when it says בכולהו.

And if so, if you ate while walking, all you would need do is stand in place.

As I said, this is extremely fanciful, and I admit this. I have much less to back me up in this than in many other flights of fancy. Yet I think this potential should be spoken out.

7) Why does the vehilcheta say that we do not do what was mentioned by Rabbi Abahu, but rather one sits? Here, I am taking this as going on the last three cases - standing, sitting (left unmentioned) and reclining.

I would suggest that it is because bentching while wrapped in a tallit is excluded as a requirement, from two sources.

Firstly, we said earlier in the gemara:
Rabbi Zera cited Rabbi Abahu, and some say it was taught in a brayta: 10 things were said regarding a cup of blessing {of Birchat HaMazon}: It requires to be rinsed and washed, it must be undiluted and full, it requires crowning and wrapping, it must be taken up with both hands and placed in the right hand, it must be raised a handbreadth from the ground, he must fix his eyes on it, and he must send it round to the members of his household.
Note that this is the same Rabbi Abahu as we have in the end of the gemara, with the same alternation that perhaps it was a brayta. Thus, we would expect Rabbi Abahu to be consistent and require "wrapping" in a tallit. Indeed, it seems a contradiction that there he says that "it requires crowning and wrapping" while later all he requires is sitting by bentching.

However, Rabbi Yochanan says that we do not have all these ten obligations. Rather, we have four:
Rabbi Yochanan said: We only have four: rinsing, washing, undiluted and full.
Rinsing - is done on the outside.
Washing - is done on the inside.
Undiluted - until the blessing on the land {HaAretz}, and in the blessing on the land he puts into it water.
Full - For Rabbi Yochanan said: Anyone who blesses on a full cup of blessing {over grace after meals} is given inheritance without bounds.
And rishonim seem to agree that these four is to the exclusion of "crowning" and "wrapping."

The gemara continues by defining wrapping:
Wrapping - Rav Papa wrapped {himself in his robe} and sat and blessed.
Rav Ashi spread a kerchief over his head, and took it with both of his hands, for Rav Chanina bar Papa said: The verse states (in Tehillim 134:2):
Thus, wrapping is wrapping in a tallit. Taking away the wrapping component, all we have is sitting and blessing, which is what the vehilcheta says.

Further, Rav Ashi does not seem to have wrapped, but just spread the sudar, and he is batrai, so we would rule like him.

Therefore it is fair for the vehilcheta to conclude that we do not rule to require "wrapping," and so states this leniency in the vehilcheta. And just perhaps, Rabbi Abahu's statement was then emended as described in the previous point, in order to match this practice.

8) One interesting variant one sees in various sources citing the gemara is
והלכתא בכולהו יושב ומברך
והלכתא בכולהו יושב במקומו ומברך

For the reasons in (6), and also because it is shorter, I would expect that במקומו is not original. It also accords nicely with the diyuk of the Rosh. He has במקומו in the vehilcheta (but not earlier) and also says this means within his own house. Perhaps we can read this as his place at the table, rather than "where he is."

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