Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Proper Nusach For Zimmun

Note: Not intended halacha lemaaseh. It is merely an exploration of the issues.

Over Shabbat, I learned through some sources for the structure of zimmun, and came to some interesting conclusions.

First off, more or less, the current structure is as pictured to the right:
Leader: Rabbotai, Mi Vellen Bentchen. (Or: Rabbotai, Nevarech.)
Others: Yehi Shem Adonai mevorach meAta veAd Olam.
Leader: Yehi Shem Adonai mevorach meAta veAd Olam.
Leader: BeReshut Maranan, veRabbanan veRabotai, Nevarech (Eloheinu -- if there are 10) sheAchalnu miShelo.
Others: Baruch (Eloheinu) sheAchalnu miShelo uveTuvo Chayyinu.
Leader: Baruch (Eloheinu) sheAchalnu miShelo uveTuvo Chayyinu.
(Single person omits:)
Baruch hu uvaruch shemo.

Now, after looking through the sources, I saw three interesting things.

1) I am fairly convinced that we should not be saying "Rabbotai, Mi Vellen Bentchen," but should start straight off with "Nevarech sheAchalnu miShelo."
2) That there was an expansion which was quashed, to have "Nevarech sheAchalnu miShelo uveTuvo Chayinu."
3) That I should probably not be saying "Baruch Hu uVaruch shemo" at the end.

Each of these points in turn. First, note that I oppose feature creep in Judaism. Feature creep in software engineering is where there is some initial plan for the software, but during development, more and more features are suggested and incorporated, which were not part of the original design. This can yield unwieldy, bloated software. And even where it does not, when the deadlines are not also extended as well, there is often not enough time to meet the extended demands.

There is a natural historical process of feature creep into Judaism as well, and I think that the Rabbis of each generation must be vigilant against this. At times they were, at times they were not. This bloat can lead to excessive chumrot, extension of tefillah for people who have short attention spans as it is, etc. And once adopted, it is difficult to discard, for various halachic and extra-halachic reasons.

The nusach of zimmun appears to be one such example, where all sorts of things were added, some of which were opposed forcefully enough to obliterate the addition, and some which were not. As it presently stands, the zimmun is twice as long as it was initially.

Which brings us to point 1, "Rabbotai Mir Vellen Bentchen."

1) If you look in the gemara, in the Rishonim, in Tur, in Shulchan Aruch, the zimmun begins with "Nevarech sheAchalnu miShelo." There is no "Rabbotai, Mir Vellen Betchen" present. Where does this come from?

We see this mentioned in the Magen Avraham. He cites the Zohar, that because it is proper to do a hazmana, introduction, to any matter of mitzvah, one should introduce this with Hav Lan Unevarech. Therefore, says the Magen Avraham, we say in Lashon Ashkenazi, "Rabbotai, Mir Vellen Bentchen." (Or, if you wish to say this in Hebrew, we have a version that goes Rabbotai, Nevarech.)

There are a few problems with this. Firstly, isn't the zimmun by definition, the hazmana to say Birkat haMazon, in order to fulfill the Biblical precept?

Secondly, we can ask the question that the Pri Megadim asks. He notes that some, such as the Levush, say that the reason the leader repeats "Baruch (Eloheinu) sheAchalnu miShelo uveTuvo Chayyinu" after the others is that his original statement of "Nevarech sheAchalnu miShelo" was not the blessing of Hashem, but rather a "Hazmana." If so, asks the Pri Megadim, what do we need with a hazmana beforehand?

Thirdly, if this was indeed so, and based on Zohar, how come we do not see this as accepted standard nusach in other, earlier sources?

Fourthly, since when do we rely on kabbalistic sources for halacha? We might optionally add it, based on kabbalistic sources, but it is strange to establish it as the accepted nusach just based on Zohar. (There are indeed some things that are based on Zohar and kabbalah.)

To answer the fourth question, we need not say that this is based on the Zohar. Rather, the basis would be in Talmud Bavli, such as in Pesachim 103a-b:
דרב ברונא ורב חננאל תלמידי דרב הוו יתבי בסעודתא
קאי עלייהו רב ייבא סבא א"ל הב לן וניבריך
לסוף אמרו ליה הב לן ונישתי
אמר להו הכי אמר רב כיון דאמריתו הב לן וניבריך איתסרא לכו למישתי
מאי טעמא דאסחיתו דעתייכו
Thus, we see that Amoraim, students of Rav, used this formula of "Hav Lan veNivrech (/univarech)."

Then, given that the Zohar states that this is a hazmana, with this particular formula, we may interpret the gemara as showing that this is an obligatory, or at least recommended, formula.

However, I would reject this, for two reasons. First, the question comes down to whether the Zohar preceded the gemara or the gemara preceded the Zohar. The more "frum" opinion is that the Zohar preceded the gemara, that it is Tannaitic, from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. If so, when the Amoraim in this event said "Hav Lan veNivrech," they were following what was established in Zohar, and thus this is a hazmana. However, if we say that the Zohar is post-Talmudic, from Rav Moshe de Leon, then the Zohar is basing itself on the gemara. In which case the Zohar may be interpreting the gemara correctly, or else it could be interpreting the gemara incorrectly.

In this case, I believe the Zohar misinterprets this gemara. After all, הב לן וניבריך is not the only thing they say. They also say הב לן ונישתי. And this was a request for wine to drink, so as to prolong the meal. What davar shebikedusha was this, that it requires a hazmana? Furthermore, this is not an invitation to themselves. Rather, it is an instruction to Rav Yeva Sava, who is the waiter. First they ask him to bring the wine, the kos shel beracha, so that they can bless. Then they say to him to instead bring them wine so that they can drink. And note this is אמרו ליה, where they are talking to the waiter, rather than being directed towards the others, as in "Rabbotai, Nevarech." So this translation into Ashkenazic speech (=German) is not a very accurate translation and indeed, the entire phrase is unwarranted.

The Aruch haShulchan explains the הב לן ונבריך in Zohar as a hazmana, in the sense of "let us," as in "let us bless." He compares it to such Biblical usage as Hava Nitchakma Lo. The problem with that is that it does not match the usage in the gemara, as I pointed out above. Meanwhile, Mishna Berura offers two explanations -- the same as the Aruch HaShulchan, that it is an invitation to others to bless, and another explanation, that it is a request for the wine for the kos shel beracha. I already showed that the former explanation has problems. If it is the second explanation, then how does this match the words "Rabbotai Mir Vellen Bentchen," or "Rabbotai Nevarech?" Maybe we should only say this when bentching over a cup of wine! And anyway, the words do not match. Perhaps we can simply say that that was one form of hazmana, but this is another form of hazmana.

In Rabbi Friedman's shul, where I sometimes daven, I noticed that when beginning the zimmun, he actually has someone hand him the kos shel beracha and then say Hav Lan Unvarech. This would accord well with the practice mentioned in the gemara, even though I don't think that the practice in the gemara was intended as obligation or custom, but rather just a recording of the actual conversation. But it also accords with Zohar who says to say this, as it is a hazmana. Of course, after that, he goes into Rabbosai, Mir Vellen Bentchen. So we have duplication of this extraneous hazmana.

I don't know if Rabbi Friedman does this, but I have noticed in some siddurim that in addition to Hav Lan and Rabbotai, there is a kabbalistic introduction of "Behold, I am about to fulfill the mitzvah of..." This would be a third extraneous hazmana, over that which is already included in the original mezuman.

Also, this accounts for Rabbotai, but not "Yehi Shem Hashem..." by the others and then repeated. This is not a hazmana, but rather the entire unit seems to be a zimmun before the actual zimmun, with a different girsa, and a girsa at that which deviates from the matbeia shetav'u bah chachamim, which in other contexts in this topic we object to.

(Furthermore, regardless of the length of the zimmun, typically you will have discussion at the table beforehand among the participants of the meal, in English, as to whether they want to bentch. This is yet another hazmana, in the common language, serving much the same purpose as Rabbotai in Yiddish.)

In sum, this is feature creep, a natural phenomenon of increasing the liturgy, and I oppose it on those grounds. Otherwise, this, and many other parts of tefillah will grow until there is no time for chatzi lachem.

2) This feature creep manifested itself elsewhere within the Zimmun, but these additions were
quashed. Thus, some said Amen at the end, but this was put down. Some said "Nevarech sheAchalnu miShelo uveTuvo Chayyinu." These extra words, uveTuvo Chayyinu, put into the mouth of the leader, are not in the gemara. They are borrowed from later on, from the response to the leader and the leader's repetition. This deviates from the coinage of the liturgy. As Aruch haShulchan notes, this was successfully quashed, such that nobody has this custom anymore.

3) One thing that I have been saying for years, but am reevaluating, is Baruch Hu UVaruch Shemo at the end of the Mezuman. Our bentchers say "A single person omits," meaning that it is omitted by a person not part of a mezuman. Yet this is not simply part of the standard zimmun, or else they would have included it as such, without this cryptic comment.
"Rabbotai, Nevarech" is also omitted by a single person, and so it is included in the standard text without this comment about single people omitting it.

In fact, this comment covers a dispute as to whether one should say it or not. Some say that one should say it with 3 people, some only with 10, and some never. Regardless, they all seem to agree that a single person should omit this. I have seen in some siddurim that it says in the instructions that a single person omits, but in a mezuman, it is subject to different opinions.

This part of the liturgy is not mentioned in the gemara. We first see it in Tur, where he places it right after the leader's repetition of Baruch sheAchalnu miShelo uveTuvo Chayyinu, and right before the first blessing of Birkat haMazon.

Bach asks on this, wondering where this came from. First he suggests that it is a taut sofer, a scribal error (perhaps based on baruch that follows, as the first blessing of Birkat haMazon). But then he rejects this suggestion, noting that both the sefer Rokeach and the Avudraham have this text. Bach comes to the conclusion that its basis is in a mezuman involving 10 people, where they say "Elokeinu." There, they mention God's name. And as the pasuk says, Ki Shem Hashem Ekra, Havu Godel Leilokeinu. When I mention Hashem's name, ascribe greatness to our God. And this is taken to practical halacha that one should say some praise of Hashem there.

Now, apparently, people back then were saying it even when bentching by themselves. This is incorrect. (And thus the instruction "single person omits.") But the Tur has it even for 3 people. Bach says that one should only say this for 10+ people.

Aruch haShulchan brings down all of this in his own words, and decides that it is indeed a taut sofer. He is furthermore of the opinion that here, and elsewhere, Baruch Hu uVaruch Shemo is a hefsek. Therefore, one should not say it even with 10+ people.

Personally, I am not so convinced of Aruch haShulchan's opinion in general, since if something is included in the liturgy, even if it creeps in, I am not so sure that it should be considered a hefsek. However, it is, shall we say ... useful. After all, a certain approach has developed (which is seen e.g. in Mishna Berura) that one should try to satisfy all positions. In general, this leads to chumra in action and incorporation of more nusach into tefillah. Yet here, if the Aruch haShulchan holds it is a hefsek, then we cannot include these words while still satisfying his position.

I personally think that one probably should not say it, since it is another example of feature creep, but not because of any reasons of hefsek.

4) I have to give more thought to the BiReshut portion, and learn more about it inside. After all, often this is done after being explicitly invited to do so. Yet it is good to have, and develop, manners bein adam lachaveiro.

5) Finally, this past Shabbat I described all this to my father-in-law. And at the end of the meal, he asked me to lead. I am not yet sure I should act in practice as described above, but I asked him whether he wanted me to start from the beginning (from Rabbotai). He stated his preference that I do so. And after all, it was his table, and his home, and he who dispensed this honor. And to impose my own practice on others, where he wanted a standard nusach, is a different story than selecting what I think is the correct nusach. There are bein adam lachaveiro aspects to consider.

And so I started with Rabbotai. And I included Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo, despite the fact that he personally holds like Aruch haShulchan, that it is a hefsek. A good time was had by all.

9 comments:

littlefoxling said...

This is very interesting. It almost seems as though there is a concept to introduce the formal bentching with an informal introduction. The problem is that after time the introduction becomes part of the formal bentching and so a new informal introduction needs to be introduced. And the process keeps on repeating itself.

I also am against feature creep in Judaism. My pet peeve is the feature creep in davening that I have witnessed in my (very short) lifetime: shir hamaalos in davening and various mi shebeirachs during laining (for all sorts of captives, countries, armies etc).

littlefoxling said...

And by the way, I think the feature creeps I mentioned have the same reason as your feature creeps. Davening is supposed to be a way to pray to Hashem, in earnest and devotion, about things we care about. The text of davening does this. But, because we say it every day and have been doing so for thousands of years, most people do not actually have any kavanah and just mutter the words and so the davening does not fulfil its purpose. Thus, when we actualy care about an issues, such as the intafada in Israel, we can not rely on the extant prayers about peace and whatnot, for those prayers are devoid of all meaning to us and are simply mumering of incantation. So, new innovative davening such as the shir hamaalos is added. Within a few months, people stop having kavanah for the new davening but it’s hard to remove davening once its been instituted and so it just stays there as a permanent addition.

joshwaxman said...

good points. quite likely.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Wow, LF, excellent comments. I'm impressed.

I was just going to point out that in many Sephardic siddurim, the introduction is simply "Birshutchem, Nevarech She-achalnu mishelo", everyone answers "Baruch She-achalnu mishelo, etc." and Birkat Hamazon follows.

However, in a great number of Sephardic siddurim there are more elaborate introductions, all of which start with "Hav Lan Venivrich, etc."

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Growing up, periodically we would say the initial introduction in our vernacular, i.e. English. That was fun. And then i went to Israel and discovered the concept of improvising the ברשות line depending on who is actually there.

Lion of Zion said...

"Or: Rabbotai, Nevarech"

on kibbutz they say חברי נברך

TechnoYid said...

The "feature creep" isn't only with birkas hamazon or tefillah. We see it in many areas of halachah.

Whether it is using a light box to detect insects, washing vegetables in soap, going overboard on tznius (and in general the separation of men and women), we get fences surrounding fences, until we get a Mad Ludwig castle, when all we wanted was protection from the elements.

While some of the additional strictures may be reasonable, I can well imagine trying to explain to someone why, without basis, we restrict something.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your reading of the gemara, and would even extend it to the current usage of "Rabbotai, nevarech": It is simply a way of giving people a heads up, letting them know we are about to start the formal zimmun. This idea is reinforced by the fact that "Birshut..." comes after "Rabbotai, nevarech"--at that point, we have not yet started the formal zimmun, and ask permission to do so.

"Barukh hu ubarukh shemo" seems to be the same response used, for example, in responding to berakhot in the Amidah--when the leader says God's name, we exclaim "barukh hu ubarukh shemo".

Anonymous said...

I see no reason to mention maran, rabanan, and rabotai at a meal of just three friends. Instead I suggest simply "birshutchem nevarech..." ie "with your permission, let's betch." This is much quicker, easier to understand, and easier to say!

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