In these dapim we begin the discussion of the Bircat Ha’mazon. As always, we are trying to answer the “WH” questions” When, Who, Where, Why, and What?
So the Mishnah asks: “What is the minimum amount of bread that one must eat in order to be obligated to join in zimun? At least an olive’s volume. R’ Yehudah says: at least an egg’s volume.”
We also read that 100 women are the same as two men in that neither group is obligated to join in zimun, but they are not prohibited from zimun either. The Gemara rejects this and argues: “There, where three or more women eat together, it is different than when two men eat together, for when three women eat together there is a sufficient number of minds to form a quorum for the collective praise of God, whereas in the case of two men who eat together the necessary quorum is lacking.” Worth noting is not that women “don’t count” but rather that we must be separated from men. (It was a long time ago.)
And then we encounter quintessential Talmudic logic: “It was taught in one Baraisa: one who answers ‘Amen’ after all of his own blessings is praiseworthy. And it was taught in another Baraisa: He is despicable!” “The Gemara resolves the contradictions: There is no difficulty: this Baraisa … is dealing with the blessing of Boneh Yerushalayim, whereas this Baraisa … is dealing with the other blessings.” Okay!
This is the kind if nit picking that some find offensive (and consider an example of the proverbial angel dancing on the head of a pin) while others delight in the human ability to discern finer and finer distinctions.
Where do you put yourself?
Perhaps the answer depends on what you consider to be the stakes.If one believes that the answers to the questions posed really matter, then of course the stakes are high, very high. But even if one does not believe that the answers matter, one might value the exercise because of the enormous benefits to the brain. Using Talmudic rhetoric and argument to keep the brain agile and fit might be good in and of itself, regardless of whether the content matters to you as such. But then perhaps such a utilitarian view is disrespectful to the text and its writers and redactors. Let’s just say this: I am studying Talmud. I have made a commitment to do this daily for seven and a half years. I haven’t made the same kind of commitment to crossword puzzles or Sodoku. Even without a philosophically sophisticated theology you can conclude that I’m not just doing this for my health!
And now as a guest at my table where we shared food for thought – would you be so kind as to lead us in the Bircat Ha’mazon? Lest you think there are only two of us here and therefore we are not obligated, or that because I am a female I don’t count, I invite you to look again! We are many (more than can be imagined) and we are good just as we are!