Daf 44. Summary.
Mishnah. A blessing over the primary component of the meal, even if it is salty, if it is served before the bread, exempts even the blessing for bread.
Gemara. What salted food could the mishnah possibly have in mind? Certain extremely sweet fruits may fall into this category. R’Yochanan could eat enormous quantities of this fruit and still have a craving for more. R’Abahu would eat it until he attracted flies. Rav Ami and Rav Assi would eat it until their hair fell out. R’Shimon ben Lakish would eat it until he became incoherent and troops would be dispatched to retrieve him.
Rav says, “Any meal without salt is not a meal.”
Mishnah. There is a disagreement as to when it is necessary to say Bircas haMazon. Gamliel says it over any sustenance, the Sages do not; Akiva bases the requirement on intent rather than quantity (i.e., if one regarded his portion as a meal rather than a snack).
Gemara. The rabbis suggest that the solution of the mishnah depends on how one punctuated Deuteronomy 8:8-9. They debate the precise content of the abridged version of the blessing. They debate which foods require a blessing both before and after they are eaten. They consider the egg, of which Rebbi says, “Any food that is the size of an egg, an egg is better than it.” Rav Dimi says “. . . except for meat.” The benefits and side effects of other foods are discussed.
Daf 45. Summary.
One only recites a blessing over water if one is drinking it for pleasure (not if it is to clear the throat if one is choking). Rather than determine which blessing should be recited, Abaye or possibly Rav Yosef says, “Go out and see how the people conduct themselves.”
Perek 7. Mishnah. The blessing that precedes Bircas haMazon (zimun) must be recited by three people who eat bread together. The obligation is dependent on the type of bread, how much they eat, and who they are.
Gemara. The gemara seeks the source of the mishnah’s ruling that three people are required. Free associating on other gatherings, they cite the rules that one should not say amen louder than the one who recited the prayer to which he is responding and that one whose role is to translate Torah should not raise his voice louder than the one who reads it from the scroll.
There is a dispute about whether zimun may be recited by less than three. Women by themselves and slaves by themselves may recite zimun (“One hundred women are similar to two men . . .”), but not women and slaves together because of the possibility of promiscuity.
The rule for when to say amen in response to a series of blessings is deliberated.
Daf 46. Summary.
In a large gathering, the host breaks the bread and the guest of honor recites Bircas haMazon. “The host breaks the bread so that he should break it generously . . . and the guest recites Bircas haMazon so that he should bless the host.”
The rabbis seek to determine where the zimun ends and Bircas haMazon begins, as well as which parts of these prayers and others are of Biblical origin and which derive from Rabbinic decrees.
The Reish Galusa suggests that regarding dining etiquette the Persians are more proficient than the Jews. Rav Sheishess does not agree.
Fruit so sweet that it needs to be salted, with a taste so distinct that it never satisfies the craving for it? Has junk food been with us since the dawn of Rabbinic Judaism? R’Abahu would eat it until he attracted flies!
By presenting this cautionary tale as a prologue to an extended discussion on when to recite Bircas haMazon, the Talmud is doing the ancient equivalent of publishing nutritional information for a 32-ounce soft drink, as well as warning us to stay away from foods that are so addictive that no meal can ever end. R’Shimon ben Lakish would eat until he became incoherent.
We recite blessings over meals, not snacks. If all we do is snack, then we never have either a balanced diet or the social intercourse that comes from a proper meal with family and friends; we may never fulfill the command to “Go out and see how the people conduct themselves.” And we may never have the requisite three people at our table with whom to say zimun.