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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth
R. Zera once was ill. R. Abbahu went to visit him, and made a vow, saying, If the little one with scorched legs1 recovers, I will make a feast for the Rabbis. He did recover, and he made a feast for all the Rabbis. When the time came to begin the meal,2 he said to R. Zera: Will your honour please commence for us.3 He said to him: Does not your honour accept the dictum of R. Johanan that the host should break bread? So he [R. Abbahu] broke the bread for them. When the time came for saying grace he said to him [R. Zera], Will your honour please say grace for us, He replied: Does your honour not accept the ruling of R. Huna from Babylon,4 who said that the one who breaks bread says grace? Whose view then did R. Abbahu accept? — That expressed by R. Johanan in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai: The host breaks bread and the guest says grace. The host breaks bread so that he should do so generously,5 and the guest says grace so that he should bless the host. How does he bless him? 'May it be God's will that our host should never be ashamed in this world nor disgraced in the next world'. Rabbi added some further items: 'May he be very prosperous with all his estates, and may his possessions and ours be prosperous and near a town,6 and may the Accuser have no influence either over the works of his hands or of ours, and may neither our host nor we be confronted with7 any evil thought or sin or transgression or iniquity from now and for all time'.
To what point does the benediction of zimmun extend?8 — R. Nahman says: Up to [the conclusion of] 'Let us bless';9 R. Shesheth says: Up to [the conclusion of] 'Who sustains',10 May we say that there is the same difference between Tannaim? For one [authority] taught: The grace after meals is either two or three benedictions,11 while another has taught: Either three or four. Now we assume that all agree that 'Who is good and does good' is not Scriptural. Is not then the difference [between the two authorities cited] this, that the one who says two or three holds that [the benediction of zimmun] extends up to 'Who sustaineth',12 while the one who says three or four holds that it extends up to 'Let us bless'?13 — No; R. Nahman explains according to his view and R. Shesheth explains according to his view. R. Nahman explains according to his view: All agree that it extends to 'Let us bless'. On the view of him who says, 'three or four', this creates no difficulty.14 The one who says 'two or three' can say that here we are dealing with a grace said by work-people, regarding which a Master has said, He commences with 'Who sustaineth' and includes 'Who builds Jerusalem' in the benediction of the land.15  R. Shesheth can also explain according to his view: All agree that the blessing of zimmun extends up to 'Who sustaineth'. On the view of him who says 'two or three', this creates no difficulty; while the one who says 'three or four' holds that the benediction 'Who is good and does good' is Scriptural.
R. Joseph said: You may know that the benediction 'who is good and does good' is not Scriptural from the fact that workpeople omit it. R. Isaac b. Samuel b. Martha said in the name of Rab: You may know that the benediction 'who is good and does good' is not Scriptural from the fact that it commences with 'Blessed' but does not conclude with 'Blessed', for so it has been taught: All benedictions commence with 'Blessed' and close with 'Blessed', except the blessing over fruits, the blessings said over the performance of precepts, one blessing which joins on to another, and the last blessing alter the recital of the Shema'.16 Some of these commence with 'Blessed' but do not close with 'Blessed'17
, while some close with 'Blessed' but do not open with 'Blessed';1 and 'who is good and does good' opens with 'Blessed' but does not close with 'Blessed'. This shows that it is a separate blessing. R. Nahman b. Isaac said: You may know that 'who is good and does good' is not Scriptural from the fact that it is omitted in the house of a mourner,2 as it has been taught: What blessing is said in the house of a mourner? 'Blessed is He that is good and does good'. R. Akiba says: 'Blessed be the true Judge'. And does one [according to the first authority] say. 'Blessed be He that is good and does good', and not 'Blessed be the true Judge'? — Read: He says also,'Blessed be He that is good and does good'. Mar Zutra visited R. Ashi when the latter had suffered a bereavement, and in the grace after meals he began and uttered the benediction: 'Who is good and does good, God of truth, true Judge, who judges in righteousness and takes away in righteousness, who is Sovereign in His universe to do as pleaseth Him in it, for all His ways are judgment; for all is His, and we are His people and His servants, — and for everything it is incumbent upon us to give thanks to Him and to bless Him. He who closes up the breaches of Israel will close up this breach in Israel, granting life'.
Said the Exilarch to R. Shesheth: Although you are venerable Rabbis, yet the Persians are better versed than you in the etiquette5 of a meal. When there are two couches [in the set],6 the senior guest takes his place first and then the junior one above him.7 When there are three couches, the senior occupies the middle one, the next to him in rank takes the place above him, and the third one below him.8 R. Shesheth said to him: So when he wants to talk to him,9 he has to stretch himself and sit upright to do so!10 He replied: This does not matter to the Persians, because they speak with gesticulation. [R. Shesheth asked the Exilarch:] With whom do they commence the washing of the hands before the meal? — He replied: With the senior one. Is then the senior one to sit still [he exclaimed] and watch his hands11 until they have all washed? — He replied: They bring a table before him immediately.12 With whom do they begin the washing after the meal [he asked him]? — He replied: With the junior one present. And is the senior one to sit with greasy hands until all have washed? — He replied: They do not remove the table from before him till water is brought to him.13 R. Shesheth then said: I only know a Baraitha, in which it is taught: 'What is the order of reclining? When there are two couches in a set, the senior one reclines first, and then the junior takes his place below him. When there are three couches, the senior takes his place first, the second next above him, and then the third one below him. Washing before the meal commences with the senior one, washing after the meal, if there are five, commences with the senior, and if there are a hundred14 it commences with the junior until five are left, and then they start15 from the senior one. The saying of grace is assigned to the one to whom the washing thus reverts'.16 This supports Rab; for R. Hiyya b. Ashi said in the name of Rab: Whoever washes his hands first at the end of the meal has the right to say grace. Rab and R. Hiyya were once dining with Rabbi. Rabbi said to Rab: Get up and wash your hands. R. Hiyya saw him trembling and said to him: Son of princes, he is telling you to think over the grace.17
Our Rabbis taught: We do not give precedence [to others]18 either on the road or on a bridge
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