Rabbi Eli Blum
Foremer Rosh Kollel in Cleveland
Wine’s stature as a drink is indicated both by the fact that it has its own bracha (blessing) and by the fact that several other brachot – including kiddush, havdalah, the Fours Cups at the Seder, kiddushin, nissuin and others – are recited over a cup of wine. This article will specifically examine the kos (cup of wine) used for birkat hamazon (Grace after Meals) as well as some of the pertinent halachot.
The Gemara in Arvei Pesachim (BT Pesachim 105b) cites the following braita:
“It was taught: One who enters his home on motzai Shabbat – recites the bracha on the wine, on the flame, and on the besamim (fragrant spices). And then he recites havdalah over the kos. And if he has only one kos, he leaves it until after [birkat] hamazon, and he links all of them until afterwards.”
Several halachot are derived from this braita, including the need for a kos when reciting birkat hamazon. The Rishonim differ with respect to this kos, and their opinions can be divided into three basic groups:
The Rashbam and Rabbeinu Yechiel feels that even one person needs a kos for birkat hamazon. The Tur (182) basically concurs but adds:
“And since he needs a kos, he must go back after it and not eat unless he has a kos for birkat hamazon. If he anticipates that he may have one – even if he has to wait past the time of eating…”
In other words, a kos takes precedence over other halachot.
The Tosfot (Arvei Pesachim, ibid) and the Rosh say that a kos for birkat hamazon is only necessary when three or more people eat together.
The Rif, the Rambam, and the Rashba insist that birkat hamazon does not require a kos at all.
The Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 182) explains that the Rif et al. based their opinion on the Gemara (BT Pesachim 117b), which deals with the Four Cups at the Seder:
“They poured a third kos for him, and he recites birkat hamazon over it… Rav Chanan said to Rava: ‘Let us derive from this that birkat hamazon requires a kos.’ [Rava] said to [Rav Chanan]: ‘The Rabbis ruled that we drink four cups in the manner of freedom. We perform a mitzvah with each one.’”
In other words, Rava replied to Rav Chanan that specifically at the Seder, a kos is necessary for birkat hamazon – as part of the mitzvah of the Four Cups. However, by implication, we learn that during the rest of the year, a kos is not required.
Nevertheless, the Ran, who comments on the Rif, says even according to the Rif and the Rambam, it is a mitzvah min hamuvchar to use a kos shel bracha during birkat hamazon.
In his ruling, the Mechaber cites the three opinions, and the Rama adds the Ran’s view (Shulchan Aruch – Orach Chayim 182:1):
“Some say that birkat hamazon requires a kos even for an individual, and he must go back for it. And he should not eat if he does not have a kos. If he anticipates that he may have one, even if the time for eating will pass. And according to this, if two eat together, each one must take his own kos for birkat hamazon. And some say that a kos is only necessary when there are three. And some say that a kos is not needed at all – even when there are three.”
Rama: “And nonetheless, it is a mitzvah min hamuvchar to recite birkat hamazon over a kos. (Ran – Arvei Pesachim)”
The Achronim differ if the Mechaber decided among the various opinions. Some believe that he ruled in favor of the third view (the Rambam’s opinion), but others – including the Mishnah Brura (Ibid, 4) – say that the Mechaber did not rule in favor of a specific opinion. However, the Mishnah Brura adds that if wine is available and there are three people present, it is preferable to use a kos – although he concedes that the most people are lenient and follow the third opinion.
Minhag Ari (based on the Zohar) is to use a kos for three and not for an individual. Therefore, the Beit Yosef notes that – out of respect for the Zohar – if an individual does use a kos, he should leave it standing on the table and not hold it in his hand. The Rama (182:2) concurs.
The Rivavot Efrayim (C”A 150) observes that a kos was used specifically on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Presumably, this view is based on the Ran, who says that it is a mitzvah min hamuvchar to use a kos. Therefore, during a seuda (festive meal), one should use a kos, as on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
The Yalkut Yosef posits that another advantage to the Rivavot Efrayim’s opinion is that this brings one closer to 100 brachot a day. (Space considerations do not allow for a longer discussion on this topic.)
A further examination of the third opinion (the Rif and the Rambam) reveals that it is also based on another difference between the Four Cups and a kos shel bracha. The Ramban and the Baalei HaTosfot disagree how much one must drink for the Four Cups. According to the Ramban, one must drink rov kos (the majority of the cup itself) – unlike the requirement for a kos shel bracha. However, the Tosfot says that the Four Cups are the same as a kos shel bracha and thus even a rov rivi’it – malei logmav (literally, “his cheeks are full”) is sufficient. (See the Shulchan Aruch – 472:9 – for a resolution of this disagreement.)
The Griz proves that the Rambam concurred with the Ramban that the Four Cups are different and that rov kos is necessary. According to the Griz, with respect to the Four Cups, the wine itself is an expression of freedom, but a regular kos shel bracha involves the recitation of shevach vihallel (literally, praise and glorification) over the kos. Hence, at the Seder, rov kos must be imbibed for each of the Four Cups. But with a regular kos shel bracha – which is just a means for reciting the shevach vihallel – a specific amount of wine (i.e. rov rivi’it) is sufficient. This distinction better explains the Rambam’s opinion that the Four Cups can not be used as a proof for a kos for birkat hamazon during the rest of the year.