Chol HaMoed – Weekday or Yom Tov?

Question #1: My shoes tore on Yom Tov. May I have them repaired on Chol HaMoed?

Question #2: The supermarket has something on sale on Chol HaMoed that I need for after Yom Tov. May I purchase it?

Question #3: I am visiting my parents in Chutz La’Aretz for Yom Tov. I know that I must keep two days of Yom Tov while visiting them, but does that permit me to cook on Chol HaMoed for their Simchas Torah?

Question #4: Someone told me that Chol HaMoed is sometimes stricter than Shabbos. How can that be?

Answering these shaylos provides an opportunity to discuss the important and complicated halachos of Chol HaMoed. As the Gemara (Moed Katan 12a) points out, the halachos of Chol HaMoed are hard to categorize. Therefore, although a short article cannot possibly explain all the halachos of Chol HaMoed, I will present many of the principles and provide a basis for each individual to ask his or her own shaylos.

The Gemara (Chagigah 18a) implies that working on Chol HaMoed is forbidden min haTorah. Indeed, observing Chol HaMoed is included in the mitzvah of keeping Yom Tov, which is testimony of Hashem’s special relationship with the Jewish people (Gemara Pesachim 118a with Rashbam).

The Torah describes four mitzvos as an “Os,” a sign of Hashem’s relationship with us: Bris Milah, Shabbos, Yom Tov (including Chol HaMoed) and Tefillin. Because Chol HaMoed is included in this very special category, Jews should treat Chol HaMoed with great respect. Indeed, the Gemara states that disregarding the kedusha of the Yomim Tovim, including Chol HaMoed, is like idolatry (Pesachim 118a with Rashbam). Some commentators explain that this includes even someone who fails to serve special meals in honor of Chol HaMoed (Bartenura, Avos 3:11). Observing Chol HaMoed appropriately attests to our special relationship with Hashem.

DEFINING WORK ON CHOL HAMOED

Chol HaMoed is an unusual holiday. On the one hand it is Yom Tov, and we may not engage in many melacha activities. On the other hand, we may do many activities that enhance the celebration of Yom Tov.

The laws determining what is permitted and what is prohibited on Chol HaMoed are very detailed and technical. What really governs whether something is permitted on Chol HaMoed or not? The Gemara explains that the Torah prohibits doing some melachos on Chol HaMoed, yet “passed on to Chazal the rules of what melacha is prohibited and what is permitted” (Chagigah 18a).

What does this mean? Is the foundation of this mitzvah min haTorah or is it midirabbanan? How could the Torah create a prohibition and “pass on to Chazal” what is prohibited?

There are three basic interpretations of this Gemara:

1. Some Rishonim (Tosafos, Chagigah 18a) explain that melacha on Chol HaMoed is an asmachta, meaning something the Torah implies that it does not want us to do, but does not expressly forbid (see Ritva to Rosh Hashanah 16a). According to this approach, the Torah did not want Bnei Yisroel to work on Chol HaMoed, but never prohibited it. Thus, when the Gemara implies that melacha on Chol HaMoed is prohibited min haTorah, it is presenting the Torah’s sentiment, not a commandment. Working on Chol HaMoed violates the spirit of Yom Tov min haTorah, but does not violate the letter of the law. Chazal then implemented the Torah’s sentiment as law by forbidding certain melachos on Chol HaMoed. Since Chazal created the prohibition, they also created the rules, prohibiting some activities and permitting others.

2. Other Rishonim explain that the details of Chol HaMoed law are part of Torah Sheba’al Peh that Hashem gave Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai for him to transmit orally (Ritva, Moed Katan 2a). Thus, someone who violates the laws of Chol HaMoed is violating a Torah prohibition, just as someone who violated any other interpretation of a Torah law transmitted to us through Chazal.

3. A third interpretation is that although the Torah prohibited melacha on Chol HaMoed, it delegated to Chazal the power to decide what to prohibit and what to permit. Thus, although Chazal formulated the rules that govern Chol HaMoed, someone who violates them abrogates Torah law (Rashi, Chagigah 18a).

Whether the prohibition of melacha is min haTorah or only midirabbanan, the purpose of Chol HaMoed is to devote one’s time to learning Torah (Yerushalmi, Moed Katan 2:3). In addition, ceasing from certain of these melachos elevates Chol HaMoed above ordinary weekdays (Rambam, Hilchos Yom Tov 7:1).

This last reason is a theme that lies behind the complex details of hilchos Chol HaMoed; we desist from activity that detracts from the purpose of Yom Tov. For this reason, Chazal prohibited some activities on Chol HaMoed that are not necessarily melacha but nonetheless detract from the Yom Tov experience.

These prohibited activities include:

1. Commerce that is not necessary for the festival.

2. Moving to a new residence.

COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY

Chazal prohibited business activity on Chol HaMoed unless it is to enhance the festival or to prevent financial loss (Gemara Moed Katan 10b). Even business that is permitted should be conducted in a discreet way that does not disturb kedushas Yom Tov (Mishnah, Moed Katan 13b). Thus, Chazal ruled that a clothing store may sell clothes to be worn on the festival, but that its main door to the street should be closed. If it has two doors to the street, one may be open and the other should be closed in order to demonstrate that today is Chol HaMoed (Gemara ad loc.; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 539:11).

A store selling only perishable food items may remain open in the regular way since everything purchased there is for Chol HaMoed and Yom Tov (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 539:10).

Thus, according to the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch, a Jew may not open his store for business as usual on Chol HaMoed (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer #1). In the modern world, this is a hardship for business owners who may lose regular customers to their competitors who do not observe Chol HaMoed. The poskim consider loss of regular customers as a davar ha’avud that allows the business to make some accommodations. Details of this halacha are discussed by the poskim and each store owner should ask his Rav what to do (see Biyur Halacha 539:5).

MOVING

Although one could theoretically change dwellings in a way that involves no melacha, the move itself is very strenuous and distracting. Therefore, Chazal forbade moving on Chol HaMoed (Mishnah, Moed Katan 13a). Sometimes moving results in an enhancement of Yom Tov, under which circumstances Chazal permitted it. Again, if someone feels that his particular circumstances may be included, he/she should ask his Rav.

EASY WORK

On the other hand, one is permitted to do melacha that does not detract from the atmosphere of Chol HaMoed. Therefore, Chazal permitted moving muktzah items (Tosafos, Shabbos 22a s.v. Sukkah) on Chol HaMoed since this does not disturb the purpose of the day. Similarly, many poskim permit performing an actual melacha if it involves little effort, even if it does not fulfill any festival purpose (Terumas HaDeshen #153). According to these opinions, one may strike a match or take a photograph on Chol HaMoed even if no festival need is involved. There are poskim who dispute this and permit such activities only to fulfill a festival need (see Shu”t Radbaz #727).

FOOD PREPARATION

Chazal permitted activities that enhance Chol HaMoed and Yom Tov, such as cooking and shopping for Yom Tov and traveling for festival purposes. One may grind, select, knead and perform other standard kitchen activities for Yom Tov or Chol HaMoed meals but should not prepare for after Yom Tov.

This presents us with a problem that many people overlook. Since one may not cook on Chol HaMoed for after Yom Tov, someone living in Eretz Yisroel who observes one day of Yom Tov may not cook on Chol HaMoed for Acharon shel Pesach or Simchas Torah of Chutz La’Aretz for one’s Chutz La’aretz guests because these days are no longer Yom Tov for a resident of Eretz Yisroel. Thus, one is cooking on Chol HaMoed for after Yom Tov. This can result in an interesting problem. The visiting guests need to be served a special Yom Tov meal on the evening of Acharon shel Pesach or their Simchas Torah, yet the host/hostess, who lives in Eretz Yisroel, may not cook this meal on Chol HaMoed.

This problem has a simple solution if one plans in advance. One can either wait until after Yom Tov is over to begin cooking or one may cook a lot on Chol HaMoed for Shmini Atzeres (called Simchas Torah in Eretz Yisroel) or the Seventh day of Pesach, making sure to serve something from each course on the Eretz Yisroel’s Simchas Torah (Shmini Atzeres) or Shvi’i shel Pesach. Then one serves the “leftovers” on the last day.

MAASEH HEDYOT, UNSKILLED WORK

Chazal permitted making and repairing items that are needed on Chol HaMoed, provided one does not use a skilled method (maaseh uman) to do so. For example, one may tune an instrument if it requires no special skills (Shu”t Shvus Yaakov #25). Shulchan Aruch (540:5) rules that one may build an animal’s trough in an unskilled way. Similarly, one may perform household repairs that serve a festival purpose in an unskilled manner (Shulchan Aruch 540:1). However, they may not be performed in a skilled way unless a financial loss is involved (Shulchan Aruch 537:1).

Many years ago, a talmid chacham visited me on Chol HaMoed and noticed that one of our front steps was damaged and somewhat dangerous. Ruling that repairing the step is a meleches hedyot, he proceeded to measure the step, purchased a suitable piece of lumber and nailed it in.

However, one may not do skilled work in general on Chol HaMoed. Therefore, one may not develop film even for a festival purpose since this is skilled work. However, one may use a digital camera, even though the picture “develops” on Chol HaMoed, since no skill is involved. Similarly, one may not repair shoes on Chol HaMoed since this is skilled work. Theoretically, one may repair them in an unskilled way or with a shinui, meaning in an unusual way; however, neither of these methods is a practical way to repair shoes. As we will see later, one may not have a gentile shoemaker repair them either.

MAY I REPAIR A GARMENT FOR YOM TOV WEAR?

One may repair a torn garment in order to wear it on Yom Tov or Chol HaMoed, but only if one sews it in a highly unusual way or it is sewn by an unskilled person (Mishnah Moed Katan 8b). In this instance, Chazal permitted the use of a shinui (doing something in an unusual way) for the sake of Yom Tov or Chol HaMoed. However, a skilled person may not sew in a normal way even to fulfill a festival need.

Why did Chazal draw a distinction between skilled and unskilled work, and with a shinui and without? Does it enhance the spirit of Yom Tov by requiring the use of a shinui to repair a garment?

It appears that Chazal felt that regulating how one performs this activity reminds someone that today is Chol HaMoed even while engaged in a melacha activity. This enhances the spirit of Yom Tov that should imbue all the days of Chol HaMoed.

“A WORKER WHO DOES NOT HAVE FOOD TO EAT”

Chazal permitted a worker who cannot provide his family with meat and wine for Yom Tov to work on Chol HaMoed (Biyur Halacha 545:3; cf., however, the Magen Avraham 542:1, says that only a worker who cannot provide bread for Yom Tov may work.) It is self-understood why permitting this melacha enhances Yom Tov.

DAVAR HA’AVUD, FINANCIAL LOSS

One of the situations where Chazal permitted working on Chol HaMoed is when financial loss will result if the job waits until after Yom Tov. This is allowed because otherwise someone may worry about his loss and spoil his simchas Yom Tov (Ritva, Moed Katan 13a).

Another application of financial loss is that one may repair a broken lock or a broken alarm system on Chol HaMoed (Mishnah Moed Katan 11a). Similarly, someone may remove a stain from a garment that might become ruined. An employee may go to work on Chol HaMoed if taking vacation will jeopardize his job. However, if he can take unpaid vacation on Chol HaMoed without jeopardizing his job, he may not work.

Someone may purchase an item that he will definitely need after Yom Tov if the item is on sale during Chol HaMoed. Poskim conclude that this is considered a davar ha’avud (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 539:9).

Because of davar ha’avud, the Mishnah (Moed Katan 2a) permits watering an irrigated field on Chol HaMoed, if a week without water will harm the growing produce. However, one may not irrigate a field that receives adequate rain, even though it benefits considerably from additional water. The latter situation is one of creating profit, for which I may not do melacha on Chol HaMoed, because one may only do melacha to avoid loss and not to avoid loss of profit (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 537:1). Thus, although one may not engage in commercial activity in order to generate new business, one may service existent customers.

The rationale for distinguishing between loss and potential profit is that people become upset when they lose something they already own and this then disturbs their Yom Tov, but are bothered much less when they lose potential profit.

LAUNDRY

Chazal prohibited laundering, shaving and haircutting on Chol HaMoed precisely in order to enhance Yom Tov. In earlier days, people did their laundry and shaved very occasionally and could have postponed attending to them before Yom Tov. To enhance Yom Tov observance, Chazal prohibited laundering, shaving and haircutting on Chol HaMoed to guarantee that people would make sure to attend to such things before Yom Tov.

Chazal permitted laundering handkerchiefs and children’s clothes, since even if they are washed before Yom Tov they get soiled very quickly (Mishnah Moed Katan 14a; Shulchan Aruch 534:1).

Many poskim permit removing a spot from a garment on Chol HaMoed, contending that this was not included in the gezeirah. However, one may not have this garment dry cleaned even at a gentile’s shop since this would indeed violate the gezeirah against doing laundry. One may iron because it is not included in the gezeirah (541:3). However, one may not make a new pleat because it is skilled work [meleches uman] (Magen Avraham 541:5).

WORK THROUGH A GENTILE

May a gentile do work on my behalf on Chol HaMoed that Chazal prohibited me to do myself?

In general, if I may not do something myself on Chol HaMoed, I may not have a gentile do it either (Gemara Moed Katan 12a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 543:1). However, if the non-Jew is a contractor paid by the job, there are some situations when I may allow him to work on Chol HaMoed.

WHY IS THIS CASE DIFFERENT?

When I pay someone by the job, it is halachically viewed as if he is working for himself and not for me. Therefore, when I hire a non-Jewish contractor and he chooses to work on Shabbos or Chol HaMoed, it is not considered that someone is working for me on these holy days. I may therefore allow him to work on Chol HaMoed, provided no one thinks that he is my employee.

Therefore, if I meet the following conditions, I need not prevent the gentile from working on Chol HaMoed:

1. I pay him a flat fee to complete the job, not an hourly or daily wage.

2. I do not instruct him to work on Chol HaMoed, and I hire him before Yom Tov.

3. The gentile performs the work in a way that Jews do not know that he is working for a Jew. Thus, the gentile must work on his own premises and in a way and place that no one knows that he is working for a Jew.

I will explain this halacha with an actual case: Friedman’s Department Store, which is located outside a Jewish community, retains Tim McCartney as a contract gardener to maintain the lawn and hedges around the store. Must Mr. Friedman insist that his gentile gardener not work on Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol HaMoed, even when it fits his regular routine?

The halacha is that Mr. Friedman may allow Tim to work on Shabbos or Yom Tov, but must insist that he refrain on Chol HaMoed.

HOW CAN CHOL HAMOED BE STRICTER THAN SHABBOS?

Since Friedman’s Department Store is not walking distance to any Jewish community, we may assume that no observant Jew will see Tim trimming the hedges on Shabbos and Yom Tov and think that Mr. Friedman hired him to work on Shabbos or Yom Tov. Therefore, since Tim is a contractor he may do the work (Gemara Moed Katan 12a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 244:1).

However, on Chol HaMoed a frum Jew might be traveling and see Tim mowing Friedman’s lawn and think that a Jew hired Tim to work on Chol HaMoed. Therefore, Tim may not mow the lawn or trim the hedges on Chol HaMoed (Gemara Moed Katan 12a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 543:2). (The irony is that he may on Shabbos or Yom Tov!)

Chol HaMoed provides many unique mitzvah opportunities. By observing it properly, we demonstrate the tremendous os between Hashem and us. May we always merit to demonstrate Hashem’s presence amongst us and in His world!!

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