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Chol Hamo’eid – Weekday or Yom Tov?

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

Question #2: The supermarket has something on sale on Chol Hamo’eid 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 cooking on Chol Hamo’eid is permitted only for Yom Tov and Chol Hamo’eid. Does the fact that I must keep two days of Yom Tov while in Chutz La’aretz permit me to cook on Chol Hamo’eid for their Simchas Torah?

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

Answering these shaylos provides an opportunity to discuss the important and complicated halachos of Chol Hamo’eid. As the Gemara (Mo’eid Katan 12a) points out, the halachos of Chol Hamo’eid are hard to categorize. Therefore, although a short article cannot possibly explain all the halachos of Chol Hamo’eid, 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 Hamo’eid is forbidden min haTorah. Indeed, observing Chol Hamo’eid is included in the mitzvah of keeping Yom Tov, which is testimony of Hashem’s special relationship with the Jewish people (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 Hamo’eid) and Tefillin. Because Chol Hamo’eid is included in this very special category, Jews should treat Chol Hamo’eid with great respect. Indeed, the Gemara states that disregarding the kedusha of the Yomim Tovim, including Chol Hamo’eid, 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 Hamo’eid (Bartenura, Avos 3:11). Observing Chol Hamo’eid appropriately attests to our special relationship with Hashem.

DEFINING WORK ON CHOL HAMO’EID

Chol Hamo’eid 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 Hamo’eid are very detailed and technical. What really governs whether something is permitted on Chol Hamo’eid or not? The Gemara explains that the Torah prohibits doing some melachos on Chol Hamo’eid, 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 miderabbanan? How could the Torah create a prohibition and “pass on to Chazal” what is prohibited?

Here are three basic interpretations of this Gemara:

1. Some rishonim (Tosafos, Chagigah 18a) explain that melacha on Chol Hamo’eid is an asmachta, meaning something the Torah implies that it does not want us to do, but does not expressly forbid (see Ritva, Rosh Hashanah 16a). According to this approach, the Torah did not want Bnei Yisroel to work on Chol Hamo’eid, but never prohibited it. Thus, when the Gemara implies that melacha on Chol Hamo’eid is prohibited min haTorah, it is presenting the Torah’s sentiment, not a commandment. Working on Chol Hamo’eid violates the spirit of Yom Tov, but does not violate the letter of the law. Chazal then implemented the Torah’s sentiment as law, by forbidding certain melachos on Chol Hamo’eid. 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 Hamo’eid law are part of Torah Shebe’al Peh that Hashem gave Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai for him to transmit orally (Ritva, Mo’eid Katan 2a). Thus, someone who violates the laws of Chol Hamo’eid is violating a Torah prohibition, just as someone who violated any other interpretation of a Torah law that is transmitted to us through Chazal.

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

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

This last reason is a theme that lies behind the complex details of the laws of Chol Hamo’eid: we desist from activity that detracts from the purpose of Yom Tov. For this reason, Chazal prohibited some activities on Chol Hamo’eid 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 Hamo’eid, unless it is to enhance the festival or to prevent financial loss (Mo’eid Katan 10b). Even business that is permitted should be conducted in a discreet way that does not disturb kedushas Yom Tov (Mishnah, Mo’eid 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 Hamo’eid (Gemara ad loc.; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, 539:11).

A store selling only perishable food items may remain open in the usual manner, since everything purchased there is for Chol Hamo’eid 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 Hamo’eid (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer #1, at end). In the modern world, this is a hardship for business owners who may lose regular customers to their competitors who do not observe Chol Hamo’eid. 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 Biur 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 Hamo’eid (Mishnah, Mo’eid 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 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 Hamo’eid. Therefore, Chazal permitted moving muktzah items on Chol Hamo’eid (Tosafos, Shabbos 22a s. v. Sukkah), 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 Hamo’eid, 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 Hamo’eid 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 Hamo’eid 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 Hamo’eid for after Yom Tov, someone living in Eretz Yisroel who observes one day of Yom Tov may not cook on Chol Hamo’eid for one’s Chutz La’aretz guests the food for Acharon shel Pesach or Simchas Torah of Chutz La’aretz, because these days are no longer Yom Tov for a resident of Eretz Yisroel. Thus, one is cooking on Chol Hamo’eid 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 Hamo’eid.

This problem has a simple solution, if one plans in advance. One can either wait until after Yom Tov is over to begin cooking for the Chutz La’aretz guests, or one may cook a lot on Chol Hamo’eid for Shemini 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 (Shemini 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 Hamo’eid, provided one does not use a skilled method (meleches uman) to do so. For example, one may tune an instrument, if it requires no special skills (Shu”t Shevus 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, Orach Chayim 540:1). However, they may not be performed in a skilled way, unless a financial loss is involved (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 537:1).

Many years ago, a talmid chacham visited me on Chol Hamo’eid 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 on Chol Hamo’eid. Therefore, one may not develop film (does anybody still do this?), even for a festival purpose, since this is skilled work. However, one may use a digital camera, even though the picture “develops” on Chol Hamo’eid, since no skill is involved. Similarly, one may not repair shoes on Chol Hamo’eid, 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 Hamo’eid, but only if one sews it in an unusual way or it is sewn by an unskilled person (Mishnah Mo’eid 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 Hamo’eid. 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 requiring the use of a shinui to repair a garment enhance the spirit of Yom Tov?

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

“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 Hamo’eid (Biur Halacha 545:3; cf., however, the Magen Avraham 542:1, who 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 Hamo’eid is when financial loss will result, if the job waits until after Yom Tov. This is allowed, because otherwise a person may worry about his loss and spoil his simchas Yom Tov (Ritva, Mo’eid Katan 13a).

Another application of preventing financial loss is that one may repair a broken lock or a broken alarm system on Chol Hamo’eid (Mishnah Mo’eid Katan 11a). Similarly, someone may remove a stain from a garment that might become ruined. An employee may go to work on Chol Hamo’eid, if taking vacation will jeopardize his job. However, if he can take unpaid vacation on Chol Hamo’eid 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 Hamo’eid. Poskim conclude that this is considered a davar ha’avud (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 539:9).

Because of davar ha’avud, the Mishnah (Mo’eid Katan 2a) permits watering an irrigated field on Chol Hamo’eid, 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 Hamo’eid; one may do melacha only 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 existing 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 people are bothered much less when they lose potential profit.

LAUNDRY

Chazal prohibited laundering, shaving and haircutting on Chol Hamo’eid, precisely in order to enhance Yom Tov. In earlier days, people did their laundry and shaved only occasionally and may have postponed doing them before Yom Tov. To enhance Yom Tov observance, Chazal prohibited laundering, shaving and haircutting on Chol Hamo’eid 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 Mo’eid Katan 14a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 534:1).

Many poskim permit removing a spot from a garment on Chol Hamo’eid, 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 (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 541:3). However, one may not make a new pleat, because it involves skilled work [meleches uman] (Magen Avraham 541:5).

WORK THROUGH A GENTILE

May a gentile do a type of work on my behalf on Chol Hamo’eid that Chazal prohibited me to do myself?

In general, if I may not do something myself on Chol Hamo’eid, I may not have a gentile do it, either (Mo’eid 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 Hamo’eid.

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 Hamo’eid, it is not considered that someone is working for me on these holy days. I may, therefore, allow him to work on Chol Hamo’eid, 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 Hamo’eid:

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

2. I hire him before Yom Tov and I do not instruct him to work on Chol Hamo’eid.

3. The gentile performs the work in a way that other Jews do not know that he is working for me. 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 Hamo’eid, 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 Hamo’eid.

HOW CAN CHOL HAMO’EID BE STRICTER THAN SHABBOS?

Since Friedman’s Department Store is not within 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 (Mo’eid Katan 12a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 244:1).

However, on Chol Hamo’eid, since it is permitted to travel, a frum Jew might indeed see Tim mowing Friedman’s lawn and think that a Jew hired Tim to work on Chol Hamo’eid. Therefore, Tim may not mow the lawn or trim the hedges on Chol Hamo’eid (Mo’eid Katan 12a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 543:2). (The irony is that he may do so on Shabbos or Yom Tov since we can assume that no frum Jew will be in this neighborhood!)

Chol Hamo’eid provides many unique opportunities to experience our special relationship with Hashem. When we observe it properly, we demonstrate the tremendous os between Hashem and us. May we always merit demonstrating Hashem’s presence amongst us and in His world!!