Interesting Chol Hamoed Questions

Question #1: Trick

As a side parnasah, I perform tricks using ropes and knots. May I conduct a show during Chol Hamoed?

Question #2: Treat

May an indigent person work on Chol Hamoed in order to provide his children with treats for Yom Tov?

Question #3: Treasures

I discovered buried treasure on Chol Hamoed, and I’m afraid that if I wait until after Yom Tov someone else might find it. May I dig it up on Chol Hamoed?

Introduction:

Chol Hamoed is included among a very special category of mitzvos called osos – signs that that point out Klal Yisroel’s special relationship with Hashem. These signs include both positive and negative commandments. The positive ones include that Chol Hamoed should be noticeably different from ordinary weekdays; it should look like days in which we are celebrating – our dress and our meals should be clearly different from those of a weekday. The signs also manifest themselves in the delineation of which melacha activities are permitted on Chol Hamoed.

Theauthorities disagree concerning the extent to which dress on Chol Hamoed should be different from weekday garb. Some authorities rule that Chol Hamoed clothing should be on the same level as Yom Tov clothes, which are assumed to be fancier than those worn on Shabbos (Tanya, quoted by Magen Avraham 530:1). A second approach contends that it is sufficient that what one wears on Chol Hamoed is on the same level as Shabbos clothes (Magen Avraham 664:3). A third approach, that of the Mishnah Berurah (Shaar Hatziyun 530:4), concludes that Chol Hamoed dress should be nicer than weekday clothing, but does not have to be as nice as Shabbos clothes.

Melacha on Chol Hamoed

The Gemara (Chagigah 18a) implies that working on Chol Hamoed may be forbidden min haTorah, and this is the halachic position of many rishonim (see Biur Halacha530). Nevertheless, the majority conclude that the prohibition to work on Chol Hamoed is only a rabbinic ordinance. These authorities contend that the allusion in the Torah is not a drosha, that would make it an obligation min haTorah, but an asmachta, a hint, which is not a requirement min haTorah (Tosafos, Chagigah 18a s.v. Cholo). To quote the Rambam, “Notwithstanding that the Torah did not say, in regard to Chol Hamoed, ‘Cease from working,’ since it is called mikra kodesh and it is the time when the festival korban is offered in the Beis Hamikdash, it is prohibited to perform on it melacha, so that it should not be like the other weekdays that are not at all holy” (Hilchos Yom Tov 7:1). He then emphasizes that the prohibition is rabbinic.

Whether the prohibition of melacha is min haTorah or only miderabbanan, the purpose of Chol Hamoed is to devote one’s time to learning Torah (Yerushalmi, Moed Katan 2:3).

The laws of Chol Hamoed are often unclear. Since it is part of Yom Tov, many melacha activities are forbidden. On the other hand, activities that enhance the celebration of Yom Tov are usually permitted. What makes the laws of Chol Hamoed even more unusual is that there are activities that are permitted, such as some types of tzorchei rabbim, communal needs, despite the fact that this work actually decreases the spirit of Yom Tov. Chazal permitted communal needs to be performed on Chol Hamoed (Mishnah Moed Katan 2a), even when there is no Yom Tov need, even when it involves specialized, professional skills, and even when it is a major effort that will impact negatively on the celebration of Yom Tov. For example, it is permitted to mark graves or to pull out kelayim on Chol Hamoed, both of which are projects for which the community is responsible (Mishnah Moed Katan 2a). The reason this work is permitted is because these projects require availability of labor, and people are off from work on Chol Hamoed.

The Gemara itself notes that the halachos of Chol Hamoed are difficult to categorize, calling these laws akuros ve’ein lemeidos zu mizu (Moed Katan 12a), which Rashi explains to mean: like a barren woman (akarah), there is no “fruit.” This is an unusual way to say that one law of Chol Hamoed may not be compared easily to a different one – you cannot usually derive a “fruit,” an analytic conclusion, from one category to another. Even categories of melacha that are permitted contain subheadings that are not permitted, and creating clear, general rules is extremely difficult. Please note that, because of space restraints, I am providing only some background to the laws of Chol Hamoed and not a comprehensive work on its laws.

The poskim categorized the rulings of the Mishnah and Gemara, concluding that several types of work forbidden on Shabbos are permitted on Chol Hamoed. These include:

Davar ha’aveid

One of the categories of melacha permitted on Chol Hamoed is called davar ha’aveid, which means that not performing this activity could potentially cause financial loss. In general, this is permitted, provided that no excessive exertion is involved. The reason Chazal permitted this is because otherwise someone might worry about his loss and thereby spoil his enjoyment of Yom Tov (Ritva, Moed Katan 13a). However, working very hard – what I called here “excessive exertion” –  would spoil the Yom Tov spirit to a greater extent than his worry does, which is why it is forbidden.

The case of the Mishnah that reflects this principle is a field that does not receive sufficient rainfall and, therefore, requires irrigation. If this field was planted and irrigated before Yom Tov, it may be watered from a natural spring, but not from rainwater (Mishnah Moed Katan 2a). The difference between a spring and rainwater is that the latter requires far more exertion than simply directing the water flowing naturally from the spring to your field. Hoisting buckets of water, which is usually the case when using rainwater to irrigate a field (and is sometimes the case when using a spring, is prohibited on Chol Hamoed, because this involves excessive exertion (see Mishnah Berurah 537:7).

The Mishnah implies that it is permitted to irrigate only a beis hashalchin, a field that requires irrigation, but not a field that receives adequate rainfall for its crops to grow (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayiim 537:1). Why would you irrigate a field that receives adequate rainfall? Because even such a field produces better crops when it is irrigated. This is prohibited on Chol Hamoed, since this is not considered preventing a loss, but providing greater profit, which is not permitted (ibid.). We will return to this principle later in this article.

Here is another type of davar ha’aveid that Chazal permitted on Chol Hamoed. The Gemara (Moed Katan 10b) states that doing even a small amount of business is prohibited on Chol Hamoed. Nevertheless, Rav Pappa ruled that someone who has more dates than he can sell as fresh produce may slice open the dates and press them out to dry on Chol Hamoed, even though they will certainly not dry quickly enough to be eaten on Yom Tov. The activity of drying them is permitted because of davar ha’aveid, since the dates may get wormy if he does not begin the drying process when the fruit is ripe.

Tzorchei hamoed

Chazal permitted making and repairing items on Chol Hamoed that will be used to enhance the Yom Tov atmosphere, provided one does not use a skilled method (maaseh uman) to manufacture or repair them. For example, someone who is not skilled in sewing may repair a garment that became torn on Yom Tov, so that it can beworn on Chol Hamoed (Moed Katan 8b, 10b).

Here are some more unusual cases of tzorchei hamoed that later authorities mention: You may tune an instrument in order to play it on Chol Hamoed, if doing so requires no specialized skills (Shu’t Shevus Yaakov 1:25). Similarly, it is permitted to swat mosquitoes if they are bothering you (Shu’t HaRadbaz #727).

Po’eil she’ein lo mah le’echol

Literally, this means a worker who is so poor that he has nothing to eat. Such a person my work on Chol Hamoed. But is this to be taken literally, i.e., that he has nothing at all to eat, or does it mean that he does not have enough to celebrate Yom Tov properly? This is a dispute between the Magen Avraham (542:1) – who contends that it means that he does not have even bread to eat and water to drink on Yom Tov, but if he does, he cannot work on Chol Hamoed – and the Lechem Mishneh (as quoted by Elya Rabbah 542:3), who explains it to mean that he does not have enough to celebrate Yom Tov properly.

Tie yourself in knots

At this point, we can begin to address our opening question: “As a side parnasah, I perform tricks using ropes and knots. May I conduct a show during Chol Hamoed?”

Several issues require clarification. If the entertainer is so poor that he qualifies as a po’eil she’ein lo mah le’echol, he is permitted to perform his show, and people are doing a mitzvah when they attend. If he does not qualify, we have to research whether any halachic issue is involved when tying specialty knots on Chol Hamoed.

Knotty question

Is there any prohibition against tying knots on Chol Hamoed?

The Gemara (Moed Katan 2b) mentions that melacha is prohibited on Chol Hamoed, because it is tircha, work that takes away from the appreciation of Yom Tov. Does this mean that it is permitted to do melacha that does not involve strenuous activity? One very prominent acharon, the Elyah Rabbah (533:4), indeed rules this way.

Based on the comments of several rishonim, the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayiim 540) rules that if your house has a dirt floor and you discover on Yom Tov that the dirt floor has a bump, you may remove the earth creating the bump from the floor on Chol Hamoed. The Beis Yosefwrites that even though smoothing a bump constitutes an activity that is prohibited min haTorah on Shabbos and Yom Tov (Shabbos 73b), it is permitted on Chol Hamoed because it is not a strenuous activity. This implies that you may remove the dirt lump from your floor on Chol Hamoed, even if it does not accommodate any Yom Tov need – for example, if you notice the bump as you are leaving the house on Chol Hamoed and are not returning until after Yom Tov.We could then conclude that non-strenuous activity is permitted on Chol Hamoed, even when it is a melacha and has no Yom Tov purpose.

This would mean that our rope showman may perform his activities on Chol Hamoed, even if they involve tying knots in a way that would be a melacha min haTorah on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Several early halachic authorities seem to support this approach. For example, Tosafos (Moed Kattan 10b s.v. Prakmatya) rules that it is permitted to lend money with interest to non-Jews on Chol Hamoed. (It is forbidden min haTorah to charge Jews interest because of the prohibition of ribis.) Although the Gemara prohibits business activities on Chol Hamoed, this means transporting merchandise to the market or opening your store, both of which involve a great deal of tircha (Sefer Yerei’im). Lending money simply means keeping track of your records and making sure that the collateral you receive is sufficient to sell easily for the value of the loan.

For this reason, some recent poskim permit purchasing and selling stocks, bonds and commodities on Chol Hamoed (Debreciner Rav, quoted in Chol Hamoed,page 91). (However, this work also quotes a psak of Rav Moshe Feinstein that purchasing and selling stocks, bonds and commodities is prohibited on Chol Hamoed.)

Melacha versus business

It is possible that the rishonim who permitted lending money on Chol Hamoed did so only for business activities that do not involve any melacha actions. However, a melacha activity not for the purpose of enhancing the enjoyment of Yom Tov is prohibited, even when it does not involve any tircha. This appears to be the position of the Pri Megadim, who permits removing earth from a dirt floor only when necessary for Yom Tov (Eishel Avraham 540:5, 7). In other words, the Pri Megadim disputes the ruling of the Elyah Rabbah and permits a non-strenuous act only when there is a Yom Tov benefit.

The Chayei Odom seems to have held a similar approach to that of the Pri Megadim, since he forbids tying knots on Chol Hamoed, unless there is a Yom Tov purpose in doing so (Klal 110:11). This ruling would put our rope entertainer out of business on Chol Hamoed, unless his show fulfills a Yom Tov purpose, or if he limits his knots to those permitted to be tied on Shabbos.

It appears that this issue, whether non-strenuous melachos may be performed on Chol Hamoed when they do not fulfill a Chol Hamoed purpose, can be traced to a dispute among early acharonim. The Hagahos Maimoniyos (Hilchos Yom Tov 8:9) cites that the Maharam of Rottenberg prohibited tearing grass out of the cemetery on Chol Hamoed. This is quoted by the Shulchan Aruch and accepted as normative halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 547:12). But what exactly did the Maharam prohibit?

According to the Maamar Mordechai, the Maharam is referring to the common custom of pulling up some grass from the cemetery after a burial. The Maharam prohibited this on Chol Hamoed, because, although this involves no strenuous activity, it does not fulfill any Yom Tov need.

On the other hand, several prominent halachic authorities understood that the Maharam meant to ban something very different – mowing the grass on the cemetery property on Chol Hamoed, which is clearly a strenuous activity that does not serve a Yom Tov purpose. These authorities permit pulling up grass after a Chol Hamoed funeral the way it is usually done on other days of the year (Shu’t Mabit #250; Elyah Rabbah). We should note that the Elyah Rabbah is consistent in ruling that something non-strenuous is permitted on Chol Hamoed, even when there is no tzorech hamoed; the Maamar Mordechai agrees with the Pri Megadim that you cannot remove a dirt clod from the floor on Chol Hamoed, unless it is for a Yom Tov purpose, and also with the Chayei Odom, who prohibits tying knots if it is not a tzorech hamoed.

We could also, perhaps, prove that another earlier authority also held this way. The Radbaz, who lived in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was asked whether it is permitted to swat mosquitoes on Chol Hamoed, when they are not bothering you. He rules that if the mosquitoes are not bothering you at the moment, it is forbidden (Shu’t HaRadbaz #727). Although swatting a mosquito is not a strenuous activity, the Radbaz prohibits it if it does not serve a Yom Tov purpose. This would appear to indicate that he also agrees that melacha that has no tircha is prohibited on Chol Hamoed. On the other hand, it would seem that the Mabit and the Elyah Rabbah,who permit pulling grass not for the purpose of Yom Tov, hold that melacha that involves no tircha is permitted on Chol Hamoed.

Buried treasure

At this point, let us discuss our third question:

I discovered buried treasure on Chol Hamoed, and I’m afraid that if I wait until after Yom Tov someone else might find it. May I dig it up on Chol Hamoed?

We noted above that it is permitted, at times, to perform melacha on Chol Hamoed in order to avoid a loss, but not in order to increase profits. This treasure is categorized as increased profit, for which performing melacha is prohibited on Chol Hamoed. So, this case should be treated the same as if you found treasure on Shabbos or Yom Tov — you must wait until after Yom Tov to dig it up.

Conclusion

Four mitzvos of the Torah are called os, a sign of Hashem’s special 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 sanctity of the Yomim Tovim, including Chol Hamoed, is like practicing 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). By observing Chol Hamoed properly, we demonstrate that we recognize and appreciate this special relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisroel.

Pesach Shaylos

Unfortunately, many of the questions in this article are not going to be germane this year. There are a number of articles on the laws of the Seder, chometz, kitniyos, Yom Tov, the mourning period of the omer, keeping the second day of Yom Tov and other aspects of Pesach available on this website.

This week’s article is somewhat different from what I usually send. It is a combination of an interview I once gave for Mishpacha magazine’s Advice Line column and various actual questions I have received and answered via e-mail. Obviously, the answers are much briefer than those I write for an article, and may not be thoroughly explained.

Paying (for) a Visit

Question: We are a young married couple with one child, and we live in Eretz Yisrael. My parents and my in-laws live in the States, about a 3-4 hour drive from each other. As Pesach approached and we discussed plans to visit them, it became clear that one set of parents would pay half the airfare for our trip, while the other set would not pay toward this expense. We decided that we still wanted to visit and would pay the other half ourselves. However, we are undecided where to stay and how to divide our time for Yom Tov. Please help.

Answer: One family is paying for half of your tickets; the other side is not contributing. To the best of my knowledge, there are no obvious halachic guidelines for such an issue; it falls into the category of the “fifth Shulchan Aruch” – what we usually call common sense and, hopefully, good judgment. I am therefore offering you my personal thoughts and judgment.

At first glance, it does seem fair for you to spend some more time with the side that is putting up money. However, several mitigating factors must be kept in mind:

First, I am assuming that the side that isn’t paying is not doing so because they are stingy, but, rather, because they simply do not have the wherewithal. This brings up an important question: Should a family be penalized for not having the financial resources with which another family has been blessed?

Second, it is probable that the parents with more resources come to visit in Eretz Yisrael on occasion, while the financially strapped family probably comes rarely, if at all. This means that if you don’t go visit them, you may never see them.

These factors point to the fact that you, as a couple, need to sit down and have an open, honest conversation about the issue and reach a decision together. Although such discussions are not easy, realize that the making of a strong marriage comes through working through sticky situations together as a unit.

Try to depersonalize the discussion and really focus on the points that the other person is making. Sometimes it is helpful for you each to “plead” the other side’s perspective. Let the spouse whose parents are paying enumerate why the Yom Tov should be split evenly, and let the one whose parents aren’t able to chip in list the reasons why one should spend more time visiting the parents who are paying. Keep speaking until you reach a decision with which you are both comfortable.

I wish you much hatzlacha.

Pesach Cleaning

To: Rabbi Kaganoff 

Subject: URGENT – cleaning toys, pens and more for Pesach

Question: I just organized the toys today, without wiping any of them down. I did not see any crumbs, and even if there were, they certainly would not be edible. But I understand that anything that has a chance of ending up on our table during Pesach must be washed in bleach.

Please explain. I have limited time, energy and finances, and I don’t have the luxury of being able to waste precious time and energy on things that are not necessary.

Answer: I do not know the source of this misinformation. It sounds like what you are doing is 100% fine.

Bedikas chometz

Question: We are renting out our apartment for Pesach and the renter needs only one of our four bedrooms. Are we required to do bedikas chometz in the three remaining rooms?

Answer: If you want to avoid doing bedikas chometz in the other rooms, you can “close them off” by putting signs on the doors that they are sold/rented to a non-Jew and, therefore, not checked for chometz. Ask the rav through whom you are doing your mechiras chometz to sell your chometz in these rooms on the 13th of Nisan.

Yom Tov Sheini in Israel Shaylah

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff,

We have been in Eretz Yisrael for four years, and still keep two days. Essentially, it is still clear to us that we will go back to the United States. But we have no location picked out, no timetable when we intend to return there, and, aside from a few small items in my parents’ and in-laws’ house, we really have nothing in the United States.

Inertia is powerful, and who knows how long we will really be here. I cannot see how staying in Israel will work out financially or practically, but if the economy in the U.S. really collapsed, then, definitely, I would stay.

I know what different poskim would tell me about keeping one or two days of Yom Tov, and I could easily ask the posek who would give me the answer I want. Am I mechuyav to go through the sugya and make my own conclusion? Do you think we ought to keep two days this Pesach?

Thanks a ton!

Answer: The Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 150:1) explains that, in a situation like this, one follows one’s rebbe (which he defines there); if one has no rebbe, one can be meikil in a case that is derabbanan, such as whether to keep two days Yom Tov or not.

Another Yom Tov Sheini in Israel Shaylah

Question: My mother and sister, who are not religious, live in the United States. They will be visiting us in Israel for all of Pesach. We keep one day of Yom Tov. How should I handle their second day of Yom Tov?

Answer: Don’t plan any family activities that require them to do melacha, but don’t say anything to them about their doing work. In other words, you need not actively try to keep them from doing melacha that day, but also don’t do anything that would cause them to do melacha, since most poskim hold that they are required to keep the second day Yom Tov.

Question: What should I do about a second Seder for them? (They would have no interest in it and would find it a burden.)

Answer: Do nothing. You are not required to make a Seder for them, and I do not see any gain from attempting to have them attend or make a Seder.

I would like to clarify the difference between planning a family activity and arranging a Seder for them. In the first case, you would be causing them to do something that is prohibited according to most authorities. In the second case, you are not causing them to do anything.

Yom Tov for an Israeli Who Is Outside of Israel Shaylah

Question: My elderly father, who is not observant, will be having surgery during Pesach, and I will therefore be visiting my parents in England over Yom Tov. Since I live in Israel, this is generating many questions:

1. Can I do laundry on Chol Hamoed for my parents, since they will be unable to do it for themselves?

Answer: Do all their laundry before Yom Tov, and see that they have everything that they need for the entire Yom Tov. If they do not have enough clothing, purchase those items – preferably before Yom Tov, but, if necessary, they can be purchased on Chol Hamoed.

2. What can I purchase on Chol Hamoed? Can I buy something that could wait until after Pesach, but my parents would prefer to have it sooner?

Answer: As a rule of thumb, if they will use it on Chol Hamoed or Yom Tov, you may buy it on Chol Hamoed.

3. I read your article about someone who lives in Israel not doing melacha on the second day of Yom Tov while in Chutz La’aretz. If my mother would like a second Seder, or wants to light candles for the second night of Yom Tov, am I allowed to do it for her? My mom lights Shabbos candles but not Yom Tov candles. Since it is Yom Tov for her, can I be motzi her?

Answer: You cannot be a shaliach (messenger) for her to perform these mitzvos because you are not required to observe them.

Question: What about my making Kiddush on the second night/day for them? 

Answer: Also not.

4. I will be bringing with me my nursing baby, who is a kohen, as is my husband. Since I do not know people where my parents live, it will be difficult for me to find a babysitter while I visit my dad after his surgery. May I bring my baby to the hospital?

Answer: Try to find a babysitter for him. If you cannot find a sitter and would be unable to visit your father, then bring the baby along. [This is allowed since there is a very small Jewish population in the city where your parents live. The halacha would be different in an area with a large Jewish population.]

Dental Cleaning on Chol Hamoed

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff, 

Hope this finds everyone well.

Is it permissible to go to the dentist for a cleaning on Chol Hamoed Pesach? The dentist now has a dental hygienist in the office only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I am at work on those days and can’t leave to go to the dentist.

Answer: One should not schedule this dental cleaning for Chol Hamoed.

Conclusion

Four mitzvos of the Torah are called os, a sign of Hashem’s special 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 sanctityof the Yomim Tovim, including Chol Hamoed, is like practicing 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). By observing Chol Hamoed properly, we demonstrate that we recognize and appreciate this special relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisroel.

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