What exactly is Chol Hamoed? What is its status?
The gemara in Chagiga (yud ches amud aleph) discusses various limudim of how we know there is an issur melacha on Chol Hamoed. Then it says: if the Torah doesn’t tell you exactly what to do, the chachamim fill in the details for us. Such is the case with Chol Hamoed.
There’s a machloket whether the issur melacha on Chol Hamoed is derabanan or deoraisa; and the Beis Yosef holds in between: that the klal is deoraisa, and the pratim are derabanan. Of course, the nafka mina is whether we’ll hold l’chomer or l’kula. Regardless, there clearly is an issur melacha on Chol Hamoed.
A famous Yerushalmi quoted by Tosfos in Chagiga: R’ Yochanan said: if it were up to me, I would do away with the issur melacha on Chol Hamoed. Why? Because its purpose is to allow for more Torah study, but I see people taking off from work and engaging in frivolous activities instead. Some rishonim quote this as a proof that the issur is only derabanan—how else could R’ Yochanan even talk about repealing it?
The Sefer Yereim and the Ra’aviah give us a perspective to understand how to apply the issur melacha for halacha l’maaseh.
Sefer Yeraim: the yesod is melacha sheyesh ba torach—in principle, chol hamoed has an issur melacha, and the 39 melachot should really apply. But we don’t hold this: we only hold that melacha that causes tircha is assur. So immediately, a few nafka minas come about. For instance, turning on a light is mutar, and we wouldn’t worry about washing our hands over the grass (as we do on shabbos).
The Ra’avia explains: the whole point is “k’day sh’yismach b’moed,” so anything that isn’t a tircha isn’t going to detract from the simcha of the moed.
Categories of melacha that are exceptions to the issur:
- Tzorech hamoed – e.g. if you want to go on an outing and you drive to get there, it’s permitted. However, the qualification for this is that it must be a maseh hedyot, not a maseh uman – a non-professional action, not specialized. For instance, having a mechanic fix your car is assur (assuming you’re at home, before you’ve started the trip). Even amirah l’acum for such a melacha is assur. What about taking a picture? Is it maseh hedyot or uman? It’s a machloket—because even though the action is easy to do, the result is a professional type of product. So it depends whether you base it on the action or the quality of the result. The minhag of most is to be makil on this issue, and most people take pictures.
- Ochel nefesh – even a maseh uman is muttar for this purpose. For instance, if you needed to get your oven fixed, you could do so.
- Tzorech haguf --
Rif: women can do their cosmetic processes on the moed – tzorech haguf, to beautify the body, also has the same status as ochel nefesh and is permissible even with a maseh uman. So what about doctors’ appointments? R’ Moshe says unless there’s a pressing need, you shouldn’t schedule the appointments for Chol Hamoed, because it isn’t tzorech hamoed or tzorech haguf. But getting your glasses fixed, for example, would be ok, if there’s a need.
- Davar ha’avud – if you’re going to lose out a lot if you don’t do the melacha, it’s muttar, even with a maseh uman. What’s considered davar ha’avud? E.g. if you don’t go to work, you’ll lose your job. It only applies to something you already have that you’ll lose—not getting a gain is not davar ha’avud. However, if by not being open a store will not just lose the potential gain of the business from that day, but will permanently lose regular customers (something that the storeowner already had), it’s considered a davar ha’avud. The Yerushalmi says that if you have the chance to buy goods for a cheaper price than usual, you may. It’s a machloket whether this refers to buying goods to resell for a profit later (Rambam), or buying for your own needs (Ramban). So you shouldn’t go shopping unless there’s a sale you’ll otherwise miss.
Writing on Chol Hamoed:
The Bach summarizes the mishna: the ikkur issur of Chol Hamoed is the type of writing in a sefer Torah. Our regular writing is not a maseh uman, so that’s not really the writing that the chachamim were concerned about on Chol Hamoed. So strictly speaking, writing on Chol Hamoed is fine, unless it’s professional writing. (The shinuyim we use with our writing are added chumras.) The gemara says you can write a friendly letter to your friend (this also applies to an email).
Laundry and Shaving:
At first glance, laundry should be muttar, because it’s maseh hedyot and it’s l’tzorech hamoed. However, there was a gezeirah that you shouldn’t do laundry, lest the thought that you’ll do laundry on Chol Hamoed prevent you from doing laundry before yom tov, causing you to wear dirty clothes on yom tov. And they prohibited haircuts and shaving for the same reason. Rabbeinu Tam, quoted in the Tur, has an important kulah: if this is the reason for not shaving/having haircuts, if you did shave beforehand but now need to shave again, you should be permitted to do so. The Tur disagrees, but R’ Moshe held that here in
If something is for the communal need (paving the street, fixing the water supply, etc.) the mishna says it’s muttar. Question: does the hetter include meleches uman or is it only for meleches hedyot? The Rosh has a chidush in Moed Katan, where he says that there are two types of tzorech rabim: tzorech hamoed, and for after the moed. For example, if the community needs to go somewhere on the moed, you may pave the street even though it’s meleches uman. But if it’s only l’achar moed, only maseh hedyot is allowed.
Hired Workers on Chol Hamoed:
Gemara Moed Katan: issur of amira l’acum. This means that you can’t hire a goy to work for you over chol hamoed and pay him by the day. But there’s a concept called kablanus, paying a worker for doing a job, not paying by the day. So then theoretically he could work whenever he wants, because you’re not hiring him for a specific day, but to get a job done. However, Chazal prohibited kablanus on shabbos inside the tchum, because of maaras ayin, because people might think he was hired for the day. But outside the tchum kablanus is muttar on shabbos, because people won’t see the worker. Yet, on Chol Hamoed, because there is no issur tchum, kablanus is assur anywhere. (This is the answer to the riddle: on what issue is Chol Hamoed stricter than shabbos?) The Nodeh b’Yehudah has an interesting teshuva. What if you’re in a community where a particular job is never done through schir yom? In that case, he says, the whole din of maaras ayin falls away, and you may hire a worker for kablanus. This is, however, provided that there is no specific expectation that the task will be completed by the time the chag is over.
May you cut fingernails on Chol Hamoed? Sefardim, yes; Ashkenazim, no. But the Magen Avraham writes that we can rely on the Rabbeinu Tam about shaving in this case: if you cut your fingernails before yom tov, you may also do so on Chol Hamoed.
Tefillin on Chol Hamoed:
It’s a big machlokes rishonim. The Beis Yosef writes that it was always the minhag to put on tefillin on Chol Hamoed, but then they found that R’ Shimon Bar Yochai said that if you put on tefillin you’re chayav misah, so they stopped. Therefore, the minhag in Sefarad was not to put it on. Minhag Eretz Yisrael (who were mostly talmidei HaGra) was also not to.