1. Q. We cover our tablecloths on Shabbos and Yom Tov with plastic, which we normally cut from a roll before Shabbos. Do we have to do this before Yom Tov so that we don’t have to do it on Chol Hamoed?
A. This question is based on the halacha quoted in Shulchan Aruch 538:6 that, even if a melacha may be done on Chol Hamoed according to the general halachos of Chol Hamoed, we may not deliberately delay doing it until Chol Hamoed if we could have done it before Yom Tov. Cutting plastic to the right size is a melacha min haTorah of mechatech, according to many opinions, but if we need to do it, it should be permitted, since even a non-professional person can do it. In this case it could be prepared before Yom Tov. Do we have an obligation to do so and not cut the plastic on Chol Hamoed?
The Chut Shoni, Hilchos Chol Hamoed, Perek 4, discusses this halacha. He says that the prohibition of delaying doing a melacha until Chol Hamoed only applies to a melacha which is normally done in advance. However a melacha which is normally not done in advance, but just before use, such as putting on a light to see by, is permitted on Chol Hamoed if there is a need. He says that, for this reason, we are not obliged to cut toilet paper before Yom Tov, since it is usually done just before use. This would appear to apply to plastic table coverings as well. We usually cut it just before use both because it is more convenient to keep the plastic on the roll until we need it and because we often cut it to different sizes depending on our needs at the time. Therefore the answer is that there is no need to cut the plastic in advance.
However in the case of toilet paper, the situation today is very often different. In our age of convenience, pre-cut toilet paper is available for Shabbos and Yom Tov. Some people use ordinary tissues so there is no need to cut paper at all. Unless the slightly higher cost is an issue or we prefer the uncut paper for some reason, tearing toilet paper is no longer a tzorech hamoed and is not allowed. The same will apply if we have pre-cut plastic tablecloths which we are happy to use. However if we don’t like to use those pre-cut cloths because of cost or quality, we are not obliged to buy them to avoid cutting on Chol Hamoed.
2. Q. We have always ironed on Chol Hamoed according to the specific leniency in the Shulchan Aruch (541:3) and by all the Poskim. Since we are not allowed to doing laundry on Chol Hamoed and we may not delay a melacha to do it on Chol Hamoed, why should ironing be allowed?
A. You are right that it is often not allowed. There are, of course, certain exceptions to the prohibition of washing clothes on Chol Hamoed, notably for young children, if the clothes are needed during Yom Tov and they might need ironing. Also, if a person does laundry shortly before Yom Tov, and there was no opportunity to iron before Yom Tov, it will also be permitted on Chol Hamoed to iron those clothes which are needed for Yom Tov. Just leaving ironing until Chol Hamoed, because “it’s allowed” is incorrect.
3. Q. Our washing machine broke down before Yom Tov and the repairman had a look at it. He needed a spare part which he would not have until Chol Hamoed. We have several small children and I need to wash their clothes which, I understand, is allowed. Can he repair the washing machine on Chol Hamoed?
A. The issue here is doing a skilled job which is necessary for Yom Tov. This is not normally allowed. However it is allowed for cooking even at a preparatory stage, according to Mishna Berura 540:18. Therefore if one’s oven needs a professional repair, it is permitted, as long as the repair was not possible before Yom Tov. Important personal needs may also be done in the usual way according to the Biur Halacha 546:5. This includes medical requirements and other vital needs like repairing a heating system in cold weather. Repairing an air-conditioning system when it is very hot is allowed by some Poskim. Repairing a shower if there is no other way of washing is also allowed by some Poskim. Although wearing clean clothes is very important, it is difficult to extend the leniency to repairing a washing machine. There is not the same degree of need as in these other examples and even they are not allowed by all Poskim, as we have mentioned. Although it is not as convenient, it is possible to wash clothes by hand, or one could ask to use a neighbour’s washing machine or perhaps one could buy new clothes. Treating Chol Hamoed disrespectfully is a very serious matter and in this case one should not be lenient.
4. Q. I am a builder and am in the middle of a building project in a totally non-Jewish area of a large English city. A non-Jewish sub-contractor wants to fit the kitchen during Chol Hamoed. I am paying him for the job, not by the hour. Do I have to tell him not to come this week?
A. This appears to be a straightforward example of what is forbidden by the Shulchan Aruch 543:2. We are may not allow a non-Jew to build a house for us on Chol Hamoed even if it is outside the techum and even if the non-Jew is being paid for the job, and not by per hour or per day. Mishna Berura explains that people might think that I am paying him by the day and not for the job. On Chol Hamoed we are allowed to travel outside the techum and therefore Jewish people might see the sub-contractor working and come to an erroneous conclusion. Mishna Berura writes that if all workers in a town are paid by the job (kablonus), some opinions are lenient and Rav Moshe Feinstein said that it is usually the case nowadays. However this is when a Jew has asked a non-Jew to build a house for him when we pay for the job, not per hour or day. But here we have a Jewish builder employing non-Jewish staff and some of them are definitely paid by the hour, so the concern of the Shulchan Aruch definitely applies.
The only question here is that it is a totally non-Jewish part of town; how would anyone know that that a Jewish builder is involved? But this will not help us because every building site displays a sign saying which firm is responsible for the building. Therefore anyone who has heard of this firm will immediately be aware that it has a Jewish owner.
What if the non-Jewish sub-contractor could somehow access the work area without being seen? Maybe there is one entrance which leads to both the building site and somewhere else and nobody will see that he working on the building site. This brings to mind the statement in Beitza 12a brought in the Shulchan Aruch 301:45, “Whatever is forbidden because of Maris Ayin is also forbidden bechadrei chadorim.” “Anything which Chazal forbade because it merely appears to be forbidden, is also forbidden even if it is done in a totally private place.” However the Mishna Berura (165) says that this applies only if we would suspect that the person is doing something forbidden min haTorah, like washing clothes on Shabbos, which is the Shulchan Aruch’s subject there. If the suspicion could be only that the person is transgressing a rabbinic law, it is permitted in a private place. In our case the suspicion is that a Jew might have employed a non-Jewish worker to work on Chol Hamoed which is only a rabbinic prohibition. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe 5:18) says that this leniency applies only if a person will suffer a financial loss. However this could be the case here if the non-Jew charges more because he couldn’t finish this job and move on to another. Some poskim do not allow it even the case of a loss. So we have opinions which would allow this especially where a loss would be incurred. Therefore in the case of a significant loss, there might be room to be lenient but it would only be if the workman could enter the Jewish builder’s site without being noticed from the outside.
If you have other practical questions on Hilchos Chol Hamoed which could be in included in future editions of Do You Know Hilchos Chol Hamoed? or questions on Hilchos Yom Tov which could be included in my forthcoming sefer Do You Know Hilchos Yom Tov?, please write to me at rabbimfletcher @gmail.com