Do You Know Hilchos Chol Hamoed?

Chapter One Introduction

1.      Q.  How many days of Chol Hamoed are there in a year?

A.      In Eretz Yisroel there are five days Chol Hamoed Pesach and six days Chol Hamoed Succos. In Chutz Lo’oretz because of the second day of Yom Tov there are four and five days respectively. When Shabbos is one of the days of Chol Hamoed, the halachos of Shabbos apply.

2.      Q. Is there a special greeting for Chol Hamoed?

A.      Yes; Moadim lesimcha or A Gutten Moed and we should use these greetings rather than our normal weekday greeting.[1]

3.      Q. Why did the Torah make these days to be Chol Hamoed?

A.      This is a very good question because if we understand the reason for the days of Chol Hamoed  we won’t waste them. The purpose of Pesach and Succos is to remember the miracles Hashem did for us when He brought us out of Egypt and during the forty years we were travelling through the wilderness. We should be thinking of these miracles and Hashem’s love for us, eating festive seudos, singing Hallel and other praises of Hashem for all the days of these two Yomim Tovim. On the other hand, it is difficult not to do melachos for a whole week. Therefore the Torah made just the first and last days into full Yomim Tovim with the days in between having the status of Chol Hamoed. During Chol Hamoed certain melachos are not allowed whilst others are allowed. Therefore we can continue with the Yom Tov atmosphere but are able to do certain necessary things which cannot wait until after Yom Tov.[2]

4.         Q. Are the prohibitions of Chol Hamoed from the Torah or rabbinic?

A.      Your question implies that if the prohibitions are rabbinic they are somehow less important. This is big mistake because we have to respect rabbinic laws as we respect Torah laws. In fact the Torah itself tells us to listen to rabbinic law. (Devarim 17:11). If you are a rav and want to know how to answer questions of doubt, I will tell you. There are different opinions in the Rishonim. Some say they are from the Torah.[3] Some say they are rabbinic.[4] Some say a melacha which is forbidden because it is not necessary, is forbidden from the Torah but melachos which are forbidden because they involve too much effort or special skills etc are only forbidden rabbinically. [5] The Biur Halacha (530) concludes that in questions of doubt one should not be lenient unless there is a great need.[6]

5.        Q.  All my life I have kept the first and last days of Yom Tov but I have always considered the days in between to be like a weekday with just a longer davening in the morning. Isn’t avoiding melachos on Chol Hamoed midas chasidus, something which extra pious people keep, not regular Jews like me?

A.      Unfortunately many people think the same way as you about chol hamoed. The reasons for this are possibly historical because a few decades ago avoiding work on Shabbos and Yom Tov was enough of a challenge. Therefore to work only on Chol Hamoed was regarded as a great achievement. Other reasons are possibly because often we may work if not working would cause us a loss (davar aved )and the loss of one’s job or losing customers in business is a davad aved. Therefore people began to treat the days of chol hamoed as regular days. However “where there is a will there is often a way” and as people have become more knowledgable and have realized that it is not correct to treat chol hamoed as a weekday, more and more people cut down or completely avoid working and what they thought at first couldn’t be avoided, can sometimes indeed be avoided, especially if they are self- employed. Sometimes, children inherited businesses from their father who felt that the business needed to stay open to remain solvent. But now the business is well established and won’t suffer from being closed for the whole week of Yom Tov. So now, perhaps, is the time to re-examine our chol hamoed with a view to improving our observance of it. Indeed, this is one of the purposes of this sefer. So read on and try to keep chol hamoed as the Torah intended. Remember, “According to the effort is the reward.” (Pirkei Avos).

6.      Q. I like Chol Hamoed because my Mum and Dad take us on outings. Are you saying that going on outings is not really keeping Chol Hamoed properly?

A.      Obviously children need a variety of activities to enable them to enjoy Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed. Going out as a family is a good way of strengthening the family relationships, which is very important. However parents should still consider how the atmosphere of the Yom Tov can be maintained. In Eretz Yisroel a family can visit the Kosel together, visit places where events of Tanach took place or just to see the beauty of Eretz Yisroel. In Chutz Lo’oretz a family can also go beautiful places where they can admire the beauties of Hashem’s creation. Sometimes communities or groups of schools come together for activities which are kosher and educational. Having said this, outings don’t have to take up the whole time. There can still be time for a Avos Ubanim (Banos?) session before going out or an enjoyable festive brunch. One day perhaps Dad and the boys can prepare a nice Chol Hamoed seuda giving Mum and the girls a well earned rest! Also an unrushed Chol Hamoed davening should be a vital part of each day, not to be squeezed out because we’re “too busy.” From what we have said, it is clear that visiting non-Jewish playgrounds with loud secular music and immodestly dressed boys and girls and adults is not an appropriate way of spending the very special days of Chol Hamoed and of fulfilling Simchas Yom Tov.

7.       Q. Could you give me a brief overview of which melachos are permitted on Chol Hamoed .

A.      There are four main categories of melachos which are permitted. A. Those which are necessary for preparation of food or other personal needs. B. Those which are necessary for something we need during the rest of Yom Tov. C. Those which, if we wouldn’t do them, we would suffer a loss. D. Those which a worker who is severely short of food may do. Each of these categories has sub-categories and details which we need to study together over the next few chapters in order to have everything clear.

8.      Q. Do you mean that anything that doesn’t fall into these categories is not allowed?

A.      There is a dispute amongst the Poskim whether a melacha which does not involve any effort like turning on an electric light if there is no need or carrying something unnecessary in one’s pocket in the street where there is no eiruv is allowed on Chol Hamoed. I would say that someone who has been treating Chol Hamoed as more or less a weekday up until now, should improve his observance to avoiding doing those melachos which are clearly not allowed, in the meantime.[7] However somebody who has been keeping the halachos carefully and wants to raise his standards should avoid anything which is not allowed on Shabbos unless there is a halachic reason to be lenient.[8] Certain rabbinic prohibitions certainly do not apply on Chol Hamoed  e.g. not going outside the techum,[9] muktza[10] and the halachos restricting us from speaking about business matters etc[11]

9.       Q. Are the halachos of not asking a non-Jew the same as for Shabbos?

A   In principle yes but there are occasional differences, sometimes more lenient,[12] sometimes stricter. [13] If it is for the purpose of a mitzvah to be done during Yom Tov we may ask a non-Jew.[14] If a non-Jew does a melacha for us we may benefit from it immediately.[15] Before Yom Tov we are allowed to give work to a non-Jew as long as we don’t ask him to work specifically on Chol Hamoed. This is permitted even if the work is eventually done over Chol Hamoed, as long as we are paying him for the complete job and not by the hour and as long as it is a movable item. For instance we can hand in clothes to a dry cleaner before Yom Tov without telling him to have it ready by a certain day.[16] If the clothes are needed for Yom Tov we may go to the dry cleaners on Chol Hamoed to pick them up.[17]

10.  Q. As far as I knew, we don’t put tefilin on on Chol Hamoed so I was quite shocked when some visitors to our shul were wearing tefilin. Is there an argument about tefilin on Chol Hamoed?

A.      Indeed there is and no-one is right or wrong. It’s a machlokes rishonim hundreds of years old.

Ideally those who do wear tefilin should daven together and those who don’t should daven in a different place together. In practice[18] there are many places where some wear tefilin and some don’t and people understand that there are two customs and everyone should just keep his own custom.[19] Of those who put on tefilin, some do not say a bracha on the tefilin because of the doubt and some say before they put them on, “If I should be putting tefilin on, I am putting them on to do the mitzva, if not, I do not intend to do the mitzvah.[20]

11.  Q. I heard that in Eretz Yisroel they don’t put tefilin on on Chol Hamoed. Is that so?

A.      Yes, that is the universal custom, so somebody who is just visting Eretz Yisroel who normally puts tefilin on on Chol Hamoed should not wear tefilin in shul but should put them on later in private.[21]

12.       Q. That’s great. The contract for our new house has come through and the date is in the middle of Chol Hamoed. Moving into a new big house will really give us simchas Yom Tov

A.      Not so quick. Generally speaking, we are not allowed to move home on Chol Hamoed. Chazal deemed such a major operation as incompatible with the purpose of these important days.[22]

13.       Q.  Are there no exceptions?

A.      If you are presently renting and now you are acquiring your own home could be one exception[23], moving to a different apartment within one building could be another, moving from a shared apartment to a private one another[24] and where not moving would cause a financial loss[25] yet another but as these situations are not as black and white as they used to be, a shaala should be asked.[26]

[1] Piskei Rav Eliashev 86

[2] Chazal say about Chol Hamoed, “They forbad melachos on Chol Hamoed in order that we should eat, drink, rejoice and learn Torah.” (Yerushami Moed Katan Chapter 2 Halacha 3). “The intention of Hashem when He gave us the Festivals was in order for us to cling to fearing Him, loving Him and learning His Torah.” (Mishna Berura 530:2 in the name of the Kolbo). “Those who keep the Festivals as required are is if they are partners with Hashem in the creation of the world.” (Pesikta Shemos 34:18). “Those who show disrespect the Festivals, it is as if they have served idols.” (Pesachim 118a)

[3] Rif, Rashi, Rashbam and others.

[4] Rambam (Hilchos Yom Tov 7:1), Rosh, Mordechai and others.

[5] Ramban, Rashba, Ritva

[6] I know personally of a case of somebody who refused to work on Chol Hamoed and he lost his job. However shortly afterwards he was offered another job with much better pay and conditions.

[7] He has certain authorities to rely on such the Aruch Hashulchan 545:12 and others. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was also reported to be lenient.

[8] The Chazon Ish is quoted as saying that since people are generally too lenient about Hilchos Chol Hamoed , the Poskim should be strict on this point. Chut Shoni 530:1 is also strict and says that one should be careful not to telephone a friend on Chol Hamoed unless there is a Yom Tov need. Even according to this stricter opinion there is room to be more lenient in certain cases like eini miskavein, melacha she’eina tzricha legufa etc.

[9] Mishna Berura 543:4

[10] Darchei Moshe 544:2

[11] Mishna Berura 543:8***

[12] Rather than paying a Jew to do a permitted melacha, it is preferable to pay a non-Jew. (Mishna Berura 542:5)

[13][13] A non-Jew may do work for a Jew berkablonus (where he is paid for the job, not by hour) on Shabbos and Yom Tov outside the techum because he will not be seen by Jews who are not allowed to go outside the techum (unless they made an eiruv techumim). However on Chol Hamoed when we are allowed to go outside the techum people might suspect that he is being paid by the hour. Shulchan Aruch O.C 543:2.

[14] Mishna Berura  543:1

[15] Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 68:38

[16] Shulchan Aruch 543:2

[17] Ibid 534:3

[18] Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe 5:34.6) writes that in communities with a large number of shuls with different customs and people on a weekday or Chol Hamoed often just go the nearest minyan, it is accepted that all who come follow their own custom concerning Tefilin.

[19] See Daas Torah 31

[20] Not saying the bracha and making this statement, “If I…” is what Mishna Berura (31:8) says should be done.

[21] Piskei Rav Eliashev 87 Igros Moshe (ibid) adds that a person in this situation should say the shema wearing his tefilin.

[22] Shulchan Aruch O.C.535:1

[23]Ibid :2

[24] Shaar Hatziun 535:5

[25] Ibid

[26] Aruch Hashulchan 335:4.   Be’er Moshe 7:28 writes that unless not moving would cause a heavy financial loss, moving nowadays is such a major operation that it is unbefitting for Chol Hamoed.