The purpose of Chol Hamoed is the study of Torah out of joy * One is permitted to do laundry on Chol Hamoed only for clothes that get dirty quickly, and only if one has no other clothes left to wear * Someone who shaves every day and shaved before the holiday – according to halakha he is permitted, and it is even a mitzvah, for him to shave on Chol Hamoed * Children’s hair can be cut, and a ‘chalaka’ can be performed * Only food stores can operate on Chol Hamoed; consequently, spending time in a mall that does not sell food is prohibited, and strengthens offenders of Jewish law * A trip is considered a purpose of the Moed, but only if it is short and does not harm the main purpose of the Moed – rest from every day work, and Torah study.
The Moed is intended for Joyful Torah Learning
The holidays were given to Israel so that they could study Torah with joy. Throughout the week a person is preoccupied with his work, and it is difficult for him to devote sufficient time to Torah study. Therefore, God gave us holy days in which we could engross ourselves in Torah study. Our Sages said in the Midrash: “These are My festivals” – when you, the Jewish nation, perform the mitzvot and sanctify the festivals by gathering the people at synagogues in order to study Torah, the Holy One, blessed be He, says: These are My festivals; if not, God says: These are not My festivals, rather, they’re your festivals. This is exactly what a wicked man once alleged against Rabbi Akiva – that there is no value to Israel’s festivals, for God said to the prophet: “Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (Isaiah 1:14). Rabbi Akiva answered him, saying that indeed, if the holidays are only meant for the enjoyment of one’s belly, they are hated. But when the holidays are designated for the worship of God, for the study of Torah, and the joy of the holiday, they are cherished and beloved festivals (Shlah HaKadosh, Talmud Sukkah, Ner Mitzvah 31).
Prohibition of Washing Clothes during Chol Hamoed
It is a mitzvah to wash one’s clothes before Chag, and in order for people not be negligent in this matter, our Sages prohibited washing clothes during Chol HaMoed. In other words, according to the strict law, it is permissible to wash clothes on Chol HaMoed in order to wear them on the Moed, because this is considered melechet hedyot l’tzorech ha’Moed (a layman’s work, for the purpose of the Moed); nevertheless, our Sages prohibited this, so there won’t be a situation where people postpone washing their clothes until Chol HaMoed – when they are off from work – and as a result, disgrace the holiday by entering it unkempt (dirty).
Clothes that Tend to Get Dirty
Included in the prohibition are shirts, pants, dress, skirt, suit, coat, and all the like. But clothes that get dirty often, like babies’ and children’s clothes, are permitted to be washed on Chol HaMoed for the purpose of wearing them on the Moed. This holds true for socks and underwear as well, since people change them on a daily basis because of sweat; after having used all the clean ones, one is permitted to wash what he will need for the rest of the Moed. This is because the reason for the prohibition is so that people will wash clothes before the holiday, but our Sages did not make a decree on clothes that even if washed before the holiday, would have to be washed again during the Moed. And there is no need to be discreet about these garments having been laundered, because everyone knows that it is permissible to wash such clothes.
Nevertheless, all baby clothes and socks and underwear should be washed before the holiday, and only after using all the clean clothes would it be permitted to wash the clothes needed for the Moed. One should be careful not to add clothes to be washed for the weekdays after the holiday (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11: 11-12).
Usually, children from the age of nine no longer dirty their clothes, and there is no heter (halachic permission) to wash their clothes on Chol HaMoed. However, if they are children who tend to get dirtier than normal, it is permissible to wash their clothes for the Chag, even when they are nine or ten years old (ibid.).
It is permissible to remove a stain by use of water and detergent, because the cleaning of a stain was not included in the gezeira (decree). Although there are those who act stringently in this matter, the opinion of the majority of poskim is to be lenient. However, as long as one still has a clean garment, it is better to wear it (ibid.).
A Person Who Has One Garment
A person who has only one garment and it got dirty during the Chag, our Sages permitted him to wash it on Chol HaMoed, because even if it was washed on the eve of Chag, it would probably get dirty again during the seven days of the festival, and the Sages did not want to make a gezeira that one would have to go around with a dirty garment on the Moed. Therefore, a person who has only one shirt and it gets dirty, or a woman who has only one dress and it gets dirty, they are allowed to wash it. In this case, one should make sure to wash the garment discreetly, i.e., in a household washing machine, and not to hang it outside to dry.
However, a person who has two garments, even if they get dirty and it causes him sorrow to wear them, it is forbidden for him to wash them on Moed, because two garments are supposed to be sufficient for the duration of the Chag. And even when one of the garments is not as nice looking, he is considered as having two garments. A woman who has a full dress, plus a skirt and a shirt, is considered to have two garments. And even if both of the garments got slightly dirty, it is forbidden to wash them, but must be worn as is.
A person who has one garment for Shabbat and Chag, and one for everyday use, if he is not used to wearing his everyday garment on Shabbat – he is considered as having only one garment for Shabbat and Chag, and if his Shabbat garment got dirty, it may be washed in a washing machine for Chag Sheni (second holiday).
When all of one’s clothes become so dirty that because of embarrassment, and without great need, a man or a woman would prefer to stay at home and not go out with such dirty clothes – it is permissible to wash the necessary clothes, so they will not be ashamed to leave the house.
It is permissible to iron clothes non-professionally in order to wear during the Chag, but it is forbidden to press folds in a professional manner (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:7).
Shaving and Haircut
It is a mitzvah to take a haircut and shave before Chag. And so that people not be negligent and enter Chag disheveled and unshaven, reasoning that during Chol HaMoed there would be plenty of time and they can then get their hair cut and take shave, our Sages forbade shaving and haircutting on Chol HaMoed. In other words, despite the fact that on Chol HaMoed, melachot designed for bodily needs are permitted, our Sages forbade the cutting of hair and shaving on Chol HaMoed, so that everyone would be careful to cut their hair and shave before Chag, and not enter Chag disheveled and unshaven, and thus disgrace the Chag (Moed Katan 14a; Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:9).
The prohibition applies only to the hair of one’s head and beard, which, when wildly grown beyond one’s norm, causes him to look unkempt and demeans the Chag. But the rest of the hair of one’s body was not included in the gezeira of our Sages, and therefore it is permissible to remove on Chol HaMoed any hair that causes sorrow, including the hair of one’s mustache (ibid).
A Haircut for a Child
If a child’s hair is long and it bothers him it can be cut, for since he has not yet reached the age of mitzvot, he does not have the obligation to prepare for Chag, and consequently, our Sages did not decree to refrain from cutting his hair on Chol HaMoed (S.A., O.C. 531:6). Those who celebrate the first haircutting of a three-year old boy, are permitted to cut his hair on Chol HaMoed, and even his birthday falls before the Chag, they are permitted to delay his haircut till Chol HaMoed in order to increase the joy of the Moed (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:9).
Shaving on Chol HaMoed in Our Times
Many poskim are of the opinion that even men who are accustomed to shave every day, must not shave on Chol HaMoed. However, in practice it seems that the halakha goes according to the lenient opinion, which holds that anyone who shaved before the first Chag – is permitted to shave on Chol HaMoed, since he was not negligent in the honor of Yom Tov, and his shaving before Yom Tov is not beneficial for the entire Chag. And since it is permissible for him to shave, it is a mitzvah to shave in order to honor Chol HaMoed, and in particular, it is a mitzvah to shave in honor of Shabbat and the last Chag.
However, someone whose father is accustomed to be strict and not shave on Chol HaMoed, if the son’s shaving causes his father grief, it is proper for the son to act as his father does, and thus, merit the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:9, footnote 4).
Trimming Nails, and Shining Shoes
It is a mitzvah to trim one’s nails before Chag. Indeed, be-di’avad (after the fact), according to the majority of poskim, even one who did not trim his nails before Chag, it is permissible for him to trim his nails on Chol HaMoed, just as it is permissible to do anything that benefits one’s body (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:10). It is permissible to shine one’s shoes on Chol HaMoed (ibid, 11:7).
Commerce, Stores, and Malls
Commerce is forbidden on Chol HaMoed; only food needed for the Moed is allowed to be purchased or sold without restriction. Therefore, the only stores that are permitted to open on Chol HaMoed are food stores.
In principle, however, if a real need suddenly arises, it is permissible to purchase non-food items on Chol HaMoed, such as clothes, shoes, kitchen utensils, electrical appliances, or a book to study. But in practice, this heter is almost never implemented, and consequently, those who spend time shopping at malls desecrate the Moed, because apart from the food stores, it is forbidden to purchase things in stores there since they were opened in contradiction to halakha. There are two reasons for this:
1) Regarding things that are not food products, the heter to purchase during the Chol HaMoed is only for someone who did not know before Chag that they would need them on the Moed; but if one knew, and did not buy – it is forbidden for him to buy on the Moed, because he is leaving his everyday work to be done on the Moed.
2) Even if there is a sudden need during the Moed, it is forbidden to buy from a person who opens his shop in contradiction to halakha, so as not to assist transgressors. In practice, almost all stores that open publicly are open in contradiction to halakha. The whole heter is in order to buy from a shop of a non-Jew, or from a Jew who shuts down his shop on Moed but sells privately and discreetly to someone who asks for something he needs for the Chag (Peninei Halakha:Moadim 11:16).
Trips – Briefly, and Without Hassle
It is permitted to travel on Chol HaMoed for a trip. A trip is considered one of the needs of the Chag, and it is permitted to perform melechet hedyot (the work of a layman), such as a driving a car. However, it is forbidden to travel for purposes not connected to the Moed, such as taking driving lessons, or in order to see something on Moed for work purposes after Chag.
Someone who has to travel on Moed is permitted to perform minor car repairs that a layman knows how to perform. It is therefore permissible to change a wheel when necessary, and a small repair may be performed that does not require special tools, or the skill of a professional. But a professional repair is only allowed to avoid a major work loss.
It appears that the heter to take trips during Chol HaMoed is intended for short trips that are not draining and bothersome, but rather, blend in with the goal of Chol HaMoed – namely, to rest from every day work, enjoy festive meals, and study Torah – for one must devote approximately half the day to Torah study; consequently, room for trips is included in the second half of one’s time, in which he must also eat his meals. However, it seems that for a trip to go up to Jerusalem, the Holy City, and the City of the Holy Temple, one can take a long trip (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1:6; 11:15).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, ands thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://revivimen.yhb.org.il/