The prohibition of melakha on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed is meant to allow us to enjoy the festival through Torah study and festive meals. Therefore, the basic rule is that melakha involving tirḥa is prohibited. There are two ways in which an action may qualify as a tirḥa: 1) it is time-consuming; 2) it is difficult or demanding. Thus, craftsmanship (ma’aseh uman) is prohibited even when it can be completed quickly. In contrast, melakha which is neither time-consuming nor demanding is permitted, even if it is not necessary for the festival. Therefore, if a piece of plaster can be easily removed from the floor or wall, one may remove it, even if it is in a room that is not being used on the festival. Similarly, one who enjoys photography may take pictures, even if it meets no festival need and they could be taken at a later time. Lighting a match or turning on a light is also permitted, even if there is no need for the light. One may also enter the public domain with unnecessary items in his pockets (see Harḥavot 11:2:1-5).
Even time-consuming melakhot may be undertaken, as long as they are done for the sake of the festival. These include picking fruit, hunting animals or fish, grinding wheat, squeezing fruits, and packing food into bags or boxes so they can be sold in stores (section 3 below). One may do melakhot for other festival needs as well, such as repairing a window to prevent cold air from blowing in (section 5 below).
Doing melakha in order to prevent a loss (davar ha-aved) is permitted. This permissibility is in fact a festival need, as one worried about sustaining a loss would find it difficult to enjoy the festival (see 12:2 below).
In total, there are five justifications for doing melakha on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed:
- To provide food for the festival, even craftsmanship or skilled labor is permitted.
- For other festival needs, unskilled labor (ma’aseh hedyot) is permitted.
- If one does not have food to eat, he may work as usual in order to buy food.
- In order to prevent a loss, even craftsmanship is permitted.
- To benefit the general public, unskilled labor may be undertaken, if it would be difficult to take care of the problem after Ḥol Ha-mo’ed.
Since there are many different general rules that apply to Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, and some of the laws derived from them may seem contradictory, the Sages stated: “The laws of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed are stand-alone; we do not extrapolate one from the other” (MK 12a). Rather, a person can arrive at halakhic conclusions only after learning the entire corpus of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed laws.