Peninei Halakha

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09. Shaving and Haircuts

Since there is a mitzva to shave and to have one’s hair cut before the festival, the Sages forbade shaving or getting haircuts during Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Therefore, even though the general rule on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed is that it is permissible to do melakha which involves caring for one’s body (and thus any bothersome hair may be removed), the Sages still prohibited haircuts and shaving. They were concerned that if haircuts were allowed on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, people would push off getting haircuts until then, and thus belittle the festival by starting it looking unkempt. Thus, prohibiting haircuts on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed ensured that everyone would get their hair cut before the festival (MK 14a; SA 531:1-2).

In earlier times, when one traveling by caravan from a distant land would arrive too close to the festival to get a haircut before Yom Tov, the Sages were lenient and allowed him to get his hair cut discreetly on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (MK 13b; SA 531:4-5). Nowadays, though, this leniency is not relevant, as international trips are generally short and haircuts are available just about anywhere. However, if one did manage to get lost in a desolate area for an extended period of time, and then was rescued on the festival, he may discreetly get a haircut on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed.

The prohibition of haircutting applies only to the head and beard. When that hair grows longer than usual, it makes a person look unkempt, and entering into the festival in such a state is belittling it. In contrast, the moustache and other hair is not included in the prohibition, and they may be cut during Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (SA 531:8; SHT ad loc. 15). One who has sores on his scalp may get a haircut, if it lessens his pain or helps him heal (MB 531:21).

One may give a minor a haircut on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed if the child is bothered by his hair length. Since he is not yet obligated to keep the commandments, he is not obligated to prepare for the festival either. Thus the Sages did not include him in the prohibition of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed haircuts (SA 531:6). Those whose custom is to give a boy his first haircut at age three, and to celebrate with a big party, may give him that haircut on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Even if his birthday is actually before the festival, the haircut may be delayed until Ḥol Ha-mo’ed in order to increase the joy (Gan Ha-melekh; Sha’arei Teshuva 531:7).

Nowadays there is a serious question: If one shaves daily, is it permitted for him to shave on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed? Some say that the original prohibition stands – the Sages decreed not to shave or get a haircut on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Nevertheless, it would seem that if one shaves daily and makes a point of shaving before the festival begins, he may shave during Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Since he did not neglect to show respect for the festival, and the shave before Yom Tov will not keep him looking respectable throughout the weeklong festival, it is permitted and even a mitzva for him to shave during Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. It is especially a mitzva to shave before Shabbat and before the concluding Yom Tov. However, if his father is stringent in this regard, it is preferable for him to follow his father’s custom rather than possibly offending his father.[4]

[4]. According to R. Tam, the goal of the ordinance is to make sure that people get haircuts before the festival. Therefore, if one did so, he may then get a haircut during Ḥol Ha-mo’ed as well. However, according to most Rishonim, even one who got a haircut before Yom Tov still may not get one on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (Or Zaru’a; Hagahot Maimoniyot; Mordechai; Tur and SA 531:2), because one who sees him doing so will not know that he had also gotten a haircut beforehand. As further support for their position, they point out that such a person is not included in the Mishna’s list of people permitted to get a haircut (MK 13b). However, none of these considerations apply to those who shave daily. The Mishna does not relate to such people, as there was no such practice in mishnaic times. There is no concern that anyone will suspect they did not shave before Yom Tov, because everyone knows that they shave every day, and certainly before festivals. On the contrary, the whole reason for the Sages’ decree is so people will not look unkempt on the festival. If those who shave daily do not shave on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, they will look like mourners. That would be the opposite of what the decree was meant to accomplish. In 1948, when electric shavers were still relatively rare, R. Moshe Feinstein wrote that it is not prohibited for one who shaves daily to shave on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (Igrot Moshe OḤ 1:163). R. Zvi Pesaḥ Frank also rules this way (cited by R. Lior, Devar Ḥevron §543), as does R. Naḥum Rabinovitch in Si’aḥ Naḥum §30. It is reported that R. Soloveitchik reprimanded students who did not shave then, and he said it was a mitzva to do so. In contrast, many others are stringent (R. Yisrael Veltz, Divrei Yisrael 1:140; SSK 66:23; see also Piskei Teshuvot 531:2). Ḥazon Ovadia, p. 191 inclines toward stringency as well. Now, the ban on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed shaving is rabbinic, and whether it applies here is under dispute. On the other hand, a man who does not shave might well be transgressing the Torah commandment to honor the festival. In practice, this is fulfilled by wearing clean clothing and by not looking like a mourner with a scruffy beard, which would belittle the festival. Accordingly, we should rule that it is a mitzva to shave on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, especially right before Shabbat and Yom Tov. However, it is different if one’s father has a custom not to do so and wants his son to follow his custom. In such a case, it is proper for the son to maintain the father’s custom as part of the mitzva of honoring parents, especially if he is spending the festival with his father.

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