07. Keeping Businesses Open to Prevent Loss

If one owns a store in a non-Jewish neighborhood and is afraid that staying closed on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed would cause him a serious long-term loss (as his customers would get used to buying from his competitors), he may open his store on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. If possible, it should be run by non-Jewish workers. If he cannot hire non-Jews, he may hire Jews. Ideally, they should avoid doing melakhot prohibited by the Torah, but if there is a pressing need, they may be lenient (see Harḥavot).

We saw in the previous section that normally only grocery stores may open regularly on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. However, let us say that one has a store in an area where most of the customers are non-observant Jews, and that the items he sells could be used for the festival, such as clothing, shoes, jewelry, housewares, games, and books. In such a case, if there is a serious concern that staying closed on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed will mean losing his regular customers, causing him serious long-term damage, he may keep the store open. Since he sells things which can be used on the festival, it is permissible. It is preferable that he write an instructive sign, to make it clear that the store is open in honor of the festival, so that the customers will have in mind enhancing the festival joy when buying there.

In contrast, if the store sells items that serve no purpose for the festival, or that require assembly or sewing, or that will arrive at the customer’s home only after the festival, the owner must close on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed to avoid causing Jews to transgress, since none of these items serve any festival need. If this presents a serious threat to the viability of his business, he should consult a halakhic authority.[5]

A vendor may set up a stand to sell mitzva items such as sefarim and Jewish music disks in a location where many people congregate on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. This would include a Simḥat Beit Ha-sho’eva as well as tourist attractions such as the Old City and the Cave of the Patriarchs. The reason is that these items serve a mitzva need, and the stand owner is likely to sustain a serious loss if he forgoes the opportunity to reach all these people. True, according to the letter of the law even such items are supposed to be sold discreetly, but in order to avoid losing out on a huge clientele, they may be sold publicly. It is preferable to place a sign at the stand stating that the sales are for the sake of festival joy.

If non-Jews are holding sales on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed of items that a Jew either needs for himself or buys and sells professionally, he may buy them, on condition that: 1) they were unavailable before the festival; and 2) it is clear that their price will rise significantly after the festival. Only then is it considered davar ha-aved.

If it is Jews who are holding the sale, then one is permitted to buy from them only if they are permitted to sell, i.e., when there is a true need for them to sell cheaply on the festival, as for example if they are in danger of going out of business, and whatever they do not manage to sell quickly they will not be able to sell at all later. In contrast, if it is not permissible for them to sell to avoid a loss, then it is forbidden to buy from them, as we saw above (11:16).[6]


[5]. When most of the customers are Jews, there is a Torah prohibition of lifnei iver (“Do not put a stumbling block before the blind” – Vayikra 19:14). Nevertheless, it is permissible for the store owner to open up if the following conditions are met: 1) there is a serious concern about losing customers; and 2) there are stores owned by non-Jews in the area, so Jews can transgress by buying things on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed even without his store. In these circumstances, opening up his store would not constitute lifnei iver but only the rabbinic prohibition of aiding (mesayei’a) a transgressor, according to Tosafot and most poskim. However, if all the surrounding shops are Jewish-owned, it is prohibited. SSK 67:29 n. 143 states this in the name of R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.

The Aḥaronim disagree about a store that has non-Jewish customers, and the store owner pays heavy property taxes and high rent that do not take into account that the store is closed on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Some say that in such a case, he may open up on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (Divrei Malkiel 2:100). Others allow this only if he pays for each day individually, and Ḥol Ha-mo’ed is included. In contrast, if the payment is annual, they maintain that he may not open up on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (Eshel Avraham [Buczacz] 539:1). The stringent opinion appears to be correct. However, in pressing circumstances, when the risk to the store’s solvency is very serious, one may rely upon those who are lenient. See Harḥavot.

[6]. Let us say one travels on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed and sees a store selling something he needs for after the festival. If he does not buy it on the spot, he will have to travel a great distance after the festival to buy it, costing him significant amounts of time and money. He may buy the item on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, because this is considered a davar ha-aved (SSK ch. 67 n. 146). This is on condition that the store itself is permitted to be open, such as a grocery store owned by a Jew or any store owned by a non-Jew.

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