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Peninei Halakha > Festivals > 12 - When Work Is Permitted on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed

12 – When Work Is Permitted on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed

01. A Laborer with Nothing to Eat

One who cannot put food on the table for the festival may work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. The point of forbidding melakha on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed is to relieve people of work and worries, freeing them to enjoy the festival through festive meals and Torah study. One who cannot feed himself and his family is preoccupied with his misery and cannot enjoy the festival. Therefore, he may work in order to buy bread, meat, and wine for his family. However, he may not work in order to buy additional delicacies for the meal (SA 542:2).[1]

A business owner may provide work to someone who does not have food. For example, someone who runs a clothing factory may give a worker sewing to do over Ḥol Ha-mo’ed if the worker has no food for the festival. This is permissible even though the owner will also make money, provided that his primary intent is to provide the worker with the means to buy food for the festival, and that if not for this he would not have given him the work (MK 13a; SA 542:2). When necessary, one may also do business in order to provide work for a worker who does not have food (SA 539:12; MB ad loc. 42).

If one has no food, but could take charity in order to buy food for the festival, he may nevertheless work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, because it is admirable not to take charity. We do not insist that he sell off his furniture and possessions to avoid the need to work. Rather, since he does not have the money to buy basic food for his family on the festival, he may work enough to do so. In contrast, if one can buy food with his credit card or can easily take out a loan, he may not work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Only if he is always careful not to take out loans and not to have an overdraft in the bank may he work to provide food for the festival.

[1]. According to MA 542:1 and other Aḥaronim, one who has bread and water is considered to have something to eat, and therefore may not work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. However, according to Eliya Rabba and other Aḥaronim, a person may work to ensure normal, respectable meals for the festival. In practice, it would seem that a person may work in order to provide the basics of the festive meals, meaning bread, meat, and, wine, but not for anything beyond that. See the notes on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed Ke-hilkhato 9:14. A person may work to provide food for the members of his household, even those over bar or bat mitzva, as long as they are supported by him (BHL 542:2 s.v. “al yedei”). Something very easy, such as a single business transaction, may be done even to enable the buying of additional delicacies for the meals (SA 539:4; SSK 68:22-23 and 67:45; see our next note). One who is working in order to buy food should try to work discreetly (MB 542:7).

  1. Shimon Greenfield (Hungary, 1860-1930) wrote in Responsa Maharshag 2:94:2 that working on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed was permitted. Poverty was widespread and taxes were onerous, making it difficult for people to make ends meet, especially those with sons who were studying Torah. Therefore, all earnings were considered necessary for survival. Even so, he said that people should not simply work as usual on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed; they should make some change to their schedule such as working a half day. Ḥol Ha-mo’ed Ke-hilkhato, SSK ch. 68 n. 61, and Piskei Teshuvot 542:4 debate whether Maharshag’s opinion may be relied upon today. They conclude that a halakhic authority should be consulted. It seems to me that nowadays one may not rely on his logic. Since our financial situation is much better than it was at the time of the Sages, we should not change the ruling of the Sages, the Rishonim, and SA. In addition, thanks to Bituaḥ Leumi (Social Security) benefits for the poor and disabled, and the work of charitable organizations, there are far fewer needy people. Therefore, only one who lacks the basics for a festive meal is permitted to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed.

02. Davar Ha-aved (Preventing a Loss)

It is obvious that a person loses income by not working on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, as every day on which he does not work he loses the earnings of that day. This is not truly a loss (davar ha-aved), though. Rather, it is missing out on profit (meni’at revaḥ). Therefore, hired workers and independent contractors must take off from work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, in order to free themselves to enjoy the festival and study Torah. Even if a worker normally makes 1,000 shekel a day, and has been offered double to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, he may not work. The command to rest is applicable to rich and poor equally. Similarly, if a carpenter is offered double to build a cupboard on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, he may not do so. What is at stake is not his losing money currently in his possession, but rather his missing out on making more money.

In contrast, a person who is likely to lose money or property that he already owns may do melakha to avoid this. The goal of prohibiting melakha is to allow a person the peace of mind to rejoice and study Torah. One who is worrying about losing his money can neither rejoice (Ritva) nor focus on Torah study (Raavya; Maharil). Additionally, the Torah cares about our financial wellbeing. If a person is unable to take care of urgent issues with his business or fields for seven consecutive days, he will end up suffering losses (Ha-manhig).

Therefore, a vineyard owner who has ripened grapes ready for picking may pick them on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, if not doing so will lead him to suffer a serious loss (SA 537:16). If one’s home or store was broken into and the door is now broken, or if one’s alarm system has stopped working, he may have the repairs done by a professional if he is worried about thieves (SA 540:4). Similarly, if a pipe burst in a home and there is a concern that the home and furnishings will sustain water damage, the pipe may be fixed by a professional. If a person has merchandise for sale, and he has a well-grounded concern that if he does not sell it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed he will not be able to do so afterward and will lose what he spent on it, he may sell it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. However, if he would make a profit on it after Ḥol Ha-mo’ed as well, but a smaller one, he may not sell it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Such a case falls into the category of missing out on profit rather than suffering a loss (SA 539:4). If by not working on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed a person will lose the source of his income for the upcoming months, he may work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. This is because losing one’s source of income is considered a major loss (rather than missing out on profit).

In addition to the first principle we set forth, we must add an additional principle: Even when a loss is at stake, the permissibility of work depends upon the size of the loss and the difficulty of the work. To avoid a small loss, the Sages permitted only a melakha that can be done quickly by anyone, or craftsmanship that can be done with a shinui. Time-consuming or very demanding work is not permitted. To avoid a medium-sized loss, they permitted skilled labor of medium difficulty. To avoid a major loss, they permitted even extremely difficult work. The difficulty of the work permitted should be proportional to the magnitude of the loss. After all, melakha is permitted to avoid loss so that a person will not be sad on the festival, negating its mitzva of joy. Accordingly, if a great deal of work would be necessary to prevent a medium loss, it is better to enjoy the festival and ignore the loss. However, if what is involved is a major loss, which would prevent a person from enjoying the festival, then even extremely hard work is permitted.

In cases of uncertainty, the decision about whether to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed can be made by thinking about what one would do if he were on vacation when the problem arose. If the anticipated loss is great enough that the average person would cancel a family vacation to prevent it, then one may work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed to prevent it. If the loss is not significant enough for a person to cancel a family vacation, but is serious enough that he would work on the issue for a few hours during vacation to prevent it, then he may work a few hours on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed as well. If it is a loss to which one would be willing to dedicate an hour during vacation, it can also be worked on for an hour on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed.

This decision is also dependent upon the person’s economic situation. Someone poor will work during vacation to avoid a loss of a few hundred shekels because it would be a big loss for him, while someone wealthy would not bother. Of course, this needs to be evaluated based on the habits of an average person, not of someone so lazy that he would always prefer vacation, nor of a workaholic who would cancel a family vacation for the slightest reason.

This rule is the most complicated of all the rules of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, because one needs to evaluate honestly the degree of difficulty versus the degree of loss. In cases of uncertainty, a halakhic authority should be consulted.[2]

[2]. The classic example addressed by the Sages of something permitted to prevent a loss (davar ha-aved) was watering trees by directing irrigation channels toward them. However, watering trees that were at a higher elevation than the source of the water was prohibited, because it was very difficult to do. Even though the lack of water would damage the trees, allowing people to undertake such a grueling job on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed would have detracted from the festival and was thus prohibited (MK 2a and 4a; SA 537:1-3). Nevertheless, in a case where the damage would be immense, and therefore the person suffering it would not be able to enjoy the festival at all, even very demanding work is permitted. Categorizing and deciding upon the difficulty of the work and the magnitude of the loss is entrusted to the sages of each generation (Raavad; Ramban). If the loss is minimal or uncertain, in order to prevent it one may do unskilled labor or skilled labor with a shinui. We see this in MB 540:2 in the case of fixing a fence which was breached. Similarly, in order to prevent the distant possibility of damage from mice in the fields, rabbis permit laying traps using a shinui (SA 547:13; MB ad loc. 39; SSK 67:2). If minor damage is certain, it is not necessary to use a shinui (MB 538:6; and 537:50, speaking about the permissibility of harvesting a field if not doing so will lead to a small part of it being damaged).

At first glance, it would seem that even if a person is risking the source of his income for upcoming months by refusing to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, he still may not work. Preventing the loss of future income which has not yet come his way would seem to fall into the category of missing out on profit rather than avoiding a loss. Nevertheless, since he would be losing his set source of income, it is in fact considered a loss, and he may work in order to preserve it. This is addressed by the poskim in the context of a big fair (SA 539:5; BHL s.v “ve-afilu”; see BHL s.v. “ve-im” on SA ad loc. 9). This is also the rule for one who is likely to be fired (SSK 67:11).

What if someone is living in somewhat difficult circumstances, and a business opportunity falls into his lap? If it will make a nice profit, even if not a huge one, he may take advantage of the opportunity, as long as he makes sure to dedicate a part of the profits to festival expenses, so that this deal will contribute to his enjoyment of the festival. In contrast, if one is wealthy and can easily buy everything he needs for the festival meals without taking advantage of a business opportunity, he may not take it up (SA 539:4).These permits could be explained as applying only to business, since they do not involve melakha intrinsically. This explanation is the second opinion of Raavad quoted by Rosh (MK 1:28; see BHL 533:3 s.v. “mutar”). However, it would seem there is no fundamental difference for these purposes between business and other forms of melakha. Rather, the primary criterion is the level of difficulty involved, as Raavad explains. The rule for a number of isolated business opportunities is the same as for unskilled labor – both cases are permitted in order to allow the purchase of holiday food. In contrast, opening up a store is considered absolute melakha, even without taking into account specific melakhot, because the sheer effort involved is full-fledged work. Only if there is a possibility that he will lose the source of his income is he permitted to open a store (Ramban; see BHL 539:5 s.v. “eino”; see also below section 7 and Harḥavot).

03. Not to Plan Work for Ḥol Ha-Mo’ed

If pests have begun to attack a field on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed and are likely to cause significant damage, one may spray them. However, if he knew before the start of the festival that the field needed to be sprayed, but he was negligent and delayed spraying in order to do it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, he may not do so. Since he planned to do this work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, he is forbidden to do so. This is the general principle: anyone who intentionally plans to do work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed is forbidden to do that work, even if refraining from doing so will result in his suffering a loss. The permissibility of davar ha-aved applies only when there are pressing circumstances, when a person has no choice but to do melakha on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed in order to prevent loss and anguish. It is not applicable to one who planned to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (SA 537:16; 538:1). This holds true even if the work could be done by a non-Jew and is not difficult (MB 538:11; SA 543:1), and even if the person was unaware of the prohibition of planning work for Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (SSK 66:39; 67:5, 18).

If one planned to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed and transgressed by doing so, he may not get any benefit from whatever profits he derived from this work (AHS 538:7; Shevilei David). When rabbinic courts had the power, they would destroy whatever was produced on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. However, if the person who did the work died, they did not penalize his heirs (SA 538:6).

Let us say that someone accepted a job with a deadline, and he agreed to a provision stating that if he does not meet the deadline, he will be liable to a heavy fine. He now realizes that in order to meet the deadline and avoid the fine, he will have to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. May he do so? If he was certain when he accepted the job that he would be able to finish on time without working on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, but in the course of the job there was an unanticipated setback which led to his needing to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed in order to finish on time, then he may work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. In contrast, if he knew from the start that even with diligence, there was a good chance that he would not be able to finish the project without working on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, then he is considered to have planned to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, and is thus prohibited from working.

It is important to be aware that in general, permission to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed is limited to special circumstances which, by definition, can happen only occasionally. Therefore, a business owner who asks for permission to work every festival because of davar ha-aved should generally not be granted permission to do so. What is at stake isn’t avoiding a loss, but rather missing out on profit. Alternatively, it is a poorly run business, in which case staying open on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed will not fix the underlying problem.[3]

[3]. When there is a reason that work needs to be done specifically on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, some permit it if the need is great. For example, if a vehicle that is used to transport workers to and from their jobs during the week needs repair, one could argue that the only time to do the auto maintenance without suffering a considerable loss is on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, when the workers are off (Ḥol Ha-mo’ed Ke-hilkhato, Hosafot 2:98). However, others prohibit it, as they consider this a case of missing out on profit rather than avoiding loss (Shemirat Ha-mo’ed Ke-hilkhato 6:29). It would seem that one should not permit a Jew to do the auto maintenance; rather, a non-Jewish contractor may be hired to do the work, as long as the car is left with him before the festival begins (above 11:18).

04. Various Laws of Davar Ha-aved

What if it is unclear whether a loss will be sustained? For example, it may be unclear whether pests will seriously damage a field. If the concern is great enough that people would normally cut short their vacation to deal with it, then melakha may be done on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed to prevent the loss (BHL 537:1 s.v. “davar”). If it is not recognizable that the melakha is being undertaken to avoid a loss, then, if possible, it should be done discreetly, so that people will not draw incorrect inferences about when it is permissible to work (MK 12b; SA 538:2).

One who is doing melakha to prevent a loss should do it in the easiest way possible. If it is possible to prevent the loss through a simple melakha, he should not do something more complicated (Rema 537:1). Therefore, if an item of clothing became stained, and the stain will set if the item is not washed, it is better to wash it in a washing machine rather than by hand.

Spiritual loss is also considered a loss. For example, if one comes up with a novel Torah interpretation and is afraid that if he does not write it down he will forget it, he may write it down. If he knows how to use a computer, he should type it instead, as this is less of a bother than writing.

When it is permissible to work in order to prevent a loss, it is also permissible to hire workers to do the necessary work. If possible, it is preferable to hire Jewish workers who do not have enough money to buy food for the festival. If none are available, it is preferable to hire non-Jews. If this is not possible either, the business owner should do the work. If he is unable to do so, he may hire Jewish workers even if they are not needy. Since it is unfair to take away their Ḥol Ha-mo’ed rest without pay, he must pay them for their work (Rema 542:1; MB ad loc. 5; SHT ad loc. 8).

If a water pipe in a wall bursts and is causing damage, a workman may be hired to fix the pipe, because this qualifies as davar ha-aved. However, he may not be asked to close the wall back up and paint it, because doing so on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed would not prevent any loss. Nevertheless, if the cost of the work will go up substantially if the worker needs to come back to finish the job, he may finish the job even on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Someone wealthy who can easily afford the additional expense may not rely on this leniency (see SHT 537:49, based on Ritva; see SSK 67:12).

05. Employers and Employees

Some types of work are permitted le-khatḥila on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, including those activities done to provide food (as we explained above in 11:3), for bodily needs and healing (11:5-6), and for communal needs such as public transportation (11:15), road maintenance (below, section 9), and basic functioning of the banks and courts (below, section 13). Other work may not be done, unless it is to prevent loss.

A business owner who is not permitted to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed must let his employees know from the outset that the business will be closed on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. He must explain to them that they will be on vacation then, and that Ḥol Ha-mo’ed will count toward the vacation days to which they are entitled by law.

In Israel, every employee is entitled to a certain number of vacation days each year (minimum two weeks). Someone who works at a job that may not be done on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed must insist that Ḥol Ha-mo’ed be included in his yearly vacation days. This is true even if it entails a certain loss. For example, he is required to take off on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed even if his employer allows people to leave early on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, so if he takes them as vacation days he will have “wasted” his vacation days on shorter workdays. Similarly, if his family would like to take a long vacation in the summer, but they will have to cut the vacation short if he uses up his vacation days on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, he must still take vacation days on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed.[4]

If there is a great deal of pressure at work, and it is demanded of workers that they work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed and take their vacation days at a different time, they may do so if otherwise the business will sustain a large loss and as long as it is a one-time crisis that does not repeat itself every year. If this is the case, it is considered a davar ha-aved, and the employees may work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. However, if according to halakha the business should not be open at all on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, yet the employer requires the employee to work, he may not listen to him. If it is possible that if he refuses to work he will lose his job, then even though the employer making this demand is committing a serious transgression, for this employee it is a davar ha-aved, and he may work (SSK 67:11 and n. 32).

[4]. Nowadays in the State of Israel, by law a business owner may tell his workers in advance that Ḥol Ha-mo’ed will be included in their legally mandated vacation days. Then he will not lose out due to the business being closed on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. See SSK 67:14 and n. 47. In contrast, there are countries where the law requires that workers be paid for each workday, and this includes the days of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Some say that a business owner in such a country may keep his business open then. If he closes it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, he will need to pay the workers even though they did not work, thus sustaining a loss (Erekh Shai on SA 537; Responsa Maharshag 2:78; AHS 533:3; Ḥazon Ovadia, p. 182). Others forbid opening the business, maintaining that this would not be preventing a loss. After all, the owner has been aware all along that he must pay a monthly salary, even though on Shabbat and holidays no one works (Rabbi Moshe Provencalo; Zera Emet 3:56; R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in SSK ch. 67 n. 40). See also Ḥol Ha-mo’ed Ke-hilkhato 9:29. In any case, nowadays in Israel a business owner is legally entitled to include the days of Ḥol Ha-mo’ed in a worker’s vacation days. If he was negligent by not stipulating this when he hired them, then the more stringent opinion should be followed, since this negligence is similar to intentionally planning to work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. If a great loss is involved, a halakhic authority should be consulted.

06. Grocery Stores and Other Stores

The owner of a grocery store must open up on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed to provide his customers with food for the festival. Since it is clear that this serves a festival need, he need not be discreet about it. He may also record his sales and provide receipts, as required by law (SA 539:10).

At first glance it would seem that the store owner may not sell anything to a non-Jew, since the basis for permitting him to open during Ḥol Ha-mo’ed is to provide food for the festival. Since a non-Jew has no mitzva to rejoice on the festival, it should be forbidden to sell to him. In practice, though, once it is permissible for the owner to open his store to sell Jews food for the festival, he may sell to non-Jews as well, for the sake of maintaining good relations (mipnei darkhei shalom) (MB 539:33; see Harḥavot). Similarly, it would seem, at first glance, to be forbidden to sell something to a non-observant Jew, who might be buying what he will need after the festival. In practice, however, there is no need to clarify the purpose of his purchases, and so it is permissible to sell to any Jew.

All this applies to food stores, but the general practice is that other stores do not open on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Even though it is permissible to buy clothing, shoes, utensils, and electrical appliances for the festival (MK 13a-b), this is only when they are truly necessary. For example, if a woman’s Yom Tov dress tore or got dirty and she needs a new one to wear on the last day or days, she may buy it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. However, when the item is not absolutely necessary, but would just be nice to have, she may not buy it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. For example, if a woman has a Yom Tov dress, but she’d like to buy another one which she likes better, she may not do so on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Furthermore, even if it is truly necessary for the festival, but she could have bought it before Yom Tov and neglected to do so, she may not buy it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, since it is as if she planned to do melakha on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed.

In practice, the widely accepted custom is to make sure to buy everything one will need for the festival beforehand. If stores were to open on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, most of the customers would either be buying items unnecessary for the festival or items they had neglected to buy beforehand. It is forbidden to open a store for them.

If one needs clothing or shoes urgently, and was not negligent before the festival, he may call a store owner and ask to purchase the necessary item on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. If a store owner knows that every day there will be some Jews who need to buy what he sells for the festival (and whose need is not due to negligence), he may open his store for a few hours each day. However, he must be careful to sell discreetly. If the store is located in an out-of-the-way place, he may open it normally. If it is on a typical street, he should open it a bit differently than usual. For example, if the store has two doors and he normally leaves both open, he should open only one; if the store has one door and a security grating, he should leave the grating halfway down. This way, it will be clear that he is not doing business as usual. He should also put a note on the door that says: “This store is open for festival needs between the following hours” (SA 539:11). Even when it is permissible to buy something on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, it may not be bought at a store that is not allowed to be open (see 11:16 above).

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.

08. Communal Needs

On Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, one may take care of communal needs, since they are considered mitzva needs and thus festival needs as well. This is true even if there will be no actual benefit seen on the festival itself. However, this is only on condition that if the matter is not taken care of on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, it will not be taken care of at all.

Since everyone knows that such a melakha is being undertaken for the good of the community, it may be done publicly even if it involves hard work. One may even pay for the work, as it would be impossible to take care of communal needs otherwise. As with other festival needs, the permissibility is limited to unskilled labor, as skilled labor is permitted only for bodily needs on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (MK 2a, 5a; SA 544:1-2).

In earlier times, when earning a living was tremendously difficult and nobody had the free time to volunteer to take care of communal needs, the Sages permitted pressing the community into work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed to take care of them. For example, they allowed rain-damaged roads to be repaired. If people did not go out and fix the roads, the Sages explained, they would bear responsibility for any resulting deaths or injuries. Similarly, the Sages permitted removing rocks and other detritus that had fallen into wells and streams. All of these involve unskilled labor, and therefore were permitted even if the benefits would be felt only after the festival. Digging a new well when necessary was also permitted on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, since it too required only unskilled labor. Grouting the well, though, which was skilled labor, was permitted only after the festival. Nevertheless, if the well water would be available and useful for the festival, then even that work was considered a bodily need. To meet bodily needs even skilled labor may be performed on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, so the grouting was permissible (MK 4b-5a).

The rabbinic court hired emissaries to take care of certain communal needs on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. These included the maintenance of mikva’ot, cemeteries, and fields. This was done on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed to save public funds; since people did not normally work on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed anyway, they were willing to work for less (MK 6a). The job of these emissaries included checking that each mikveh contained the 40 se’ah of water necessary for a kosher immersion. If they found a mikveh lacking the necessary volume, they would dig a channel to allow more water to flow in from a stream or well. The workers also marked graves clearly so that Kohanim would not become impure. Since these grave markers were made of lime, which sometimes faded due to rain and due to people constantly walking through, they needed to be touched up each year (MK 5a-b; SA 544:1). The workers also checked fields to make sure that no kilayim were growing in them. If they found kilayim, they would declare the field ownerless. This encouraged people to be diligent in ensuring that no kilayim grew in their fields (MK 6b).

09. Communal Needs Nowadays

The permissibility of doing melakha for communal needs on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed still applies in areas where the government is weak and thus unable to collect taxes and enforce the law. However, if the government is able to take care of communal needs through the year, they may not be addressed during Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (MA; MB 544:1). Therefore, nowadays, when the local government is well organized with financial resources and staff at its disposal, melakha may not be done on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed if it can be done at a different time. The one exception is work which must be done on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed itself, such as collecting garbage from overflowing bins.

If a communal need involves meeting a bodily need, such as preventing people from suffering or getting hurt, even skilled labor is permitted. Therefore, if streetlights have gone out, electricians may fix them on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. If a sewer is blocked, creating a public nuisance, it may be fixed by a skilled laborer even if this entails hard work. The sink of a synagogue may be fixed in order to allow those praying there to wash their hands prior to services. A mechanic may fix a bus or cab needed by the public for Ḥol Ha-mo’ed travel (SSK 68:7-8).[7]

One may print a quality newspaper on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed and write articles for a quality website. Nowadays, the public is used to constantly following the news, and the media influences the public as well as its leaders. When the media outlet is a quality one, it has a positive influence, and is considered to meet a communal need. Refraining from writing for quality media would thus be a davar ha-aved so the writing is permitted. Additionally, since people are used to following the news, many will be negatively influenced by harmful media if they are not supplied with news by quality media.

A quality newspaper may go to print during Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, even with advertisements. However, the journalists may not write pieces for after the festival. Nevertheless, if the paper will suffer losses if it does not include certain pieces, and if it would be impossible to make the deadline for inclusion without working on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, and if the pieces could not have been written before the festival, then they may be prepared on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (see SSK 68:12 and the notes there).

[7]. If an apartment building’s elevator or hallway lighting stops working, it may be fixed by a professional if there are concerns about danger or health. For example, a working elevator is required by pregnant women, the sick, and the elderly; without lights, people may fall. If there are no current residents with health issues, then whether or not a professional may fix the elevator depends on the size of the building. If there are ten or more families in the building, it is considered a community (rabim). Since having lights and a working elevator benefits the body on the festival, they may be fixed even by a professional on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. However, if there are fewer than ten families, they are considered individuals for this purpose, and the repairs may be made with unskilled labor only. (See Ḥol Ha-mo’ed Ke-hilkhato ch. 8 n. 41 in the name of R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach; Piskei Teshuvot 544:1; and Harḥavot here.)

10. Unskilled Labor for Mitzva Needs

In order to fulfill a mitzva on the festival, whether it is incumbent upon an individual or a group, unskilled labor may be undertaken. A mitzva need is comparable to other festival needs for which it is permitted to do unskilled labor (Rema 544:1; MB ad loc. 8). In contrast, skilled labor is permitted only to take care of bodily needs on the festival, such as preparing food or fixing the water system (above 11:3-5).

Therefore, one may not write a Torah scroll on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. It is prohibited to write even one letter, as scribal writing is skilled labor which is permitted only for bodily needs (SA 545:1). However, if a Torah scroll needs an unskilled repair, it may be repaired on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. This is the case even if the Torah scroll is not needed on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, since it is permitted to do unskilled labor on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed for a mitzva, even if it does not meet a festival need. Therefore, if a Torah scroll is discovered to have an extra letter, the letter may be erased. If letters are stuck together, they may be separated. If the ink of a couple of letters has faded, they may be re-inked (Sha’arei Teshuva ad loc. 1, citing Panim Me’irot 1:66; MB ad loc. 2; AHS ad loc. 1).

One who is studying Torah may write or type up notes if he knows that doing so will improve his concentration, since it is being done in the service of a mitzva (SA 545:9; above 11:13).

If one wishes to dedicate a Torah scroll on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, he may not leave the writing of the final letters to Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, since this writing is skilled labor. However, a scribe may outline letters beforehand and they may be filled in by someone else on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, as this is unskilled labor which is permitted for a mitzva need (AHS 545:5; Sdei Ḥemed, Aseifat Dinim, Ma’arekhet Ḥol Ha-mo’ed §12; Kaf Ha-ḥayim ad loc. 6).

If one is making a brit mila on the day after Yom Tov and cannot prepare all the food after Yom Tov, he may prepare food on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Even though normally we do not prepare on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed for the weekday, in this case it is permissible since this is a mitzva need and the labor is unskilled (SSK 67:44).

11. Time-Sensitive Mitzva Needs

Permissible melakha for a mitzva need is normally limited to unskilled labor. However, if the mitzva involved is a time-sensitive one, meaning that if it is not observed immediately the opportunity to do so will be lost, then even skilled labor is permitted. This permit is based on the principle of davar ha-aved (above, section 2). Just as the loss of money is deemed a davar ha-aved, so is the loss of a mitzva. In fact, to avoid losing out on a mitzva we even permit one to do a melakha which could have been done before the festival but was pushed off; he is not penalized (BHL 545:3 s.v. “le-atzmo”). In contrast, if one pushed off doing a melakha before the festival and as a result will now suffer a monetary loss, he is penalized by not being permitted to do the melakha on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (above, section 3).

Therefore, if a synagogue has only one Torah scroll and it is missing letters, even though its current unusable condition is the result of neglect, the letters may be written on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed to enable a public Torah reading. It is even permissible to sharpen a quill in order to write the necessary letters. Although writing the letters and sharpening the quill are skilled labor, they are considered melakhot undertaken to avoid a loss (since if people do not fill in the letters, they will miss out on the mitzva of reading from the Torah), and so they are permitted on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (SA 545:2; MB ad loc. 7, 48). Even if there is a synagogue nearby with a kosher Torah scroll, one may still fix the invalid Torah scroll in order to avoid making things more difficult for the community members, who otherwise would have to arrange to transport a Torah scroll from a different synagogue (BH 445:2 s.v. “she-im”).

Similarly, if one did not build a sukka before Sukkot, he may build it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Since this is a time-sensitive mitzva, even skilled labor may be used if necessary. After all, if he does not build the sukka on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, he will lose out on the mitzva (SA 537:1; BHL s.v. “oseh”). If one has a small sukka and wants to expand it on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, whether to accommodate guests who do not have a sukka or in order to hold the se’udat mitzva for a brit mila, he may do so even using skilled labor, since these too are time-sensitive mitzvot (BHL 640:6 s.v. “se’udat”).[8] One may pick a large quantity of aravot on Sukkot and sell them publicly, so that people can fulfill the mitzva (SSK 67:41).

Anything necessary may be done to take proper care of a dead body, as kevod ha-met (dignity of the dead) is a time-sensitive mitzva. Therefore, shrouds may be sewn (which is skilled labor), a grave may be dug, and death notices (to publicize the time of the funeral) may be printed. However, one may not publicly do certain melakhot that eyewitnesses will not know are being done for one who passed away. This would include cutting stones for the tombstone and cutting down trees for the coffin (SA 547:10; MB ad loc. 19; SSK ch. 67 n. 184; see above 10:5 about a funeral on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed).

[8]. One who has no other way to get tefilin may write a pair for himself on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed so that he will be able to fulfill the mitzva of putting them on immediately after the festival ends. Since this is a time-sensitive mitzva, he may undertake skilled labor to fulfill it. However, one may not write tefilin on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed for someone else to use after the festival, as one should not compromise his Ḥol Ha-mo’ed rest for someone else’s mitzva afterward. Nevertheless, if a scribe does not have food, he may do any type of melakha that people will pay for (SA 545:3; see the opinion of R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach cited in SSK ch. 67 n. 164). Similarly, one who has no way to get tzitzit for himself may spin wool into tzitzit, even though this is skilled labor. Doing so allows him to perform a time-sensitive mitzva, as he loses a mitzva each day in which he does not wrap himself in a talit. He may also spin wool into tzitzit for someone else, to enable him to fulfill the mitzva during the festival. Similarly, one may build a sukka for someone else on Sukkot, so that the person can fulfill the mitzva to sit in the sukka. He may accept payment for the work if that will allow him to spend more generously on the festival meals. However, one who is wealthy may not accept payment for spinning wool into tzitzit or building a sukka for someone else (SA 545:3; MB ad loc. 14; SHT ad loc. 21). Tying tzitzit to a garment is considered unskilled labor, but is still only permitted on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed when one does not have another way to fulfill the mitzva. Only in such a case is it considered a mitzva need that carries the same weight as a festival need.

If a mezuza fell down, and a subsequent check reveals that it is invalid because some letters in the parchment have run together, the letters may be separated and the mezuza may be reaffixed, as this is unskilled labor. What if the check reveals that the mezuza is invalid and cannot be repaired, and there is no way to get another one on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed? If it is in a room which requires a mezuza, a new one may be written. This is a time-sensitive mitzva, for which even skilled labor may be undertaken.

12. Building Synagogues, Schools, and a Ma’akeh

One may not build a synagogue on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed even if the community has nowhere nice to pray, and even if by building on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, they will be able to complete the building in time to use it during the festival. It is still prohibited since building the synagogue involves skilled labor (Rema 544:1; see above, 11:18, for circumstances under which a non-Jew may build it).

In contrast, if there is an active synagogue where a problem with the electricity or air conditioning is making people very uncomfortable, it may be repaired by a professional. Since the synagogue is active and people are suffering because of the malfunction, the repair is considered a bodily need (SSK 68:9 and notes 27, 30).

Just as one may not build a synagogue on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, so too, one may not build or repair schools or other public buildings, since doing so involves skilled labor, which is permissible only to take care of bodily needs on the festival. However, if a school building needs painting or repair (whether the building itself or the furnishings), the work may be done on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, on condition that delaying the work until after Ḥol Ha-mo’ed would mean the classrooms or beit midrash would be unusable for a while and would cause Torah study time to be lost. This loss qualifies as a davar ha-aved. If possible, the work should be done by a Jewish worker lacking food, or by a non-Jew. It should also be done as discreetly as possible (Sdei Ḥemed, Aseifat Dinim, Ma’arekhet Ḥol Ha-mo’ed §2; MB 543:1; SSK 67:3-4).

If a roof guard rail (ma’akeh) has come down on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, the railing may be fixed using unskilled labor, because putting up a railing is a mitzva. As we have seen, it is permitted to do unskilled labor on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed for a mitzva need. If it cannot be fixed with unskilled labor, the roof should be sealed off. However, if it cannot be sealed off and people might go up to the roof, thus endangering themselves, then putting up the railing is considered a time-sensitive mitzva, and may be done even using skilled labor (SA 540:1; BHL s.v “ve-khen im”).

13. Rabbinic Courts and Documents

Rabbinic courts do not convene on Shabbat or Yom Tov out of concern that the court would need to write down the claims of each side, thus transgressing a Torah prohibition (Beitza 37a). However, courts do convene on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, and hear all cases, because normal writing for the sake of a mitzva is permissible on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, and for a time-sensitive mitzva even skilled writing is permitted. Despite the mitzva to rejoice on the festival, the courts are still allowed to hand down rulings. In the past, when the courts had the power to do so, this included carrying out sentences of lashes and even the death penalty. This served the communal need to establish a just society and uproot wickedness from the Jewish people. In addition, in order to avoid delaying the atonement of the sinner that court punishments provide, they were administered on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed (MK 14b; SA 545:10).

Nowadays, although a rabbinic court neither hears capital cases nor administers lashes, it may hear cases which need to be dealt with on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. Therefore, divorce documents, ḥalitza documents, and financial settlements may be dealt with then. Monetary disputes may be resolved and their resolutions written up. The two sides involved in a case may introduce preliminary materials, and their positions may be written up. If two sides agree to present their case before a specific beit din, a document to this effect may be written up and signed as well. If a borrower has not repaid his debt, his property’s value may be assessed. The lender may then be given his due in property, and a document may be written up to attest to it. This ensures that people will be aware that ownership of the property has been transferred to the lender. Child support provisions are written up on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, as are wills and documents gifting people with property (MK 18b; SA 545:5).

The reason these are all allowed is because they meet communal needs. Even though each case deals with private individuals, such cases come up frequently. If dealing with them is delayed until after Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, it is possible that in the meantime the two sides will resume fighting. Avoiding this is a communal need (MT, Laws of Yom Tov 7:12; Responsa Rivash §390). If necessary, even skilled writing may be done. The justification for doing so is that sometimes writing down settlements is a davar ha-aved, since if they are not written down immediately the sides are likely to renege on agreements already reached (Tosafot). Occasionally, writing down these agreements actually pertains to a bodily need, as doing so may mean that one will be able to collect the money needed to buy food for the festival meals (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav 545:7; MB ad loc. 20; see above 11:13).

For these reasons, a bank may open on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed. True, le-khatḥila it is preferable not to do banking on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, barring great necessity. Therefore, banks should reduce their Ḥol Ha-mo’ed hours of service. Similarly, their clients should refrain from transactions which can be delayed until after the festival. However, when necessary, clients may use the bank, such as to deposit checks that otherwise might get lost or might expire, to withdraw cash for festival expenses, or to pay bills that carry late fees (SSK 68:2).

Similarly, postal workers may open the post office, because it serves a communal need. There may be letters in the mail whose late arrival may cause a loss. Postal workers may do skilled labor if necessary.

It is a Torah commandment to lend money to one who needs it, and it is a mitzva to document the loan. The documentation is important as it avoids any future disagreements about the amount or terms of the loan due to forgetfulness or dishonesty (SA ḤM 70:1). However, it is preferable not to borrow money on Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, in order to avoid the need to write a loan document then (SA 545:6). Nevertheless, if one must take out a loan in order to buy festival necessities or to avoid a loss, one may give him a loan and document it. If necessary, the writing may even be done by a professional (ibid.; MB ad loc. 36-37).

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