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Weekly Halacha Series
Halachos Series on Hilchos Yom Tov

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Published by
Pirchei Shoshanim

A Project of
The Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Written by

Rabbi Dovid
Ostroff, shlita


These Halachos were shown by Rabbi Ostroff to
HaGaon HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita



Questions for the Week of Parshas Shemos

Are melachos prohibited on Chol Hamoed mid’oraisso or mid’rabanan?

The Rambam says (Yom Tov 7,1): Even though it does not say Shabbat in relation to Chol Hamoed, but since it is called î÷řŕ ÷ăů and during this period people brought the korban chagiga (festive offering) to the beis hamikdash, it is forbidden to perform melacha.

Similar to Yom Tov, are all melachos forbidden?

The Rambam continues, that the intention is to distinguish between a regular weekday and Chol Hamoed and therefore it is enough to prohibit some melachos and permit others. In other words, he is saying that Chol Hamoed must not be like a regular weekday where everything is permitted and on the other hand it is not Yom Tov - suffice to prohibit some melachos and permit others.

It sounds like the prohibition is of rabbinic origin, is that true?

There are three opinions in the Rishonim.

  • The melachos are of biblical origin but Chachamim were empowered to decide which melachos to permit and which to prohibit.
  • The prohibition to do melachos is rabbinic and the possuk is an asmachta (hinted to by Chazal in the torah). This is the Rambam’s opinion. [1]
  • The melachos are of biblical origin, except that mid’oraisso one may perform melachos for Chol Hamoed, even îěŕëú ŕĺîď (melachos performed by craftsmen) and Chazal only permitted them when done in layman fashion. [2]

Are there rules as to which melachos are permitted on Chol Hamoed?

Chazal categorized permitted melacha into five groups:

1.      Ochel nefesh melachos related to food preparation.

2.      Davar ha’aved - in case of loss.

3.      Ma’ase hedyot – regular melachos performed in a simple manner.

4.      Tzorchei rabimmelachos that benefit the public.

5.      A worker who does not have Yom Tov necessities.

Each one of these groups includes many intricate halachos as to when melacha may be performed and by whom.
One must know the definition of a “davar ha’aved” as not every “loss” is halachically so. Sometimes one is merely “not gaining” as opposed to losing.
How does one define a ma’ase hedyot? Is writing a ma’ase hedyot and what about typing?

Are there not simple guidelines one can follow to know which melachos are permitted when?

Unfortunately there are not. Chazal teach us that the halachos of Chol Hamoed are unassociated with each other and one heter does not necessarily lead to another. The Chinuch [3] writes “sometimes we will find that Chazal permitted arduous melachos and sometimes they prohibited easy ones”. He continues “do not be surprised at this because the Torah handed it to them to decide that which is permitted and that which is prohibited”.
We see that much is to be learned and nothing can be taken for granted.

It seems that going to work on Chol Hamoed is problematic.

Indeed it is and one must enquire as to whether one’s work is permitted. The Aruch Hashulchan [4] adds the following: the general rule is one must flee from leniencies that degrade Chol Hamoed.

If work is prohibited on Chol Hamoed, what is one supposed to do for an entire week?

The Mishna Berura [5] cites the Yerushalmi: R’ Aba bar Memel says melacha is prohibited on Chol Hamoed to be able to eat, drink and learn Torah. He then cites the Kol Bo saying Hashem intended Chol Hamoed to be a time where one can strengthen one’s fear and love of heaven and toil in His perfect Torah.

What is included in the heter of ochel nefesh?

Ochel nefesh does not only mean cooking and baking, it includes anything done to an item from which one will benefit on Chol Hamoed or the last day of Yom Tov.

This includes, reaping – one may pick apples, tomatoes, wheat and berries or anything similar. Grinding – one may grind wheat, beets or any other food. Capturing – it is permitted to catch fish even though on Shabbos and Yom Tov it is a biblical prohibition. Hav’arah - lighting a fire is totally permitted for ochel nefesh. [6]

What if the ochel nefesh involves hard work?

One may do all the above even though it might be a meleches uman [7] – professional work or hard labor. Reaping and grinding wheat can be hard labor and take up much of one’s vacation; nevertheless it is permitted under the umbrella of ochel nefesh.

[1] Rav Sternbuch, in his classic Mo’adim Uzmanim writes that one who treats Chol Hamoed like a weekday will violate a biblical prohibition even according to the Rambam, as we perceived above, the Rambam wants Chol Hamoed to be different then a weekday.

[2] See SS”K vol. II chap. 66 footnote 16.

[3] Chinuch Mitzvah 323.

[4] Simon 544:7.

[5] Simon 530:2. SS”K 66:5

[6] See SS”K 66 footnote 32 whether hav’arah is ochel nefesh or machshirim.

[7] M”B simon 530:1. M”B simon 533:4 and simon 537:15.


Food for Thought

May a cook be paid to work on Chol Hamoed?

May a baker bake cakes and challos for Chol Hamoed (and obviously be paid)?

What if he can bake before Chol Hamoed or grind wheat before Chol Hamoed?

Answers coming BE"H next week.


For a printed version, click here.




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Note:  The purpose of this series is intended solely for the clarification of the topics discussed and not to render halachic decisions. It is intended to heighten everyone's awareness of important practical questions which do arise on this topic.  One must consult with a proper halachic authority in order to receive p'sak.