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What types of labor are permitted on Chol Hamoed?

by Mrs. Dinka Kumer

  

Library » Holidays » Sukkot » Chol Hamoed | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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"Chol" means weekday; mundane. "Moed" means holiday; sacred. Each of these on its own is quite simply understood, but can they ever exist simultaneously? Can one day be both a simple weekday and a holiday?

The answer is yes. And that answer prompts a lot of questions.

Biblically, the holidays of Passover and Sukkot are one week long. During that week there are day(s) in which we are prohibited from creative work1, much like Shabbat (with a couple of exceptions); and there are also days in which we are commanded to recognize and celebrate the holiday, but we are not commanded to observe it as a Shabbat. This latter period is known as Chol Hamoed.

In order to maintain the very fine balance of holiday and weekday simultaneously, a set of guidelines exist that help us define what can and what cannot be done on those days. The general principle is to do as little "skilled" work as possible, and as much holiday celebration as you are able2. However, when work must be done, it is very likely that it is allowed.

The following is a general list of laws. In depth study of these laws (there are ENTIRE books dedicated to this subject) is recommended, as well as consulting a qualified Rabbi, when necessary.

Permitted activities include:

– Any labor performed for the preparation of food.
– Any labor performed for medical purposes.
– Any non-strenuous labor which, if not performed at the time, would cause loss (unless it could have been done before holiday and was deliberately delayed until Chol HaMoed, thus rendering it forbidden).
– Friendly (non-business) correspondence is permitted. Writing should be avoided, and when absolutely necessary should be done in a different manner than usual.

Other laws of Chol HaMoed:

– It is forbidden to record business matters, unless by not doing so, details will be forgotten and cause financial detriment. Anyone who feels that he/she has extenuating circumstances which require him/her to work should consult with a rabbi.
– In general, business should be carried out only if it will benefit one's ability to purchase things for the holiday, or if by not working, the business will lose its current capital. Buying and selling merchandise is prohibited.
– Working in the field, except for essential watering and picking produce for eating during Chol HaMoed is forbidden——unless refraining from work will be financially detrimental.
– Weddings are not held during Chol HaMoed, though engagements are permitted.
– Doing laundry is forbidden, except clothing needed for the holiday and which could not have been laundered before the holiday began.
– Cutting hair and shaving is prohibited3.
– Nail cutting is permitted if it was also done the day before the Festival began.
– Fasting is prohibited.
– Mourning practices are different, and one should consult a qualified Rabbi.
– One may hire a needy person to do labors usually prohibited on Chol HaMoed, so as to provide him with a livelihood with which he can purchase things for the holiday.
– The special mitzvahs of the holiday are still relevant during Chol HaMoed; for example, we may not eat Chametz during Chol HaMoed Passover, and we eat in a Sukkah and shake the Lulav and Etrog on Chol HaMoed Sukkot.
– The days of Chol HaMoed include the Mitzvah to be joyous and celebrate. We eat festive meals and wear special clothing.

Footnotes

  • 1. When the Torah says not to work on Shabbat, it is referring to a specific kind of work; namely creative work similar to the work done to create the Tabernacle.
  • 2. This includes fine dress, festive meals with meat and wine, and select holiday prayers.
  • 3. Exceptions are made for someone who couldn't cut his hair prior to the Holiday due to mourning the loss of a family member.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Holidays » Passover » Chol Hamoed

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Chametz
Any leavened product which is produced from wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats. This includes bread, cake, cereals, crackers, biscuits, yeast, pasta and whisky. It is forbidden for a Jew to possess or consume Chametz throughout Passover.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Sukkah
The temporary structure in which we are required to dwell for the duration of the holiday of Sukkot. The Sukkah must have at least three walls and its roof consists of unsecured branches, twigs or wooden slats.
Etrog
A citron; a greenish-yellow citrus fruit. We are required to take an Etrog on the holiday of Sukkot and shake it together with a palm branch, a myrtle and a willow.
Chol Hamoed
(lit. "mundane [days] of the festival"), the intermediate days of the Festivals of Passover and Sukkot. On these days many of the holiday work restrictions are lifted.
Lulav
A palm branch. One of the Four Species we are required to take on the holiday of Sukkot. We shake it together with a citron, myrtle, and willow.