the laws of THE FESTIVALS
THE LAWS OF
by Rav David Brofsky
Shiur #32: Haircuts and Laundry on Chol Ha-mo’ed
Last week, we discussed the
prohibition of melakha on
Chol Ha-mo’ed. We noted that the
Rishonim disagree as to whether these prohibited labors – which are
permitted under certain circumstances, such as for
nefesh, the enjoyment of the festival,
in case of financial loss, etc. – are prohibited
mi-de’oraita, or mi-derabbanan.
Despite this somewhat
“technical” debate, all agree that Chol
Ha-mo’ed is considered to be a festive time, or, as the Rambam (Hilkhot
Yom Tov 7:1) describes it, a “mikra
kodesh.” Therefore, some teach that one should wear nice clothing on
Chol Ha-mo’ed. (See Tosafot,
Keritut 7a, s.v. ve-karu; Yereim 317; Magen Avraham 530:1, and
664:3 who relates that the Maharil would wear his Shabbat coat, and that many
are accustomed to wear Shabbat clothing on
Some Rishonim note that
the mitzva of “simchat Yom Tov” applies on
Chol Ha-mo’ed as well. For example,
the Rambam writes:
Just as it is a mitzva to honor the Sabbath and to take
delight in it, so too, do [these obligations apply to] all the holidays, as
[implied by Yishayahu 58:13]:"...sanctified unto God and honored." [This
applies to] all the holidays, for they are called, "holy convocations." We have
explained the obligation implied by honor and delight in Hilkhot Shabbat…
It is forbidden to fast or recite eulogies on the seven
days of Pesach, the eight days of Sukkot, and the other holidays. On these days,
a person is obligated to be happy and in good spirits; he, his children, his
wife, the members of his household, and all those who depend on him, as [Devarim
16:14] states: "And you shall rejoice in your festivals." The "rejoicing"
mentioned in the verse refers to sacrificing peace offerings, as will be
explained in Hilkhot Chaggiga. Nevertheless, included in [this charge to]
rejoice is that he, his children, and the members of his household should
rejoice, each one in a manner appropriate for him. (Hilkhot Yom Tov
In fact, the
Poskim discuss whether one must eat a meal with bread on each day of
Chol Ha-mo’ed (see Magen Avraham
530:1) or whether a meal of fruit suffices (Ra’avya, Hilkhot Yom Tov 750;
Orchot Chayim, Hilkhot Chol
Ha-mo’ed; see also Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 188:7). They also
discuss whether one must drink wine and eat meat each day of the Festival (see
Hilkhot Chol Ha-mo’ed [R. Dovid Zucker and R. Moshe Francis], Biurim
1, and Teshuvot of R. Moshe Feinstein, 1-2).
The Mishna Berura (Sha’ar
Ha-Tziyun 430:5) concludes that although one need not eat a meal of bread, nor
must one wear Shabbat clothing, one should treat the days of Chol Ha-mo’ed
will greater respect than one treats a weekday.
In this context, one can
understand how concerned the Rabbis were with one treating
Chol Ha-mo’ed with the proper respect and honor, and their fear that one
might engage in unnecessary labors on these days. Furthermore, they prohibited
taking a haircut and laundering on Chol
Ha-mo’ed due to these concerns.
Haircuts and Shaving on
The mishna lists those
people who may take a haircut during Chol
And these [people may] take haircuts during
Chol Ha-mo’ed: One arriving [home]
from abroad, or from a place of captivity or one coming out of prison, or one
under a ban to whom the Sages have [just] granted absolution. And likewise one
who applied to a Sage and was absolved [by him], and a Nazirite or a leper on
emerging from his [state of ritual] impurity to [begin] his purification. (Mo’ed
These people where either physically or legally unable
to cut their hair before the festival and are therefore permitted to take a
haircut during Chol Ha-mo’ed.
The gemara questions
why, aside from this cases, one is not permitted to take a haircut during the
festival and explains that the Sages forbade taking a haircut during the
festival, “so that they do not enter upon the festival in a state of
untidiness.” In other words, this enactment ensures that people take haircuts
before the festival, in honor of the festival.
The gemara then questions the extent of inability to cut one’s
hair before the Festival that would justify taking a haircut during Chol
R. Zeira inquired: Suppose one had lost something on
the day before the festival? [Do we say], since he was prevented [from attending
to himself before], he may [take a haircut], or perhaps, as the reason is not
obvious, he may not? (Mo’ed Katan 14a)
Although the gemara leaves this question
unanswered, the Tur and Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 531) rule stringently,
and therefore only in one of the cases enumerated by that mishna may one
take a haircut during Chol Ha-mo’ed.
The Ritva (Mo’ed Katan
14a) explains that the gemara assumes that although “giluach” is
technically a melakha, since one takes
a haircut for the sake of one’s appearance, it is considered to be a form of
nefesh. Therefore, had the Rabbis not forbidden taking a haircut, it
would have been permitted.
The Poskim discuss the scope of
this prohibition. For example, one may certainly wash and comb one’s hair, even
though this will certainly entail pulling out some hairs (Rema 531:8).
Furthermore, one may cut hair for medical reasons, such as hair around a wound
(Mishna Berura 531:21 and Bi’ur Halakha, s.v. kola dam). A man may trim
his moustache (Shulchan Arukh 531:8), and woman may remove body hair that she
normally removes (Shulchan Arukh 546:5).
In recent years, shaving has become somewhat of a societal norm in many
places, and it is certainly common for observant men to shave daily in a
permissible manner. Does the prohibition of taking a haircut during
Chol Ha-mo’ed apply equally to
shaving? Seemingly, the gezeira described above, which prohibited taking
a haircut during Chol Ha-mo’ed in
order to ensure that one properly prepare for the Festival, should not apply to
shaving, as even one who shaves before the Festival will need to shave again a
day or two later! Furthermore, one might even suggest that not shaving causes
the ordinarily clean-shaven man discomfort, and may even be seem as a lack of
respect for the festive days of Chol Ha-mo’ed.
Initially, we might base a lenient position upon an opinion cited, and
rejected, by numerous medieval German Rishonim (Hagahot Maimoniyot,
Hilkhot Yom Tov 7:17; Hagahot Asheri, Beitza 3:1; Maharam
Mi-Rutenburg, Hilkhot Semachot 9), which claims that one who took a
haircut before Yom Tov may certainly have his hair cut during
Chol Ha-mo’ed, as he demonstrated
proper respect for the Festival. The Tur (531) and later authorities attribute
this position to Rabbeinu Tam. The Tur also rejects this opinion, arguing that
it is not publically known that one took a haircut before Yom Tov. Furthermore,
he wonders why such a leniency, if applicable, did not appear in the mishna.
The Shulchan Arukh does not mention this position.
Poskim do not accept the position attributed to Rabbeinu Tam, R.
Yechezkel Landau (Noda Bi-Yehuda 1:13; see also Mahadura Tinyana 99–101) rules
that one who shaved before the Festival may hire an “ani she-ein lo ma yochal,”
and impoverished barber, to shave him during
Chol Ha-mo’ed. He argues that those who reject Rabbeinu Tam’s rationale
maintain that one who shaved before Yom Tov, and thus afforded Yom Tov its due
respect, is still prohibited to shave because shaving is a prohibited labor on
Chol Ha-mo’ed. However, one may hire
an impoverished worker to perform a labor on
Chol Ha-mo’ed, and therefore, in this
case, such behavior should be permitted. R. Moshe Sofer (Chatam Sofer, Orach
Chayim 154) and most other Acharonim reject this leniency.
Most authorities prohibit shaving during
Chol Ha-mo’ed unless one risks facing
financial loss (see, for example, R. Ovadia Yosef, Chazon Ovadya: Hilkhot Yom
Tov, p. 190; R. Shalom Mesas, Tevu’ot Shemesh, Orach Chayim
Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata
66:23). Two of the last century’s Torah giants, however,
permitted shaving during Chol Ha-mo’ed.
R. Moshe Feinstein (1895–1986)
argues forcefully in his responsa (Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chayim
1:163) that in a society in which it is customary for a man to shave daily,
there is simply no prohibition to shave during
Chol Ha-mo’ed. He argues that the mishna’s prohibition does not
apply to one who clearly shaves every day, and insists that those who reject the
position attributed to Rabbeinu Tam would agree to this logic. He concludes,
however, as follows:
Therefore, it is clear, in my humble opinion, that in
our times, and in our country, in which people who ordinarily shave do so every
day… that there is no prohibition at all… In any case, I do not generally permit
[one to shave] unless one has a great need or one suffers great discomfort.
[However,] if one wishes to rely upon this even for his appearance, he should
not be criticized, as according to the letter of the law, it is permitted, in my
R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik also permitted shaving on
R. Hershel Schachter (Nefesh Ha-Rav,
pp. 189-90) summarizes R. Soloveitchik’s position:
Regarding those who shave every day, it is obvious that they may shave on
Chol Ha-mo’ed as well, since it is clear from the explanation of the
mishna given in Mo’ed Katan 14a that every case where it is obvious
to all that a person is under duress, and thus cannot shave, that a person may
shave on Chol Ha-mo’ed. All know that
a clean-shaven person cannot, on the eve of a holiday, shave those hairs that
have not yet appeared.
Not only is shaving permitted on Chol
Ha-mo’ed, R. Soloveitchik argues, but “one who is permitted to shave on
Chol Ha-mo’ed must shave, so as not to be disgusting on
Chol Ha-mo’ed and so as to avoid
entering the last days of the festival looking repugnant.” This is the practice
of many of R. Soloveitchik’s students.
Laundry on Chol Ha-mo’ed
Just as the Rabbis prohibited taking a haircut during the Festival in
order to ensure that one cut one’s hair before Yom Tov, the mishna (Mo’ed
Katan 13b) similarly teaches that one may not launder during Chol
In addition to the cases listed above regarding haircuts, the mishna
enumerates other situations in which one may launder during
Hand-towels, barbers’ towels, and bath-towels [may be washed]. Zavim and
zavot, as well as menstruate women or women after childbirth and all
those emerging from [a state of ritual] impurity to [begin] their purification
are allowed [to wash their garments]; but all other men are forbidden.
The gemara (ibid. 18a) explains that even one who has more than one of
these garments may wash them if they are soiled, as they become dirty quickly.
Furthermore, the gemara cites R. Yochanan, who said that “one who has
only one garment is allowed to wash it during the Festival.” Similarly, some
Rishonim (Rosh 3:21; Nemukei Yosef 10b) cite the Yerushalmi (Mo’ed Katan
3:2), which permits washing children’s clothing, as this case “is akin to one
who has only one garment.”
The Shulchan Arukh (534:1) rules that one may wash all of these garments
on Chol Ha-mo’ed. However, one should
only wash according to one’s need, and therefore one who is not accustomed to
change his sheets or towels every day should not wash them during
Chol Ha-mo’ed. However, handkerchiefs
(see Chayei Adam 110:2), as well as other items that are changed daily,
such as pantyhose and stockings, may be laundered according to one’s needs.
In our day, people change their undergarments daily, especially in hot weather.
Therefore, some write (see R. Ovadia Yosef, Yalkut Yosef, Hilkhot Yom Tov,
p. 198) that just as the mishna permits washing hand towels, which become
dirty each day, one may wash underwear in a case of need during Chol
Ho-Mo’ed. (See, however, R. Moshe Shtern, Be’er Moshe 7:6, who writes
that one should prepare enough undergarments for the entire Festival, and in
case of necessity, one should consult with a Rav.)
A hotel may wash sheets and towels on Chol
Ha-mo’ed, as guests are not expected to use dirty towels and linens.
Similarly, a hospital may wash sheets, towels, and linens, as aside from the
consideration raised above, not doing so may pose a health risk.
One may remove stains on Chol Ha-mo’ed,
as this is not considered to be a form of laundering (Iggerot Moshe,
Orach Chayim 3:36:1). Furthermore, if a garment becomes stained and cannot
be cleaned unless it is washed immediately, it may be washed, as the situation
entails financial loss (Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata 66:72).
One who leaves his home for the entire Festival is not required to take enough
clothing to last the entire Festival. Rather, he should take with him a normal
amount, and if he or his family runs out, he may launder in accordance with the
rulings stating above. (This is the view of R. Moshe Feinstein, as cited in
Hilkhot Chol Ha-mo’ed, p. 34; R.
Moshe Shtern, Be’er Moshe 7:9, disagrees.)
If one’s Yom Tov or Shabbat
shirt has been stained, one should preferably buy a new shirt rather than
launder. However, if this is not possible, one may wash one’s shirt for Yom Tov
(Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata, p.66, n.240).
One may iron one’s clothing on Chol
Similarly, one may shine one’s
shoes on Chol Ha-mo’ed (Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:36:4).
Next week, we will begin our study of the mitzvot of the Seder
night. Last year’s shiurim on the Laws of Pesach, including the
halakhot pertaining to chametz, can be found in the VBM archives (http://www.vbm-torah.org/moadim.html).