Ḥol HaMoed (Intermediate Days of Passover and Sukkot)
The Torah contains a number of sections dealing with the laws of Yom Tov. In Parashat Bo (Ex. 12:15–16), in connection with the Exodus narrative, the Torah presents the laws of Passover for the first time. It establishes the requirement to observe a seven-day festival, the first and last days of which are to be observed as mikra kodesh (a holy assembly), on which no melakha (labor) may be performed (Ex. 12:15–16). In Parashat Emor (Lev. 23:37), however, the Torah describes all the holidays with the term “mikra’ei kodesh.” The Mekhilta (Bo 9) deduces from this description that even the period of Ḥol HaMoed is considered mikra kodesh. Accordingly, Maimonides (Hilkhot Yom Tov 7:1) mentions that although Ḥol HaMoed is not called shabbaton, it is nevertheless a mikra kodesh.
In light of this principle, some Rishonim maintain (based on Moed Katan 18a) that melakha is biblically forbidden on Ḥol HaMoed. This position, however, must explain why some melakha is permitted on Ḥol HaMoed. True, even on Yom Tov itself one may perform melakha for purposes of preparing food. On Ḥol HaMoed, however, halakha permits other categories, as well, such as davar haaved (work that must be done to avoid financial loss) and work involving public concern. This led the Rosh and others to conclude that Torah law permits all melakha on Ḥol HaMoed, but Ḥazal later forbade certain types of melakha while permitting others. By contrast, Nahmanides and Rashba held that all melakha that neither is necessary for Yom Tov nor could incur a financial loss is biblically forbidden. The Rabbis then added other melakha prohibitions on Ḥol HaMoed, such as maaseh omman (skilled work).
The Yere’im (417, 418) goes so far as to include all eight days of Sukkot in the biblical mitzvot of sanctifying Yom Tov and refraining from melakha. Although he expresses some doubt about this matter, he nevertheless enumerates these two mitzvot and claimed that they apply to all eight days of Sukkot.
The Beit Yosef (Oraḥ Ḥayim 530) cites all these sources and then advances a theory of his own. He explains that the Torah itself prohibits performing melakha on Ḥol HaMoed, but it left it to our Sages to determine which types of melakha should be included under this biblical prohibition. Apparently, according to the Beit Yosef, there is a biblical requirement that Ḥol HaMoed must have the character of a Yom Tov, but not be identical to Yom Tov. The very term “Ḥol HaMoed” (literally, “the weekdays of the festival”) implies this dual characteristic of being simultaneously a Yom Tov and a weekday. Therefore, while the Torah required us to abstain from some melakha on Ḥol HaMoed, it was desirable to have other melakha permitted. It left the exact parameters for the Sages to establish.
The Beit Yosef brings a precedent for the concept that the Torah assigns the Sages the task of determining the parameters of a given law from the opinion of the Ran regarding the laws of Yom Kippur. The Ran maintains that the Torah requires experiencing innui (some type of affliction) on Yom Kippur, and empowered the Sages to delineate the activities from which we must refrain to achieve innui. It should be stressed that whatever our Sages included under this prohibition is considered biblically forbidden. Interestingly, Rabbi Dovid Cohen published a pamphlet (Gevul Yaavetz, Brooklyn, 1986) with over fifty possible examples of this type of biblical law, where the Torah leaves it for the Sages to determine its details.
Does the concept of mikra kodesh apply to other issues, as well, besides the prohibition of melakha? The Mekhilta (Bo 9) explains that this status requires us to sanctify Ḥol HaMoed (as well as Yom Tov) through food, drink, and special clothing. Maimonides (Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:16) writes that the requirements of kavod (honor) and oneg (enjoyment) apply to Ḥol HaMoed, just as they do to Shabbat, because Yom Tov also is called mikra kodesh. Given Maimonides’ later remark (7:1) that Ḥol HaMoed also is called mikra kodesh, it follows that the mitzvot of kavod and oneg apply then, as well. Accordingly, we are required to eat a meal on Ḥol HaMoed just as on Yom Tov.
There is a general rule that whenever halakha requires eating a meal (such as Shabbat and Yom Tov), one must repeat Birkat HaMazon if he inadvertently omitted the appropriate addition (Retzeh on Shabbat and Yaaleh VeYavo on Yom Tov). It would follow, therefore, that even on Ḥol HaMoed someone who omitted Yaaleh VeYavo in Birkat HaMazon must recite it again. The Shulḥan Arukh (Oraḥ Ḥayim 188:7), however, ruled that Ḥol HaMoed resembles Rosh Ḥodesh in this respect, and one need not repeat Birkat HaMazon if he omitted Yaaleh VeYavo. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Responsum 1; addendum at end of volume) understood this as proving our premise wrong. He claims that although Maimonides (Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:17, 22) writes that the obligation of simḥa (rejoicing) applies to Ḥol HaMoed, he does not require kavod va’oneg on Ḥol HaMoed. He ignores Maimonides’ comments that Ḥol HaMoed is considered mikra kodesh and that all days of mikra kodesh require kavod va’oneg.
The Ḥafetz Ḥayim (Shaar HaTziyyun 530a) suggested a middle position to resolve this difficulty. He writes that although there indeed exists an obligation of kavod va’oneg on Ḥol HaMoed, as stated in the Mekhilta, this kavod va’oneg requires merely treating Ḥol HaMoed as a day more special than a regular weekday. It does not mean that we must treat it as an actual Yom Tov. Thus, for example, there is no obligation to eat a meal on Ḥol HaMoed, despite the fact that such an obligation applies on Yom Tov. Therefore, if one omitted Yaaleh VeYavo in Birkat HaMazon, he need not repeat it.
The Mishna (Avot 3:11) says in the name of R. Elazar HaModa’i that whoever disgraces the “mo’adot” has no share in the World to Come. Rashi explains that “mo’adot” refers to Ḥol HaMoed. Anyone who performs (forbidden) labor or treats Ḥol HaMoed as a regular weekday with regards to food and drink has no share in the World to Come. According to Rashi, this mishna does not refer to Yom Tov at all. Since Ḥol HaMoed is not to be treated as an actual Yom Tov, a person may be inclined to take it lightly. Therefore, R. Elazar included Ḥol HaMoed in the mishna to impress upon us the importance of treating Ḥol HaMoed as something more than an ordinary weekday. Rabbenu Yona (ad loc.) adds that the verb used in the mishna is “disgrace,” rather than “desecrate.” A person who disgraces Ḥol HaMoed treats it as a regular weekday and does not demonstrate that it is a day of mikra kodesh. With this in mind, we can understand the position of the Yere’im cited towards the beginning of the shiur. The Torah requires observing the days of Ḥol HaMoed by treating them in some way as days of mikra kodesh. Although we are not to treat them in precisely the same manner as we do Yom Tov, they are nevertheless included under the same mikra kodesh obligation as Yom Tov itself.