Haircuts and Laundry on Chol Ha-moed

  • Rav David Brofsky

the laws of THE FESTIVALS



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 okhel 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 Chol Ha-mo’ed.)


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 6:16-17)


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 Chol Ha-mo’ed


The mishna lists those people who may take a haircut during Chol Ha-mo’ed:


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 Katan 13b)


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 Ha-mo’ed:


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 okhel 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.


Although the 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 55-56; 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 humble opinion.


            R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik also permitted shaving on Chol Ha-mo’ed. 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 Ha-mo’ed.


            In addition to the cases listed above regarding haircuts, the mishna enumerates other situations in which one may launder during Chol Ha-mo’ed.


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 Ha-mo’ed. 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 (