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Chol Hamoed

Chol Hamoed

The “Intermediate” Festival Days

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Chol Hamoed (literally, “the weekday of the holiday”) refers to the “intermediate period” of the festivals of Passover and Sukkot. They are the days sandwiched between the beginning and ending holy days of both festivals.

Passover is eight days long. The first two days and last two days are full-fledged festival days, and the middle four days are Chol Hamoed. (In Israel, Passover is seven days long, with the middle five being Chol Hamoed.)

Sukkot through Simchat Torah is nine days long. The first two days (Sukkot) and the last two days (Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah) are full-fledged festival days, and the middle five days are Chol Hamoed. (In Israel, the holiday is eight days long—Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah being condensed into one day—with the middle six days being Chol Hamoed.)

Many families find Chol Hamoed to be a perfect time for fun family outingsOn the full-fledged festival days of Passover and Sukkot we are prohibited from creative work, much like Shabbat (with exceptions, see here for details).

On Chol Hamoed, however, we are permitted to do many of these activities. For example, we may use electricity or drive a car. (Unless, of course, the intermediate day is also Shabbat.) Nevertheless, we still try to avoid going to work, doing laundry, writing and certain other activities. (See below for more details on this holiday/weekday balancing act.)

Many families find Chol Hamoed to be a perfect time for fun family outings. On these days, parks, museums and zoos are often full of Jewish families enjoying the holiday.

The special mitzvahs of the festival are equally observed on Chol Hamoed. For example, we may not eat chametz during Chol Hamoed of Passover, and we eat in a sukkah and shake the lulav and etrog on Chol Hamoed of Sukkot. The days of Chol Hamoed also include the mitzvah to be joyous and celebrate; some wear holiday clothing.

There are special prayers and Torah readings in the synagogue during Chol Hamoed, and in many communities men do not put on tefillin (see Do I put on tefillin during Chol Hamoed?).

What types of labor are permitted on Chol Hamoed?

Chol means “weekday; mundane.” Moed means “holiday; sacred.” Each of these on its own is quite simply understood, but how can one day be at once both a simple weekday and a holiday?

As little work as possible; as much holiday celebration as you canIn order to maintain the fine balance of holiday and weekday, a set of guidelines exists to help us determine what we may and may not do on those days. The general principle is to do as little “skilled” work as possible, and as much holiday celebration as you can. The following is a basic summary of the guidelines. If questions arise, consult a qualified rabbi—when work must be done, it is very likely that it is allowed.

Permitted activities include:

  • Anything done in order to prepare or cook food.
  • Anything done for medical purposes.
  • Any non-strenuous work which, if not performed at the time, would cause loss (unless it could have been done before the festival, and was deliberately delayed until Chol Hamoed).

Additional laws:

  • In general, business should be transacted only if it will benefit one’s ability to purchase things for the holiday, or if by not working, one’s business will lose its current capital. Selling merchandise is otherwise prohibited.
  • It is forbidden to record business matters, unless if by not doing so one will forget important details, resulting in financial loss.
  • We go shopping only for items needed for the holiday, unless the item is currently on sale and will be more expensive after the holiday, or will be otherwise unavailable for purchase.
  • Writing should be avoided. When absolutely necessary, it should be done in a different way than usual.
  • Doing laundry is forbidden, except clothing needed for the holiday and which could not have been laundered before the festival began.
  • 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.
  • We go shopping only for items needed for the holidayWeddings are not held during Chol Hamoed, though engagements are permitted.
  • Cutting hair and shaving is prohibited.1
  • Nail-cutting is permitted, if one also cut one’s nails the day before the festival began.
  • Fasting is prohibited.
  • Mourning practices are observed differently, 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.
FOOTNOTES
1.

Exceptions are made for someone who couldn’t cut his hair prior to the holiday because he was mourning the loss of a family member.

Mrs. Nechama Dina (Dinka) Kumer, originally from Nashville, Tennessee, is the former executive secretary of Ascent of Safed.
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Discussion (18)
March 18, 2013
cemetery for a Yahrzeit (Azkara) on Hol Hamoed
While in general it is the custom to refrain from visiting the cemetery on Chol Hamoed, with regards to a Yartzeit there are varying customs, many do have the custom to visit the cemetery on Chol Hamoed in the case of a yartzeit, while others have the custom to either visit before or after Yom Tov. As usual one should follow the customs of their own community.
Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org
March 16, 2013
Is it permitted to go to the cemetery for a Yahrzeit (Azkara) on Hol Hamoed?
Anonymous
Israel
March 4, 2013
Music
You may play music on Chol Hamoed
Menachem Posner
QC
February 28, 2013
Is it allowed to play a recital (not for money) and to practice a musical instrument during chol hamoed?
Anonymous
Seattle, WA
August 24, 2012
birthday on chol hamoed pesach
You can't celebrate Normally because you can't have a birthday cake made of chametz, leavened products - but certainly you can celebrate!
eliezer
NYC, NY
April 19, 2012
Chol Hamoed
The article says that if there is a question to consult a "qualified rabbi". Who decides what this means ?
Jack
midland park
November 21, 2011
Birthday
A birthday on Chol Hamoed? Certainly. In fact, it should be celebrated on the actual day of birth

See Jewish Birthday in a Minute for a list of ways to celebrate one's Jewish Birthday.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
November 18, 2011
birthday celebration
Can someone born on Chol Hamoed Pessach celebrate his birthday normally?
Anonymous
Buenos Aires, Argentina
October 17, 2011
Informative
Thank you for this informative and interesting article. I learned so much!
Adam
Monsey, NY
October 16, 2011
Sudoku
Is it permitted to do Sudoku on Chol Hamoed?
Anonymous
Lawrence, NY
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