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Why Is Work Permitted on Chanukah?

Why Is Work Permitted on Chanukah?

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Question:

I have been told that you’re allowed to work on the holidays of Purim and Chanukah. Why are those holidays different than Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot, when most work is prohibited, almost like Shabbat? What is the underlying distinction?

Answer

Let’s start at the beginning.

There are six days of the year that are known as Yomim Tovim (holidays), on which we are prohibited from working: the first and last days of Passover and Sukkot, and one day of Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah.1 (In the Diaspora, additional days are celebrated.2)

While these days are not as strict as Shabbat and Yom Kippur, nonetheless the Torah says3 regarding these days, “No work may be done on these [days]. The only [work] that you may do is that which is needed so that everyone will be able to eat.”4

Since Purim and Chanukah are not on this list—in fact, they are not mentioned in the Five Books of Moses at all, since these holidays commemorate events that happened later in history—one might assume that work is permitted on these days. After all, there is no verse that prohibits it.

But it’s not that simple . . .

Wait! Purim Is a Yom Tov!

We read in the book of Esther that Purim was declared “a day of joy and feasting and Yom Tov . . .”5

What is the meaning of these three expressions of celebration?

The Talmud expounds that they reveal three unique Purim laws:6

  • “Joy” teaches us that it is forbidden to mourn.
  • “Feasting” adds that it is forbidden to fast.
  • “Yom Tov” indicates that it is forbidden to work.

But wait! If work is prohibited on Purim, ask the sages of the Talmud, why was Rabbi Judah the Prince spotted planting on Purim day?

Two explanations are offered:

  1. A few verses later in the Megillah,7 the Purim celebration is mentioned again. This time it is simply called a time of “feasting and joy,” with no mention of “Yom Tov.”

    What changed?

    The Talmud explains that at first the sages of that era had planned on establishing Purim as a full holiday, on which work (i.e., strenuous physical labor, such as agricultural work, or toiling for financial gain) would be forbidden. However, in the end this was never accepted as binding. Thus, Rabbi Judah was technically permitted to plant—although, the Talmud qualifies, certain communities may have had the custom not to work on Purim.

  2. Alternatively, it may actually have been the custom in Rabbi Judah’s community to abstain from working on Purim. However, Rabbi Judah’s gardening was “festive” in nature, since the tree he was planting would be used for the purpose of shading festive banquets.

We therefore learn an important distinction from this story. The “work” we abstain from on Purim is not the melachot, the acts that are normally forbidden on Shabbat and Yom Tov, such as building a fire and writing. (After all, as we explained, there is no actual verse stating that such work is prohibited.) Rather, it is “work” in the conventional sense—strenuous physical labor, such as agricultural work, or toiling for financial gain. But since Rabbi Judah was planting in honor of the festivities, this work was perfectly permissible.

Let’s Get Practical

On Chanukah, according to all, one is permitted to work. With regard to Purim, things get a bit more complicated.

On Purim, strictly speaking, unless the community’s custom is to the contrary—in which case one is required to follow the custom of his community—it is permitted to work. However, nowadays the prevailing practice is to refrain from working on Purim. As the sages stated, “Whoever works on Purim won’t see a blessing from the profits earned.”8

The purpose of refraining from work is to spend the day immersed in the four unique mitzvahs of Purim and in the joyous, festive mood of the day. With that in mind, here are some guidelines for the “no-work” custom:

  • Unlike Shabbat and Yom Tov, there is no problem with having your business operated on Purim by non-Jewish employees.9
  • If your work is not difficult and you enjoy it, it is technically permitted,10 although still not recommended.11
  • If taking a day off from work will cause you financial hardship, it is permitted to work.12
  • Any work that is necessary to facilitate a mitzvah or Purim-related activities is permitted.13 So, for example, a grocery store can remain open to allow people to do their last-minute Purim shopping.14
  • As mentioned earlier, it is permitted to perform acts that are considered “work” on Shabbat and Yom Tov, such as driving or turning on lights.
  • According to some, the discussion about working on Purim applies only to the daytime.15 Nevertheless, on Purim evening one should refrain from working (or even eating or napping) until after the Megillah reading.16 In case of necessity, a rabbi should be consulted.

Purim is the most joyous day on the Jewish calendar, as it is a day “that was reversed from grief to joy and from mourning to Yom Tov.”17 And that joy will surely be compounded with the coming of Moshiach. May it be speedily in our days!

Footnotes
1.
In actuality, even in Israel, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days. For more on that, see The Two Days of Rosh Hashanah.
4.
For more on which actions are forbidden on Yom Tov, see Laws of Yom Tov.
6.
Talmud, Megillah 5b.
8.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 696:1.
9.
Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 696:2.
10.
Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 696:3.
11.
Kaf Hachaim, Orach Chaim 696:5.
12.
Shaar ha-Tziyun, Orach Chaim 696:2.
13.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 696:2.
14.
See Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 696:3, and Piskei Teshuvot ad loc.
15.
See Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Megillah 2:14, and Pri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav 696:1.
16.
Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 692:15.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Marsha Selwyn Billings March 18, 2016

Porim I am in a nursing home and it is Purim! I won't have strong pain patch until Monday I am in a a lot of unbearable pain but tonight I will remember Purim and smile! Reply

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