…and Everything in Between: An Overview of the Laws of Chol HaMoed

Rabbi Moshe Zywica

For many, Chol HaMoed, the intermediate period bridging the first and last days of Passover and Sukkot, merge the best of both the holy and temporal worlds. During this period of joy and celebration, certain melachot are forbidden, while others are permitted. The term Chol HaMoed is paradoxical, with “chol” meaning weekday and “moed” meaning festival. Often referred to as the ‘secular days of the holiday,’ the Talmudic tractate exploring the laws of this period is named Moed Katan, meaning ‘minor festival.’

Yet, even once the first days of Passover and Sukkot have concluded, the festival persists, making it distinct from an ordinary weekday; something emphasized by the Vilna Gaon (as quoted in the Masah Rav), who would conclude Havdalah with the proclamation of “Gut moed” (a good festival) rather than the typical “Gut vach” (a good week).

Chol HaMoed serves as a time to refocus, encouraging individuals to avoid mundane or routine activities that do not contribute to the festive atmosphere. It is a period dedicated to elevating one’s attention and engagement, ensuring that every action aligns with the festival’s joyous and celebratory nature. Accordingly, some poskim advise one to enjoy two festive meals (M.B. 530.1) and to drink wine daily (Shut Rosh Rule 25.1).

In the festive spirit, families often participate in leisure activities that cultivate a sense of joy and togetherness (Sefer Yaraim 126-127). Engaging in activities which lead to enjoyment of the yom tov creates an appropriate atmosphere together, the simcha inherent in doing something enjoyable creates an appropriate atmosphere for the service of Hashem (Rambam’s Laws of Yom Tov 6.20).

Conversely, The Talmud (Makkos 23a) tells us that one who is mevazeh et hamoadim — degrades the festivals — is considered as though they are involved in idol worship. Rashi explains that moadim here does not refer to Yom Tov itself but to Chol HaMoed. The Sfat Emet on Pirkei Avos notes that this does not only refer to someone who actively disparages the moadim; it even refers to one who disgraces the Yom Tov by doubting its capacity to spiritually sustain him or her for the rest of the year through its profound impact and influence.

The Talmud (Moed Katan 12a) notes that the laws of Chol HaMoed are difficult to categorize and one should not compare one law of Chol HaMoed to another due to the uniqueness of each category, as we will see.

Halachos of Chol HaMoed


The poskim debate the extent to which one’s dress should be different from their weekday attire. The Magen Avraham (664:3) holds that one’s Chol HaMoed clothing should be the same as Shabbat clothing (but need not be as fancy as Yom Tov clothing). The Shar HaTziyon (Mishnah Berurah 530:4) differs; he believes that one’s Chol HaMoed attire should be nicer than for a weekday, but that it does not have to be as nice as one’s Shabbat clothing. The Mishnah Berurah also quotes the Shulchan Aruch Harav (530:1) as saying that one’s clothing should meet Yom Tov status, which is assumed to be an even higher level than that of Shabbat.

Melacha and Working

All agree that on Chol HaMoed certain melachot are forbidden, except for the categories outlined below. The Yerushalmi (M.K. 2:3) teaches that the purpose of Chol HaMoed is to devote one’s time to Torah learning.

There is a dispute among the early commentators as to whether the forbidden melachot are d’Orayta (biblically mandated) (Rashbam Pesachim 118a), or d’Rabbanan (rabbinically mandated) to ensure that we celebrate Chol HaMoed properly by allotting time to focus on the Yom Tov (Tosafos Chagigah 18A).

The Mishkenot Yakov (O.C. 38) notes the following distinction: in the days of the Beit HaMikdash, when one was able to sacrifice korbanot (offerings) and travel was required, melacha on Chol HaMoed was prohibited on a Torah level. However nowadays, the prohibition of doing melacha is only rabbinic in nature.


All business transactions, even those that do not specifically involve melacha, are prohibited on Chol HaMoed. As such, it is generally prohibited to buy and sell objects that are not needed for Yom Tov (539.1). When any melacha is prohibited on Chol HaMoed, even a non-Jew is prohibited to perform the melacha on a Jew’s behalf (543.1). There is an exception to this rule when a melacha is needed on Chol HaMoed to fulfill a mitzvah (543.M.A. & 544.1 Rema).

Five categories of Melachos are permitted on Chol HaMoed

1. Tzorech HaMoed (that which is needed for the holiday) — Melacha may be performed on Chol HaMoed for the sake of enhancing the holiday, provided this type of melacha requires no special training.

2. Davar HaAved (avoiding a loss) — One may perform melacha on Chol HaMoed if the intent is to prevent a potential financial loss. However, one may not intentionally delay a job until Chol HaMoed even if doing so prevents a financial loss (Shulchan Aruch 536:6). The Ritva (Moed Katan 13a) explains the rationale for permitting melacha to avoid a loss: if this category of melacha were prohibited, one might worry about the loss during Yom Tov and potentially spoil his or her Yom Tov. It’s important to note that there is a difference between actual loss and being prevented from being able to make a profit.

For example, if one might get fired for not working on Chol HaMoed, this would be considered a Davar HaAved, permitting the person to work. If, however, one would only lose one’s pay for the days of Chol HaMoed, this would not be considered a Davar HaAved (539.4 & Beiur Halacha 537.1). In this case one is not incurring an actual loss, rather, he or she is losing out on a future gain. If a person will use vacation days by not working during Chol HaMoed, and they prefer to take vacation at a different time during the year, this may also be considered a Davar HaAved (Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchasa vol.2-chapter 67 footnote 47).

3. Poeil She’ein Lo Mah Le’echol (one who is so poor that if he does not work, he literally will not have what to eat) —This is another category of permitted work on Chol HaMoed. The Magen Avraham (542.1) notes that this term refers to one who does not even have water to drink and bread to eat for Yom Tov. If one can afford these bare basics, one cannot work on Chol HaMoed. Others understand this exception to apply to one who lacks sufficient money to properly celebrate Yom Tov (Shar Ha’tziyun 542.12).

4. Food, Health and Hygiene — Food preparation is permissible on Chol HaMoed; there is no need to prepare food before Yom Tov to avoid doing so on Chol HaMoed. Although there is no limitation of food preparation on Chol HaMoed, one may only prepare as much as is needed during Yom Tov; one may not prepare for after Yom Tov (533.1). Interestingly, an oven may be repaired on Chol HaMoed because it directly impacts food preparation.While all medical care, even for non-life-threatening issues, is permitted on Chol HaMoed (532.2), annual checkups should not be scheduled (Igrot Moshe O.C.3.78). Melacha to take care of one’s physical needs, such as showering or applying makeup, creams and lotions, is permitted on Chol HaMoed (546.5).

There are different opinions as to whether it is permitted to cut one’s nails during Chol HaMoed (532.1).Although it stands to reason that shaving, haircuts and doing laundry should be included in the category of Tzorech HaMoed (non-specialized work that enhances Yom Tov) and therefore be permitted, they are not. The Talmud (M.K. 14a) specifically teaches that Chazal forbade these activities to be done on Chol HaMoed to ensure that we begin Yom Tov properly groomed. Contemporary poskim contemplate whether one who shaves daily may shave on Chol HaMoed (see Igrot Moshe OC 1:163 and Nefesh Harav page 189). One may do laundry for young children if they will not have enough clean clothing.

5. Community Needs – Professional workers may be hired to take care of the physical needs of the Jewish community, such as filling potholes or fixing uneven sidewalks. If a community has only one Sefer Torah, and it requires repair to be used on Yom Tov, this would be permitted even though this requires a professional scribe (Shulchan Aruch 544.1).The laws and customs of Chol Hamoed are intricate and differ from community to community. In this article we have attempted to provide a brief overview of some of the principles and diversity of opinion. As with any area of intricate halacha, the reader is encouraged to consult with halachic authorities for elucidation and advice.

Wishing you a beautiful and joyous Yom Tov.

Rabbi Moshe Zywica

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