In this issue, we will discuss the controversial topic of shaving on Chol Hamoed. We will review sources from the Gemara through various rulings rendered by twentieth century authorities.
The Mishna (Moed Katan 13b and 14a) lists those people who are permitted to cut their hair and wash their clothes on Chol Hamoed. The people on this list are those who did not have an opportunity to cut their hair or wash their clothes before Yom Tov.
Examples include someone who was released from captivity or jail immediately before Yom Tov and someone who arrived from an overseas journey immediately before Yom Tov. The clear implication of this Mishna is that Chazal forbid cutting hair and shaving on Chol Hamoed in ordinary circumstances.
The Gemara (Moed Katan 14a) explains why in almost all circumstances Chazal forbid cutting hair or washing clothes on Chol Hamoed. The concern is that had Chazal permitted cutting hair and washing clothes on Chol Hamoed, then people would delay cutting hair and washing clothes until Chol Hamoed. This would lead to people entering Yom Tov unkempt and with soiled garments. This prohibition is codified by the Rambam (Hilchot Yom Tov 7:17) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 531:2 and 534:1).
Rabbeinu Tam's Great Leniency
Rabbeinu Tam adds another category of exceptions to those who are permitted to cut their hair during Chol Hamoed. He rules that if one cut his hair on the day before Yom Tov then he may cut his hair during Chol Hamoed. He reasons that the reason for this rabbinical prohibition is to encourage one to trim his hair on Erev Yom Tov. Thus, if one cut his hair on Erev Yom Tov then he is permitted to cut his hair during Chol Hamoed.
Criticism of Rabbeinu Tam's Great Leniency - Tur and Shulchan Aruch
Virtually all Rishonim reject the lenient ruling of Rabbeinu Tam. The Tur (O.C. 531) presents three reasons why he rejects Rabbeinu Tam's view. First, if Rabbeinu Tam was correct, the Mishna should have listed one who cut his hair on Erev Yom Tov as one of those individuals who is permitted to cut his hair during Chol Hamoed. Second, the Gemara (Moed Katan 14a) states that one who only has one set of clothes may wash his clothes during Chol Hamoed. The Tur argues that if Rabbeinu Tam is correct then when the Gemara stated exceptions to the prohibition, it should have also stated that one who washed his clothes on Erev Yom Tov may wash his clothes during Chol Hamoed. Third, the Gemara (Moed Katan 14a) states that one who had to spend Erev Yom Tov searching for a lost item and thus did not have the opportunity to cut his hair may not cut his hair during Chol Hamoed. The Gemara explains that since it is not obvious to all why he did not have the opportunity to cut his hair on Erev Yom Tov, he may not cut his hair during Chol Hamoed. The Tur argues that similarly, since people do not know if one cut his hair on Erev Yom Tov, the prohibition to cut his hair on Chol Hamoed still applies. The Tur concludes that only those listed in the Mishna and Gemara may shave on Chol Hamoed.
The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 531:2) explicitly rules that even if one cut his hair on Erev Yom Tov he may not cut his hair during Chol Hamoed. We should note, however, that the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 534:1) codifies the Gemara (Moed Katan 18a) that permits washing hand towels during Chol Hamoed. The Mishna Berura (534:4) explains that hand towels frequently become soiled and even if one washed them on Erev Yom Tov he would need to wash them again during Chol Hamoed. The Rama (O.C. 534:1) notes that, similarly, one may wash baby clothes during Chol Hamoed since they become frequently soiled. In these situations, all are aware that it was impossible to prepare in advance of Yom Tov to avoid the need to wash these items during Chol Hamoed. Thus, since all are aware of his limitations, he may wash hand towels and baby clothes during Chol Hamoed. See the Mishna Berura (534:4) who questions the permissibility of washing hand towels during today's circumstances in which hand towels are not washed as frequently as in the time of the Gemara.
An Impoverished Barber - Noda Beyehuda vs. Chatam Sofer
Rav Yechezkel Landau (Teshuvot Noda Beyehuda 1:13) rules that if one shaved on Erev Yom Tov he is permitted to hire an impoverished barber to shave him during Chol Hamoed. He bases his ruling on a combination of relying on Rabbeinu Tam's ruling and the following line of thought. Rav Landau suggests that the authorities that reject Rabbeinu Tam's view might permit one who shaved on Erev Yom Tov to be shaved during Chol Hamoed by an impoverished barber. He suggests that they believe that although shaving on Erev Yom Tov avoids the concern of entering Yom Tov in a disheveled state, shaving is nevertheless forbidden because it constitutes a forbidden act of Melacha on Chol Hamoed. Rav Landau suggests that since one may hire an impoverished laborer who does not have adequate food for the holiday to perform Melacha on Chol Hamoed, one who shaved on Erev Yom Tov may hire an impoverished worker to shave him on Chol Hamoed.
Almost all authorities reject Rav Landau's lenient ruling. The Chatam Sofer (Teshuvot O.C. 154) is particularly critical of Rav Landau's ruling, especially since it breaks with earlier traditions and serves as a dangerous precedent for further deviations from accepted practices. Indeed, the Tur does not even allude to Rav Landau's approach in his critique of Rabbeinu Tam's leniency.
Twentieth Century Rulings - Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and Rav Chaim David Halevi
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited in Rav Hershel Schachter's Nefesh Harav pp. 189-190) rules that since in contemporary conditions most individuals who do not have a full beard shave daily, it is permissible to shave on Chol Hamoed even according to those who reject Rabbeinu Tam's leniency. The Tur mentioned that how is one to know that someone shaved on Erev Yom Tov. This, however, applies only to the issue of trimming a beard on Yom Tov. Regarding shaving, all know that even if he shaved on Erev Yom Tov he will need to shave again on Chol Hamoed. Thus, shaving in contemporary conditions is permitted on Chol Hamoed, analogous to the washing of hand towels in the time of the Gemara. Rav Soloveitchik argues further that if one is permitted to shave during Chol Hamoed, he must shave on Chol Hamoed lest he appear disheveled during the holiday. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (cited in Techumin 2:133 note 37) agrees with the ruling of Rav Soloveitchik.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:163) advances a similar argument and permits shaving on Chol Hamoed in a culture in which most people that do not sport full beards shave daily, only in a case of great need. Rav Chaim David Halevi (Teshuvot Aseh Lecha Rav 1:39) notes that most contemporary authorities reject even Rav Feinstein's limited lenient ruling. Rav Halevi rules that even in case of great need it is proper to avoid shaving during Chol Hamoed. One should consult his Rav for guidance regarding which opinion he should follow.
חג כשר ושמח!