By Gedaliah Borvick
A client wanted to go apartment hunting in Jerusalem during chol ha’moed Pesach but was unsure whether according to halachah he may do so. I told him to ask his local rabbi as I am not fit to make that decision for him. Since this question comes up often, I decided to devote this article to review some of the issues.
The major question is whether one is permitted to “do business” during the holiday. In tractate Pesachim 118a, Rav Sheishes says in very strong words, “One who disgraces chol ha’moed is regarded as if he worships idols.” One major reason for forbidding business activity during chol ha’moed is because it will distract one from the joy of yom tov, which includes eating, drinking, doing enjoyable activities, and learning Torah.
However, some business-related activities are permitted in certain situations. A few examples include purchasing food that is needed for the holiday, and working to prevent financial loss. If, for example, your company will suffer tremendous loss if you would not work, then you would be permitted to work on chol ha’moed. Similarly, if a store is having an extraordinary sale, one would be permitted to buy the item on chol ha’moed, since delaying your purchase until after Pesach would cause you a financial loss.
Rav Moshe Feinstein has a teshuvah on a related point: If on chol ha’moed you are in a place where they sell something that cannot be purchased where you live, you are permitted to buy the item to save you the inconvenience of having to make a special follow-up trip after the holiday. That got me thinking about my American clients traveling to Israel for Pesach and their inability, due to work obligations, to stick around afterward. Despite the generally negative approach of the codifiers regarding purchasing homes on chol ha’moed, Rav Moshe’s teshuvah appears to give these overseas buyers permission to apartment hunt in Israel during chol ha’moed.
Noted author Rabbi Moshe Lichtman directed me to an important source to consider when contemplating purchasing a home in Israel. The Gemara in tractate Gittin 8b, which has subsequently been codified by Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch, allows a person to direct a non-Jew to draft a contract of sale on Shabbat. In that particular case, the non-Jewish seller was planning to leave town before the end of Shabbat, and the buyer’s delay would have cost him the opportunity to buy the property. Even though one is rabbinically prohibited on Shabbat to direct a non-Jew to act on one’s behalf (amira l’akum), the sages suspended this decree because of the overriding mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael — settling the land of Israel. Although today the vast majority of our sales are with Jewish sellers and therefore the Gemara’s case is not exactly on point, the ruling underscores the tremendous value that Jewish law attributes to the commandment of inhabiting the land of Israel.
I discussed this issue with Rabbi Shalom Rosner of Kehillat Nofei Hashmesh in Bet Shemesh. He concurred with Rabbi Lichtman’s sentiments that not only are such chol ha’moed apartment-hunting activities permissible but doing so is the fulfillment of the commandment of yishuv Eretz Yisrael and a wonderful way to infuse kedushah into one’s holiday.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (MyIsraelHome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.