By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Chol haMoed often entails enjoyable family trips to the park with the family, and or ball-playing, kite-flying and perhaps a scavenger hunt. One casualty is often – the polish on one’s shoes. Is it permissible, then, to polish shoes on Chol HaMoed?
If one looks at the Piskei Teshuvos, a growingly popular halachic compendium, one may be shocked to see that the author concludes that it is better not to polish shoes on Chol haMoed. This controversial conclusions comes as a shock to most people, because many people recall Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l having ruled otherwise. So what is the story behind shoe-polish and Chol haMoed? What are the underlying issues?
One issue, of course, is whether it is considered malacha in the sense that expert action is prohibited. There are essentially only five heterim for work to be done on Chol HaMoed, and our focus is on the fifth heter. They are:
1] Tzorchei HaMoed — for the needs of Yom Tov
2] Davar Ha’Aved — If something will be ruined or destroyed if the work is not done. Permanent damage to a business is included under this heter.
3] Tzorchei Rabim — A great communal need, such as a broken Mikvah, Eruv, street, sewage pipe.
4] Poel V’ain Lo Mah L’echol — If someone has no food to eat and requires to make money in order to buy food.
5] Maaseh Hedyot — If it is an amateur action as opposed to a Maaseh Uman — a professional action. Repairing a car, for example, is generally a Maaseh Uman and is forbidden. Changing a tire is a Maaseh hedyot. Tailoring and dressmaking is a Maaseh uman and forbidden. Sometimes a temporary hem can be sewn very unprofessionally and that is a Maaseh hedyot. Driving a car would be a Maaseh uman but since everyone does it, the Poskim have explained that it is now considered a Maaseh hedyot.
As far as shoe polishing is concerned, it is difficult to imagine that shoe-polishing doe by an individual would be considered a professional action.
A second issue is whether it is subsumed under the prohibition of laundering on Chol HaMoed.
What follows, however, is not a halachic analysis of the issues involved. Rather, it is a survey of the opinions of the Poskim who have discussed the issue. There seem to be three positions on the issue, each position having adherents. Group One Poskim seem to permit the polishing of shoes completely. Group Two Poskim have a more nuanced view. They permit a form of polishing of shoes but not a full cleaning and polishing. Group Three Poskim forbid polishing shoes, but for various reasons.
Dayan Yisroel Yaakov Fisher zt”l, in his Even Yisroel (Volume V) commentary on Eiruvin 14b clearly demonstrates that Rabbi Yisroel of Krems, Austria, the author of the Hagaos Ashri, permits polishing shoes on Chol HaMoed. The Hagaos Ashri is considered an authoritative Rishon.
The Mevakshei Torah Journal on Yom Tov and Chol HaMoed (Vol. II page 471) cites the view Rav Elyashiv zt”l as permitting it for the needs of the Moed.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l is cited by the author of Chiko Mamsakim (Siman 532:19) as permitting it as well.
The Melamed L’Hoil (Vol. I 113:10), Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann, also permits it outright.
Rav Nissim Karelitz, of Bnei Brak, in his Chut Sheini (Hilchos Chol HaMoed) also permits it.
Rav Neuwirth z”l, in his Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasa 66:48 permits it as well. Rav Ovadiah Yoseph zt”l YO Vol. I OC 34 (and YD IV #34) permits it because he holds that the Chol haMoed forbidden kivus is not a prohibition when it comes to leather. (See also Yalkut Yoseph 16:4)
The Shearim haMetzuyanim B’Halacha 104:14 permits it and remains wondrous at those who are stringent.
Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l (Vol. III) also permits it.
Rabbi Yaakov Forscheimer, a Rav and Posaik in Lakewood, also ruled that it is completely permitted (Prfi Kohain p. 104).
The rationale of many of those who permit it base their ruling on the Gemorah in Zvachim 93b which concludes that leather items are not considered clothing.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe OC V 36:4) has a slightly more nuanced view. He permits regular polishing but not a full professional job. Rav Feinstein, in a letter printed at the end of the Sefer entitled “Pnei Boruch” on the laws of mourning, questions the basis for forbidding it, since these items are given to being dirtied regularly and thus not within the prohibition. Elsewhere, (in a journal source cited by the Piskei Teshuvos) he writes that he does not wish to fully permit it, in deference to the view of those Gedolim who forbade it.
The earliest Posaik who we would label as a Group Three proponent is the Kitzur HaShla. He forbids it after Chatzos on erev Pesach, Chol HaMoed is even more rigorous, so he would clearly forbid it.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita authored a Sefer called “Igros Ukesavim” about questions that he posed to his uncle, the Chazon Ish. He asked whether one may polish shoes on Chol haMoed Pesach out of concern that the polish may be Chometz. The Chazon ish responded that there is no concern for Chometz (presumably, remarks Rav Chaim, since the polish is no longer edible). He did say that there may be a concern for the Malachos of Tzovaya and MeAved (See MB 327:12).
The Debreciner Rav, in his Be’er Moshe (Vol. VII #63), also forbids it.
The Responsa Shvilei Dovid Siman 534 forbids it because it is similar to laundering. However, if there are no other shoes he permits it. The Yalkut Gershuni Siman 553 also forbids it.
The Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, the son of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik zt”l is cited by the Beis HaLevi Hagaddah (page 275) as forbidding it as well.
It seems that, notwithstanding the views of those who forbid it, the majority view of the generally-accepted Poskim is to permit it. We see that Rav Moshe, Rav Elyashiv, and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach all permitted it. The Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasa, which has become the halachic standard in Eretz Yisroel also permitted it. In the Sephardic world Rav Ovadiah and Rav ben Tzion Abba Shaul both permitted it as well. Some Poskim even mention the idea of Kavod HaBrios, appearing properly. In light of the halacha that we should be wearing clothing on Chol HaMoed that is a notch above weekday clothing, it would seem prudent to follow the permissive view.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman