By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com

It is perhaps one of the most pertinent questions that affect frum people who work in corporate America:

May one take vacation days in July and August if that would mean that they would have to work over Chol HaMo’ed?

It is a very pertinent question because some 73 percent of Americans get a set number of paid vacation days each year. Most of them get only 10 days. The span is somewhere between four and 20 days, according to a 2013 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Can an employee who gets, say, 10 vacation days a year, take them during August and go on summer vacation with his family, if that would mean he would have to work over Chol Hamo’ed? Or is this considered mechaven malachto lamoed, purposely putting his work on Chol HaMoed rather than some other time?

In other words, is a person obligated to take his or her vacation days on Chol HaMo’ed?

Before we examine this question, however, let’s get some background on the meaning of mechaven melachto lamoed.

The Prohibition

There is a prohibition discussed in the Mishna of Moed Kotton and quantified in Shulchan Aruch (536:1, 537:16 and 538:1) called “Mechaven Malachto lamoed.” This means directing his work to take place on Chol HaMoed. The issue so important that the Maharil (Hilchos Chol HaMoed #4) writes that one who does so is counted among those who denigrate the Moadim (See Pirkei Avos 3:11) and loses his portion in the world to come.

The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 323) explains the reason behind mechaven malachto lamoed.” He writes: “Not to perform labor were the days of Chol haMoed established, rather to rejoice before Hashem that is to hear words of Torah etc.”

Major Controversy

This question is one that many Bnei Torah ask their Rav or Posaik and the responses across the country are very wide-ranging. Some Rabbonim forbid it entirely based upon the rulings of the Debreciner Rav (Be’er Moshe Vol. VII #69) and lbc”l Rav Moshe Shternbuch Shlita (Moadim uZmanim Vol. IV #305). Others permit it based on Rav Moshe Feinstein’s psak that appears in the Chol HaMoed Sefer and others forbid it, based upon this very same ruling.

This question was posed to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, in 1980 by Rabbi Dovid Zucker and Rabbi Moshe Francis, who were working on the first edition of their Chol HaMoed sefer at the time.

The language of the response was shown to Rav Moshe before it went to print. Rav Feinstein zt”l approved the text, but made some clarifying additions of his own – which appear below. Rav Feinstein’s additions are in parentheses. This author’s clarifying additions are in brackets. In his ruling #18 the Hebrew reads as follows:

It is permitted for a hired worker to take his vacation days in the summer when he has some reason to take it then particularly (for example if he wishes to go to the mountains during the summer).[He may do so] even if he knows that through this he will be forced to work on Chol HaMoed. This is not considered Mechaven Malachto BaMoed. (However, from the perspective of a Midas Chasidus, a meritorious act, there is a maaleh not to take his vacation days during the summer so that he will not have to work on Chol HaMoed.) However, if he has no reason to take his vacation days during the summer, then he must take them specifically on Chol HaMoed.

After speaking to those involved when the question was presented and written, it seems that Rav Feinstein’s view is as follows:

  • Ideally, as a midas Chassidus, he should not take his vacation days during the summer if he (or she) will have to work over chol hamoed on account of this, even if it would be much more convenient.
  • If, however, there is a pressing reason to do so, it would be permitted.
  • If there is no significant reason to do so, it would be forbidden.

It is unclear, however, whether the prohibition is because of full-fledged mechaven malachto ba’moed or because of a different type of prohibition, which is essentially understood as “forcing oneself to be in a mechaven malachto situation.” This author’s view is that it is the latter.

Another Issue

Another issue is that of consequences.  Was Rav Feinstein’s ruling issued under the presumption that a person would actually be fired if he took off more days during chol hamoed? Or was he discussing a case where the boss would be mildly upset but that the employee would not actually be fired [but his pay would be docked]? If it is the latter, would there be a different halacha?  When this question was posed by this author to those involved when the question was posed, they were uncertain. The author of Sefer Moadei Hashem (page 107) assumes that Rav Moshe’s response was only if the employee would be fired if he took off both times.This, however, is not so clear. The issue of Davar Ha’Aved would also come in to play and thus needs to be presented to a qualified Rav or Posaik.

Conclusion

The issue of vacation days in summer versus Chol haMoed is not a simple one. There may be a difference between someone with less job security and someone with more job security.

It is, however, very important to spend time with family and to vacation with them. Therapists point out that a key factor in making sure our children remain drug free and mentally healthy is if we spend quality time with them – both in terms of eating dinner together as well as vacationing together. A good family vacation is a healthy bonding experience.

It is also true that the prohibition of directing one’s work to take place over Chol HaMoed needs to be taught more in our shuls, yeshivos, and bais yaakovs.

Many people would be shocked to hear that if one violates this halacha, a Beis Din can, under certain circumstances, actually declare a person’s handiwork that was specifically directed to be done over chol hamoed to be ownerless and taken by others. The point is that we must truly rejoice during this time and not treat chol hamoed lightly.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

2 COMMENTS

  1. The author of course is correct that halakhically it is highly problematic to take one’s vacation days during the summer if this will require the employee to work on hol hamoed. The author should have also noted that this is another of the wonderful benefits of living in Israel, aside from the fact that it is a mitzva and religious imperative. In Israel it has become the norm in recent years for most employers to close their companies and organizations over hol hamoed and these vacation days are in addition to the vacation days typically taken during the summer. As most of the country is on vacation during Hol Hamoed, one truly is able to experience the simhat hamoed and take part in many of the festivals taking part across the country.

    • In theory it is. However, many workplaces in Israel also require their workers to work on Chol HaMoed. And many olim, because of language issues end up working for foreign companies (often even ones owned by religious Jews) that require their workers to work on Chol HaMoed (and often take advantage of foreign laws to deprive their workers of the rights they have as employees under Israeli law to any sick or vacation days at all) . Rabbonim often rule in favor of the bosses, who are pillars of the community and donors over workers, couching the p’sak as binding on the workers (even though they didn’t bring the sheilah, the boss did) but forbidding the workers to quote the posek by name because they didn’t want it to be known that “Rabbi X says that it is permitted to work on Chol HaMoed”.

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