Rabbi Yosef Greenwald Case: I was looking at my phone while driving [big mistake], and…
Rabbi Yosef Kushner
Question: There are many halachos of Chol Hamoed that can have a far-reaching impact on the permissibility of commerce during that time. Can you offer a brief overview of the basic issue of engaging in commerce on Chol Hamoed?
Answer: Before discussing the status of commerce, it is important to note that keeping one’s business open on Chol Hamoed may often involve melachos that are forbidden on Shabbos. Such melachos are also generally forbidden on Chol Hamoed. For example, if a person is a tailor, he would not be allowed to sew (aside from any questions of business) unless it is a davar ha’avud (potential loss), which we will discuss in upcoming sessions.
In terms of the issue of commerce per se, the prohibition on Shabbos is of greater scope than on Chol Hamoed. On Shabbos, any commerce is forbidden due to a gezerah that one may come to write as a result. In contrast, the prohibition on Chol Hamoed is limited to buying and selling (referred to by Chazal as prakmatia).
The reason for the distinction is that on Chol Hamoed, the concern is for tircha (excessive effort), meaning that a person should not be involved in activities that could cause additional effort or agmas nefesh. Thus, actual buying and selling is assur, but lending money and discussing business issues is mutar on Chol Hamoed.
Based on this principle, it is forbidden to pay a bill on Chol Hamoed for a past or future purchase. However, it is permitted to pay a worker to whom you owe money, as this is not considered commerce, but rather paying for a service. Similarly, a water bill may not be paid on Chol Hamoed since it is essentially paying for the “purchase” of the water used, while a bill from a security firm is permitted to pay since using the services of the firm is not considered a purchase.
Question: Besides the difference between paying for goods and paying for services, what other ways are the rules of commerce different between Chol Hamoed and Shabbos?
Answer: Hiring workers to work after Shabbos is forbidden on Shabbos, but it is permitted to hire employees on Chol Hamoed to work after Yom Tov is over. In addition, as we mentioned, discussing business issues is permitted on Chol Hamoed but forbidden on Shabbos.
It should also be noted that hiring someone to do even permitted work on Chol Hamoed itself is also assur (Shulchan Aruch 542). Therefore, in principle hiring a babysitter to come on Chol Hamoed would be assur even though they may not perform any forbidden melacha since the hiring itself is problematic due to uvda d’chol.