May a man shave his beard in a kosher manner on Chol Hamoed?
(Sefira considerations aside)
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
Short Version: Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik and others are of the opinion that it is permitted for one who regularly shaves to shave, and since it is permitted it is a mitzva to do so, so as not to look disgraceful on chol hamoed (Source). Rav Moshe Feinstein makes a similar argument in Igrot Moshe OC I 163.
Long Version: The Mishna in Moed Katan 3:1 (page 13b in the Bavli) lists 7 people who are allowed to get haircuts on chol hamoed, implying that everyone else is forbidden to get a haircut on chol hamoed. The gemara there (14a) wonders why is this so? Even though cutting hair is one of the 39 categories of forbidden labor ("Gozeiz"), shouldn't it be permitted on chol hamoed by the rule of "tzorech hamoed" -- that labor which is performed for the sake of the holiday may be performed on chol hamoed? Surely getting a haircut to look nice is for the sake of the holiday! The gemara answers that there is a rabbinic decree forbidding haircuts on chol hamoed, to encourage people to get their haircuts before the holiday and not wait until they are free from work on chol hamoed. The mishna's exceptions are cases of people who could not for various reasons get a haircut before the holiday; for them there is a dispensation to allow haircuts on chol hamoed because the end goal is to have people look nice during the holiday.
Now comes the important question: can we extend beyond the seven cases of the mishna? The gemara asks about one who was busy all of Erev Chag searching for a lost object and did not have an opportunity to get a haircut before the holiday. The gemara answers that he may not get a haircut on chol hamoed as his having been stuck is not obvious and eveyone may come to claim that they were stuck and can take a haircut. Rather, it says, only someone whose reason for not getting a haircut is apparent to all is permitted to get a haircut on chol hamoed.
At this point it should be clear that a man who is regularly clean shaven may shave on chol hamoed, for it is obvious to all that he was unable prior to the holiday to shave the hairs that hadn't grown yet! And since it is permitted for him to shave, it becomes a mitzva for him to do so, because as we said, the end goal is to have people look nice during the holiday.
The Shulchan Aruch prohibits shaving (Simon 531:2, SS”K 66:23) and it is the prevalent custom. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Ig”M O"C vol. I simon 163) discusses this issue at length and many are accustomed to be lenient based on the Nodah Biyhuda. Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that he is not accustomed to be lenient unless in certain cases or for someone who suffers to an extreme from not shaving. One should ask one’s Rav.
The Tur in Orach Chaim 531 quotes Rabbeinu Tam who opines that one who shaved before the moed may shave on chol hamoed as well. The Tur strongly disagrees and seemingly all subsequent authorities were stringent. In more recent years this idea of Rabeinu Tam has been suggested again, but the fact that Rabbeinu Tam already said it and was rejected and ignored doesn't seem to have been addressed.
These are the words of the Tur:
אין מגלחין במועד והטעם שלא יכנס למועד כשהוא מנוול פי' שאם היה יכול לגלח במועד לא היה חושש לגלח ערב המועד ונמצא נכנס למועד מנוול ומצוה על כל אדם לגלח קודם המועד לכבוד המועד וכיון שהוא אסור לגלח במועד יהא זהיר לגלח קודם המועד ור"ת פי' כיון שזהו הטעם אם כבר גלח קוד' המועד מותר לגלח במועד וקשה מאד להתיר וגם אינו נראה כן מתוך הגמ' דאם איתא הו"ל לפורטה בהדי הנך דתנן ואלו מגלחין כי היכי דקאמר גבי כיבוס כל מי שאין לו אלא חלוק אחד מותר לכבסו במועד משום דאפילו אם כבסו קודם המועד הוא חוזר ומתלכלך ה"נ הו"ל לפרושי היתר דאם גלח קודם המועד ועוד מי יודע אם גלח קודם המועד דכה"ג קאמר בגמ' על הא דבעי מי שאבדה לו אבידה בערב המועד אם מותר לגלח במועד מפני שהיה אנוס שלא היה לו פנאי לגלח קודם המועד וקאמר מי יודע שהיה אנוס הלכך נראה שאין להתיר אלא לאותם שמפרש בהדיא.