May a man shave his beard in a kosher manner on Chol Hamoed?

(Sefira considerations aside)


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.


From here:

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.

  • 1
    I think this quote seriously misrepresents RMF's position. He doesn't particularly like the Noda Beyehuda (who has a self-proclaimed extremely bedieved svara) and spends the whole teshuva showing how the reasoning I outline in my answer actually makes a great deal of sense. He states in multiple different places there that he thinks that nowadays (when many people are clean-shaven) my answer is certainly the correct psak, but notes at the end that even so, he tries not to permit in individual cases as per the minhag from before being clean-shaven became so widespread – Double AA Mar 29 '12 at 16:38

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.

  • Common practice seems to be that people of almost all communities are stringent unless they are affiliated with Y.U. or Chafetz Chaim. – user6591 Oct 11 '17 at 1:57
  • R Soloveitchik in my answer doesn't mention R Tam because indeed we don't rule like him as you note. That doesn't affect his argument at all. – Double AA Oct 11 '17 at 2:03
  • Rabbenu Tam would permit me to trim my 10 inch hair if I got a 2 inch haircut on Erev Chag and then on Chol HaMoed decided I thought 7 inch hair would be nicer. His reason is Chakhamim were not Gozer on someone who wasn't lazy before Chag. That's not R Soloveitchik's argument. – Double AA Oct 11 '17 at 2:03
  • R Soloveitchik just notes that someone who is clearly regularly clean shaven is publicly known to have been unable to shave the new hair before it grew, so he's a public Ones, not unlike permitted laundering infant clothing even though it's not on the list in the Mishna. Totally different arguments. – Double AA Oct 11 '17 at 2:06
  • Not according to the Tur. Although it might be possible for you to say what you are saying in the words of RT, based on the logic of the Tur I would say he doesn't agree with you. When I see a freshly shaven face (or head) on chol hamoed I have no idea if he shaved erev y.t. all I know is he shaved now. That would apply to R Soleveitchik as well. Perhaps I should have written that Tur's rejection covers Rabbi Soleveitchik, not that his words are the same as R.T. – user6591 Oct 11 '17 at 2:13

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