Shabbat Sukkot | 5765
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Question: I am a social worker in a (Jewish) old-age home. I have a certain number of vacation days during the year, and I prefer to take them in the summer. May I work on Chol Hamoed in order to leave my vacation privileges for a different time?
Answer: Two halachot, one permissive and one restrictive, are at the heart of this question, and we have to see how they interact in this case. The first is that one may do unskilled melacha (work forbidden on Yom Tov) on Chol Hamoed in order to provide for festival needs (tzurchei moed)(Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 533:1). The second is that melacha done for tzurchei moed should be done by the one with the needs or by another on his behalf for free, not for pay (Shulchan Aruch, OC 542:1). Now let’s analyze and apply the principles to your case.
Our assumption is that your presence at the old-age home on Chol Hamoed enhances the atmosphere for the residents (individually and/or collectively). Thus, any work that you need to do at the job or getting there is permitted, as tzurchei moed, assuming you can avoid skilled work (ma’ase uman), which would be permitted only for the communal needs (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 68:6). (The qualification of skilled work applies to the technical aspect of the work. For example, writing in a sloppy manner is unskilled work even if one writes complex poetry.) The problem is that one should not be paid to do such work (as above), unless it is while performing community needs (ibid.) which, we imagine, your job includes but is not limited to.
If you could do your job while avoiding melacha for the most part on those days then you could apply the Noda B’Yehuda’s leniency. He writes (ed. II, OC 104) that the prohibition of taking money for work on Chol Hamoed is only for melacha or arduous labor, but one can take money for non-melacha activityfor tzurchei moed. Thus, for example, it is permitted to take money for regular babysitting on Chol Hamoed (Chol Hamoed K’hilchato 9:39). If your job is, or can be arranged on Chol Hamoed to not be based on melacha, then your pay would relate to permitted activity. Incidental melacha such as turning on lights, which is not an integral part of the job, could be done when it is tzurchei moed without being considered related to your salary. You are not paid to drive to work, and it is permitted for the tzurchei moed elements of the job.
Even if you have to do significant amounts of melacha (such aswriting- refer to the laws of writing on Chol Hamoed, which are beyond our present scope), it should still be permissible to attend your job. The gemara (Moed Katan 12a)tells that those who set the table at the Exilarch’s home could fix the table on Chol Hamoed if it broke, since they received only the privilege of eating with them and did not get paid separately. The distinction as to the form of payment is that “to receive money on Chol Hamoed is in the manner of the weekday (uvdin d’chol),” whereasto receive the privilege to eat “does not look like renting oneself out” (Beit Yosef, OC 542). Your case is somewhere in the middle. On one hand, you are paid on a yearly basis, not for the job that you do specifically on Chol Hamoed. On the other hand, it is part of your regular job, which you get paid for in a normal, monetary fashion. In several halachic contexts it is permitted to receive payment b’havla’ah (the problematic payment is included in an undifferentiated lump sum together with payment one may receive). Several poskim apply this rule to much more tenuous cases (see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 66:(163); Moadim U’zemanim VII, 155; Piskei Teshuvot 542:3). Thus, one who is paid on a monthly or yearly basis can certainly rely on these opinions.
We would usually suggest that you make an effort to show respect for the moed by taking off, if possible. However, in your case, the quality of life of the residents balances out that factor.
[We did not discuss the issue of money loss, which applies to some cases of work on Chol Hamoed, but does not appear to apply in this case.]
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