- Question: [Sunday, 7th Tishreiy, 5782]
I work in home renovations and have a Jewish employee who asked me if he can continue his work and get paid also on Chol Hamoed. I generally never work on Chol Hamoed, as is the law, but this employee is telling me that he really needs the cash, and if he can’t work by me he’s going to find another place to work during Chol Hamoed. It is true that I know him to be in a very dire financial position, due to which I pay him daily in cash at the end of each day of work. Please advise as to what I should answer him.
If the Jewish employee is so poor that he literally does not have money to purchase bread and water on Chol Hamoed for him or his wife and children, then it is permitted for him to continue working for you on Chol Hamoed. Furthermore, even if he has money for bread and water but does not have money for other basic daily needs, such as electricity, or other basic foods, then he may continue to work for you on Chol Hamoed. If, however, he has enough money to provide himself these things on Chol Hamoed, then he may not work simply so he have money for after the festival, or to be able to pay a debt.
Explanation: It is a clear and accepted ruling in the Poskim that the generally forbidden works on Chol Hamoed are permitted to be done by a worker who is poor and needs the money for his basic needs. However, there is a disputation regarding the definition of “basic needs,” with some saying that it refers only to one who does not even have water and bread for that day, and with other saying that it refers even to one who does not have enough money for meat and wine. However, according to all opinions, he is not considered a pauper in this regard if he has all of his basic needs met for the days of Chol Hamoed.
Sources: See regarding the general allowance for a poor man to work on Chol Hamoed: Michaber 542:2; Kaf Hachaim 542:7-15; Chol Hamoed Kehilchaso 9:13-16 See regarding the definition of being poor in this regard: Michaber 542:2 [no food to eat]; M”A 542:1, Taz 542:2, Bigdei Yesha, Kaf Hachaim 542:9 [does not even have bread and water]; Elya Raba 542:3 in name of Lechem Mishneh, Chayeh Adam in Nishmas Adam 106:4, and 15 Poskim listed in Chol Hamoed Kehilchaso [even if has bread and water but not enough to eat lavishly]; Halacha Berura 542:1 [even if cant afford meat and wine]