What is Chol HaMoed Pesach ?
Chol HaMoed Pesach or Chol Ha-Moed Pesach (also transliterated from Hebrew as: Hol HaMoed Pesach or Hol Ha-Moed Pesach) refers to the intermediate or middle days of the Passover or Pesach festival as well as another Jewish festival, the autumn harvest festival of Sukkot. Literally-speaking, Chol HaMoed means "The Non-Holy Appointed Time" in Hebrew, where Chol means "Non-Holy" as opposed to "Kodesh" which means "Holy"; Ha means "The", and "Moed" means "appointed time".
For Jewish people who commemorate and celebrate Passover or Pesach for seven days - Jews living in Israel, most Reform Jews, and some Conservative Jews - Chol HaMoed days include the second day of Passover or Pesach to the sixth day of Passover or Pesach, inclusive. For Jewish people who celebrate Passover or Pesach for eight days - Jews living outside Israel plus a minority of Reform Jews and most Conservative Jews - Chol HaMoed days include the third day of Passover or Pesach to the sixth day of Passover or Pesach, inclusive.
Chol HaMoed days are characterized by being "partial" or "semi" holy days. Chol HaMoed days differ from the other days of Passover or Pesach: the first day and seventh day for Jews who celebrate and commemorate Passover or Pesach for seven days, and the first day, second day, seventh day, and eighth day for Jews who celebrate and commemorate Passover or Pesach for eight days, which are known as Yom Tov days in Hebrew. While Yom Tov days are "full" or "complete" holy days, meaning the full application of Jewish law for Passover or Pesach applies to those days, including the complete prohibition against 39 types of work, except for work that is related to the preparation of food, on Chol HaMoed days, the 39 types of work are still prohibited. However, based on the Mishnah Berurah, a work of Jewish law that is a commentary on the Orach Chayim, which in turn is the first section of another body of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch, in the Mishnah Berurah's introduction to Chol HaMoed in the Orach Chayim (Orach Chayim 530), there are 5 types of other work that are permitted on Chol HaMoed days, making Chol HaMoed a "partial" or "semi" holiday compared with the Yom Tov days of Passover or Pesach. In fact, the name of the section of the Talmud that deals with Chol HaMoed - known as "Moed Katan" is translated into English from Hebrew as the "small holiday" in reference to this partial or semi holiday status. The five types of work that are permitted on Chol HaMoed days are: (1) work that will be lost if not done now; (2) things that are needed for the holiday; (3) work that is created to enable a worker to make enough money to eat; (4) public needs, and (5) simple acts.
The question of wearing or not wearing tefillin on Chol Hamoed days is a divisive issue among rabbinical authorities. Tefillin, also known as phylacteries, are two small, black, square-shaped leather boxes that contain strips of parchment inscribed with passages from the Hebrew Bible: Shemot or Exodus 13:1-10, Shemot or Exodus 13:11-16, Devarim or Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Devarim or Deuteronomy 11:13-21. The two leather boxes are connected with long black straps. One of the leather boxes is placed on an arm and the strap is wrapped around the arm, hand, and fingers of the wearer. The other leather box is placed just above the wearer's forehead and the strap is wrapped around that area to hold it in place. Tefillin, from the parchment and its inscribed biblical verses to the leather boxes, to the straps, are created according to a religiously prescribed formula that is in compliance with the laws of kashrut or kosher laws in Jewish religious law. The purpose of wearing tefillin is that it serves as both a sign and a remembrance that G-d brought the Hebrews out of Egypt and that G-d is One. In fact, the biblical passages contained on the strips of parchment in the two leather boxes placed on the wearer of the tefillin speak of G-ds' freeing the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage as well as declaring that G-d is One. Although the original custom was to wear tefillin all day and to remove them at night, the current custom says that tefillin should only be worn during weekday morning prayer services, although some Jewish people still wear it all day, including followers of the prominent 18th century Lithuanian rabbi Elijah ben Zalman, the Vilna Gaon, as well as followers of the 12th century Spanish rabbinical authority Moses Maimonides, and by some Yemenite Jews. Since tefillin serves as a sign and as remembrance of the rescuing of the Hebrews from slavery by G-d, and the religious status of Yom Tov days for Passover or Pesach also serve as a sign and as remembrance of the same event, the wearing of tefillin on Yom Tov days is not required, for the Yom Tov days themselves serve as both the sign and remembrance of the event. The question then becomes the religious status of the middle days or intermediate days or Chol HaMoed days of Passover or Pesach. Some rabbinical authorities view Chol HaMoed days as having the same religious status as the Yom Tov days of the festival, and since the Yom Tov days in themselves represent both a sign and remembrance of G-d freeing the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, then these rabbinical authorities conclude the wearing of tefillin during Chol HaMoed days is unnecessary. The remaining rabbinical authorities take the opposite view: since they view Chol HaMoed days as not having the same religious status as Yom Tov days, and so they conclude that Chol HaMoed days do not represent a sign and remembrance of G-d freeing the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, therefore, since tefillin represents that sign and remembrance, the wearing of tefillin on Chol HaMoed days is an obligation.
From the above explanations, there are three customs regarding tefillin and Chol HaMoed: (1) to not wear tefillin during Chol HaMoed days. This is the custom of the Sephardi Jews (Jews whose ancestors came from either Spain and/or Portugal) who follow the opinion of the 16th century authoritative Spanish Rabbi Joseph Karo, in his commentary work on earlier Jewish codes of law entitled "Beit Yosef" ("House of Joseph" in Hebrew). In addition, Jews who follow the opinion of the Vilna Gaon regarding tefillin and Chol HaMoed days also do not wear tefillin during Chol HaMoed days. This includes all Jews living in Israel; (2) to wear tefillin but not recite the blessings associated with the wearing of tefillin. This is the opinion of authoritative rabbis who are not certain about the issue of whether to wear or nor wear tefillin during Chol HaMoed days; and (3) to wear tefillin during Chol HaMoed days and to recite the blessings associated with the wearing of tefillin, but to recite them in a quiet, subdued, or hushed tone of voice. This is the custom followed by all Ashkenazi Jews [Jews whose ancestors came from either Central, Northwestern, and/or Eastern Europe (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 31:2)] with the exception of most Chassidic Jews, who follow the Sephardi custom to not wear tefillin during Chol HaMoed days.
If you happen to be visitng a congregation where it is the custom to put on tefillin during Chol HaMoed days, you should check with your own rabbi as to whether or not you should put on tefillin yourself. Your rabbi is the final authority for you regarding what you should do in religious matters.
For most Jews who wear tefillin during Chol HaMoed days, the tefillin is worn until the Hallel prayer, a festive prayer, is recited. This is because Chol HaMoed days - like the other days of Passover or Pesach, known as the Yom Tov days - are festive days, and so one pays their respects to the festive nature of Chol HaMoed days by removing the tefillin just before the reciting of the Hallel prayer. However, there is one exception to this practise: on the first day of the Chol HaMoed days for Passover or Pesach, Jews who wear tefillin continue to wear the tefillin through the recitation of the Hallel prayer because what follows the Hallel prayer is the Torah Reading for this day, which on this day focuses on the "'commandment' from G-d" or "mitzvah" in Hebrew to wear tefillin. Once the Torah Reading is completed and the Torah Scroll is returned to the Ark, Jews who wear tefillin during Chol HaMoed days remove them.
On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach, that is, the Sabbath day that falls during Chol HaMoed days, we do not recite the regular portion of the Torah in synagogue but rather, we recite passages from the Book of Shemot or Exodus (Shemot or Exodus 33:12-34:26) and from Devarim or Deuteronomy (Devarim or Deuteronomy 10:1�19). These passages mention many different subjects that are fundamental principles in the Jewish religion, among them the commandment from G-d from which the Laws of Kashrut or Kosher Laws are derived ("You shall not cook a goat in its mother's milk). In addition, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are revealed to Moses by G-d after Moses began climbing Mount Sinai a second time and asked G-d to bring his presence nearer. The recital of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy serve as the key to gaining the compassion of G-d toward the Hebrews/Jewish people. Although the time of Chol HaMoed is a partial or semi holiday time period, it is still a time of holiness due to its partial or semi holiday status. Therefore, the purpose of mentioning the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy during the Chol HaMoed period is to remind us that even though we are able to perform certain forms of work in this time period, we are always dependent on the mercy of G-d and on G-ds' interaction with all things in this world. Without the compassion of G-d, we would not even have the opportunity to be able to perform any of our daily activities. Therefore, the lesson we learn from this Chol HaMoed Torah reading is that we are always available for use by G-d and that we must always aim to better ourselves in all phases of life so that we continuously merit the mercy and compassion of G-d.
On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach, just prior to the Torah Readings, the synagogue congregation together recites a series of poems known as Hallel ("Praise" in Hebrew) from the biblical book of Psalms (Psalms 113-118 inclusive). In addition to Hallel, some congregations will recite part of or all of the biblical Shir Ha-Shirim ("Song of Songs" in Hebrew) which are another group of love poems attributed to Shlomo Ha-Melech or King Solomon. However, there are other congregations which do not recite Shir Ha-Shirim, as they follow the custom established by the eminent 18th century Lithuanian Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, the Vilna Gaon. Since by rabbinic tradition Shir Ha-Shirim - viewed as either a collection of love poems or as a love song with G-d as the beloved and the Hebrews as the bride - represents a courtship between G-d and the Hebrews, and Passover or Pesach marks the start of that courtship, it is appropriate that Shir Ha-Shirim be recited during this time. Furthermore, in the Song of Songs, it is stated that the Song of Songs is a song that honors the spring season (Song of Songs 2:11-13) and since Passover or Pesach occurred during the spring season, and Passover or Pesach is a spring festival in both the literal sense - it took place in the spring season - and in the figurative sense - the concepts of hope and happiness are associated with the spring season - that fact that both political and physical freedom were attained by the Hebrews in the spring season means that hope lies in freedom and happiness lies in the connection of the Hebrews/Jewish people with the Torah or in other words, G-ds' Law. Based on these reasons, it is again appropriate that the Song of Songs be recited during the Passover or Pesach festival.
The Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach Haftorah or Haftarah reading, meaning the reading from one of the biblical books of the Prophets, is from Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:1-14). These passages contain the prophecy of Ezekiel where he envisions dry bones being resurrected by G-d.
Finally, the Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach Maftir or Additional Reading is from the biblical book of Bamidbar or Numbers (Bamidbar or Numbers 28:19-25).
To summarize, during Chol HaMoed days, Jewish people are permitted to drive, go to school, and do certain forms of work if necessary according to what falls in the 5 categories of religiously permitted types of work. However, Chol HaMoed days also have a holiday quality to them, as we are not permitted to do work that we can otherwise put off until the after the end of the Passover or Pesach festival. This includes work such as painting a house, washing laundry, or taking a haircut.
Chol HaMoed customs include drinking some wine or grape juice on each day of Chol HaMoed, creating fancier meals, going on family outings, and dressing in holiday clothes.