Masechet Mo’ed Katan 13a-19b

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22 Mar 2007

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, the Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan


Mo’ed Katan 13

Another activity that should not be scheduled for Chol HaMoed is moving one’s furniture from one house to another. The Mishna teaches that moving from one house to another is forbidden, although you can move furniture out of your house into the yard that is attached to it.

The Talmud Yerushalmi distinguishes between moving out of a house, and having new furniture, appliances, etc. delivered to your house. The latter case would be permitted, according to the Yerushalmi, since receiving these new furnishings is a happy occasion for someone, which matches the mood of the holiday.

Yet another concern expressed by the Mishna is a case where a craftsman has completed work on something that belongs to you. Can it be picked up from him on Chol HaMoed? According to the Mishna you should try to avoid doing so, but in the event that you are concerned about leaving it with the craftsman, it can be taken from his workplace and left outside in the yard. A baraita is quoted by the Gemara that allows for storing the finished product in a safer place, if necessary, and even allowing it to be brought home – in a discreet manner – if there is concern that it will be stolen, or even if one feels that the craftsman cannot be trusted and may ask to be paid for it a second time.

Several reasons are suggested by the rishonim in explanation of the rule forbidding finished products from being brought home from the craftsman’s shop –

Mo’ed Katan 14

Ordinarily, we expect a person to prepare himself for Yom Tov by shaving, cutting his hair, etc. In order to ensure that people do not postpone doing so until Chol HaMoed – which would leave them “untrimmed” for the beginning of the holiday – the Sages forbid haircuts throughout the days of Chol HaMoed.

The first Mishna in the third perek (chapter) of Masechet Mo’ed Katan teaches that if a person was in a situation that did not allow for proper preparation for the holiday –  for example, an ocean traveler (the Ritva says that this applies to any traveler who reaches his city just before the holiday begins or on Chol HaMoed itself), a captive who was freed, or someone released from prison – he would be permitted to shave during Chol HaMoed. In these (and similar) cases, the Sages recognized that their regulation should not apply.

Is all travel recognized as legitimate? Rava explains that someone who was traveling on business to support his family is certainly permitted to shave upon his return, while someone who was on a pleasure trip would not be allowed special dispensation. The question remains in the case of someone who traveled in the hope of profiting in business beyond his basic needs. In such a case, the Tanna of our Mishna is understood to permit shaving, while Rabbi Yehuda is quoted in our Gemara as forbidding it, since his travel is considered to be she-lo birshut – without permission.

Rashi, the Ran, and many other rishonim understand the ruling of she-lo birshut to mean that the person left for his own reasons, but was not really forced to do so. Their approach is that according to Rabbi Yehuda, a person who must travel to support his family is considered an anoos – someone who is forced into a situation that is beyond his control – and in such cases we recognize the need for leniency. The person who chooses to travel for profit has no grounds to demand special consideration.

Another approach is offered by the Ra’avad, Ritva, Meiri and others. They suggest that Rabbi Yehuda’s comment of she-lo birshut refers specifically to someone who leaves Israel and travels to the Diaspora. In such a case, the travel is undertaken “without permission” and no dispensation can be allowed, unless the individual is in a situation where he cannot support his family otherwise. According to this approach, if someone was traveling for profit – or even for pleasure – and remained within the boundaries of the Land of Israel, Rabbi Yehuda would agree that he was acting birshut (i.e. within the bounds of acceptable halakhic behavior) and would, therefore, be permitted to shave on Chol HaMoed upon his return home.

Mo’ed Katan 15

Although the Mishnayot of the third perek (chapter) begin with a discussion of Chol HaMoed – and specifically the rules that regulate washing clothing, taking haircuts and writing during that time – the Gemara chooses to move the conversation in the direction of two other circumstances that have similar halakhot: aveilut (mourning) and nidduy (a ban or excommunication of sorts). The connection to these halakhot stems both from the similarity between the restrictions of Chol HaMoed and these circumstances, as well as from the need to determine appropriate behavior when they coincide (for example, when a person becomes a mourner on, or immediately before, Yom Tov).

Many of the laws that apply to aveilut are mentioned in the TaNaKH, and over the generations they have developed into a code of accepted tradition. Nevertheless, given that these halakhot do not appear listed formally in the Torah, many practical questions arise as to what is required and what is simply tradition, when and how exactly certain practices should – or must – be done.

One text-source that is used by the Gemara in determining accepted practice for Jewish mourning is the passage in Yechezkel 24:15-17, where the prophet Yechezkel is informed by God that his most beloved will be taken away in a plague, yet he should not behave as a mourner ordinarily does. He is told that while remaining silent he should keep his head normally attired, continue wearing his shoes, refrain from covering his mouth and not accept meals from others.

From the fact that Yechezkel is commanded pe’erkha havush alekha – to retain his pe’er on his head – the Gemara understands that other aveilim are not supposed to wear Tefillin (for the first day of aveilut). From the fact that Yechezkel is told ha’anek dom – remain silent – the Gemara learns that an avel should not exchange greetings with others.

The difficulty with this Gemara is that Yechezkel is commanded to behave as if he is not a mourner, so how can we learn from his need to be silent that an avel cannot exchange greetings? Several approaches are suggested by the rishonim
The Ra’avad points out that the commandment to behave normally appears after the statement ha’anek dom (see pasuk – verse – 17) suggesting that silence is one mourning activity that is permitted to him.
Others maintain that the correct interpretation of the passage is that Yechezkel is being told that he should neither remain silent, nor should he do any other activities that make him appear to be in aveilut.
The Tosafot ha-Rosh argues that Yechezkel is certainly not being commanded to behave in a manner that is more stringent than others. Thus, if he could not speak, we can conclude that other mourners cannot, either.

Mo’ed Katan 16

The first two kings of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel were both plagued by actions so severe that they brought censure by God and His prophets. In King Saul‘s case (see I Shmuel, chapter 15), the war against Amalek – where he allowed King Agag to live and did not destroy the animals of the Amalek nation, as commanded – led to Shmuel’s rebuke, Saul’s admission of fault (see ibid:24), and the loss of his kingdom. In the case of his successor, King David (see 2 Shmuel, chapter 11), the incident with Batsheva leads to Natan’s parable of the rich man who steals a poor man’s sheep, David’s admission of fault (see ibid 12:13) and a series of family tragedies.

Our Gemara examines the song sung by King David once he had established himself as king – “on the day that God saved him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul” (see I Shmuel 22:1), commenting that God was unhappy with David’s portrayal of Saul’s downfall – “…had you been Saul and he been David, many David’s would have been destroyed before him.”

This enigmatic statement is understood by Rashi to mean that King Saul was seen by God as a more righteous individual than David, however it was not his destiny to remain king. Rabbenu Gershom suggests that the intention is to say that had David possessed the qualities of modesty that were a basic part of Saul’s personality it would have been enough to make David deserve to be king.

Several reasons are suggested in an attempt to explain why it was not Saul’s destiny to rule over the long-term. The Iyun Yaakov suggests that the tribe of Yehuda had been chosen for leadership and not the tribe of Binyamin, so Saul’s monarchy was doomed from the first. The Ran and the Tosafot ha-Rosh both suggest that it was Saul’s pristine family background that made him ineligible for long-term rule. Specifically because of the questions that existed in David’s background (descending from Ruth the Moabite), he was the appropriate model of a leader who could overcome adversity to rule.

Mo’ed Katan 17

Aside from Chol HaMoed and aveilut (mourning), this perek (chapter) discusses situations of nidduy – bans – a type of excommunication.

Although we may have thought that formal bans could only be meted out by a formal court system, Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani relates a story about one of the maids who worked in the home of Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nassi whose ban was accepted by the community of scholars. Once, this particular maid saw a person who was beating his adult child. Her immediate – and vocal – reaction was that this person should be banned, since he was putting a “stumbling block” before his son (see Vayikra 19:14), who would likely try to defend himself by hitting back (see Shmot 21:15). The ban was accepted, and according to the Gemara, remained in force for three years.

Although her reasoning was certainly correct, why did it take the Sages three years to undo the ban that Rebbi’s maid had declared?

Rabbeinu Yehonatan suggests that the crucial question that needs to be asked when discussing the removal of a ban is whether the individual recognizes the inappropriateness of his actions and accepts that such behavior should not be repeated. Until such time as that point is clarified, the person will remain excommunicated. The Rosh says that in order for a ban to be lifted we need those people who convene to remove it to be greater than the person who declared it in the first place. Rebbi’s maid was known to be a woman of unique intelligence and was truly God-fearing, to the extent that it was difficult to find someone with her qualities who could lift the ban. It should be noted that we find “the maid of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi” mentioned in other contexts in the Gemara. In one case she is quoted offering interpretations to difficult words whose meaning escaped the Sages, explaining that these were words that she was familiar with from listening to the conversation in the home of her master.

Mo’ed Katan 18

Generally speaking, writing is forbidden on Chol HaMoed. The Mishna, however, lists various documents that can be written:

What is the common thread that allows all of these different documents to be written on Chol HaMoed?

Why should a divorce, for example, be permitted?

Rashi understands the case to be one where a man is planning to travel on Chol HaMoed and is concerned lest his wife be left an agunah (literally “a chained woman” who cannot remarry) should he disappear; thus it is a davar ha-aved. Another suggestion is that in many cases of a contentious, unhappy home, a divorce is the only solution that will bring peace to the husband and wife, so it is considered tzorekh ha-mo’ed – necessary for the holiday. In a similar vein, the Talmud Yerushalmi asks why a sad event like a divorce would be permitted on the holiday, and responds that once a person has decided to divorce, writing the get – the divorce document – is not considered to be a sad event any longer.

Mo’ed Katan 19

Although the Mishna‘s concern is whether a person is allowed to write Tefillin or mezuzot on Chol HaMoed (we follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda who permits a sofer (scribe) to write for himself, but not for reasons of business), the issue that is raised by the rishonim is one that is not discussed by the Talmud at all. Is a person obligated in the commandment of Tefillin during this holiday period?

Many of the rishonim (including the Ri”f, the Rambam, the Rashba and others) rule that Chol HaMoed is considered to be Yom Tov, and thus Tefillin should not be worn. The Ritva and others rule that these are more similar to regular days and Tefillin should be worn. According to the Meiri, this was, in fact, common practice in Ashkenazi communities, while the Sephardic communities followed the ruling of the Rambam and did not wear Tefillin. Another suggestion that appears in the rishonim is that Tefillin should be put on but no blessings should be recited, since we are not certain whether there is truly an obligation on these days.

There is no final ruling on this disagreement even today, and different communities follow their own traditions. Most Ashkenazi communities follow the Rama who rules that Tefillin are put on with the normal blessings, while the Sephardic communities do not put them on at all. With regard to this discussion, Chassidim have accepted the Sephardic tradition and do not put on Tefillin. Although in the Diaspora you will often find a single synagogue where some congregants will be praying in Tefillin on Chol HaMoed and others will be praying without them, in Israel the accepted practice is that no one wears them publicly.

According to those who rule that Tefillin are worn, the discussion in the Mishna makes perfect sense – a sofer may need to write Tefillin for himself, since he needs to use them on Chol HaMoed. Those who believe that Tefillin are not a mitzvah on Chol HaMoed will be forced to explain that we permit the sofer to write Tefillin for use immediately after the holiday.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.