Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 531:1) writes that there is a mitzvah to get a haircut on erev yom tov. The Pri Megadim is unsure if the mitzvah is that one should ensure his hair looks its best in honor of yom tov, or perhaps there is only a mitzvah to get a haircut if one’s hair is somewhat overgrown and he definitely needs one. If one did not get a haircut before yom tov, he may not get one on chol ha’moed. This is true even though one could correctly argue that getting a haircut qualifies as a yom tov need. Nevertheless, the Sages forbade getting a haircut on chol ha’moed. The prohibition applies to shaving as well. Still, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, ruled that in case of great need, someone who shaves every day, who is in a place where other people likewise shave every day, may shave even on chol ha’moed. But even if someone relies on this leniency, he still may not get a haircut. The Shulchan Aruch clearly writes, however, that a mustache was not included in the decree. One may freely trim his mustache on chol ha’moed, even if his only intention is for vanity. Interestingly, Rav Elyashiv discusses a person who mindlessly pulls out his hair while engaged in studying or some other activity. He does not have to be on guard to suspend that behavior on chol ha’moed. However, once a person realizes that he is randomly pulling out hairs, he should cease doing so on chol ha’moed. The Shulchan Aruch lists several exceptions to the above injunction. One who was let out of prison right before yom tov or on chol ha’moed may get a haircut and shave. The Sha’ar HaTziyon opines that even if a prisoner was let out a few hours before yom tov and correctly and wisely chose to use his precious little time to prepare for the holiday (such as preparing his lulav or his Seder needs), he may nevertheless not take a haircut on chol ha’moed. An excommunicated individual, who was forbidden to get a haircut, may get a haircut on chol ha’moed if he was freed from his exclusionary treatment on chol ha’moed.
A person who uttered a vow that he would not shave may shave on chol ha’moed if he had his vow annulled then. What is the halacha regarding a person who lost his shaver and wasn’t able to shave before yom tov? What happens if the barber had a bout of the flu and was closed the week before yom tov? What happens if a person’s electricity was shut off due to non-payment, and it was only restored right before yom tov? May he shave when his power is restored? The Mishnah Berurah writes that we may not add to the exceptions the Shulchan Aruch listed. There is something unique about those circumstances that doesn’t necessarily apply to other situations (see Sha’ar HaTziyon 7). However, there are some other exceptions mentioned in the Gemara that the Shulchan Aruch chose not to list. The Gemara writes in Moed Katan that a nazir who completed his nezirus may get a haircut on chol ha’moed. He was not able to cut his hair before and, in fact, now has a mitzvah to do so. (As an aside, the Rashba writes that the mitzvah is only to cut the hair on his head, not the beard.) The Gemara writes that a nazir must cut his hair with a razor. This would normally be forbidden for a man, as he has an obligation to preserve his peyos. Nevertheless, the Torah tells us that a nazir must perform his haircutting ritual with a razor. This may even be done on chol ha’moed. There is another interesting example, mentioned by the Rema, of someone who is permitted to get a haircut on chol ha’moed. The Torah writes that the Levi’im who took the place of the bechorim were obligated to shave all their hair with a razor. Rashi quotes Rav Moshe HaDarshan that the shaving was to atone for the sin of idolatry committed by the firstborn during the sin of the Golden Calf. Just as a metzora must shave all his hair, someone who committed idolatry must do likewise.
A metzora and someone who worshipped Avodah Zarah are similar in the respect that they are both symbolically considered dead. The Terumas HaDeshen therefore writes that there is a custom that a heretic who wants to do teshuvah shaves all his hair and goes to the mikveh. The Rema writes that this person who has now returned to the fold may fulfill this custom and shave his hair on chol ha’moed. The Shvus Yaakov cautions that the shaving should not be done with a razor, as we shouldn’t get too carried away with the custom. The Levi’im had a clear commandment to shave with a razor and therefore were permitted to do so. The same holds true for the nazir and metzora. This ba’al teshuvah, though, who is shaving to fulfill a custom, must use scissors, as it is forbidden for a man to completely remove his peyos or shave his beard with a razor. Although this situation may not have much everyday relevance, the implications of this halacha do. The Mishnah Berurah writes that even if this ba’al teshuvah repented before yom tov, with ample time to shave, he may nevertheless shave on chol ha’moed. The Mishnah Berurah says the reason for this leniency is that the custom is that he may not be counted for a minyan before he shaves. Shaving enables him to do mitzvos and be counted as a full upstanding member of Klal Yisrael. Based on this explanation, the poskim conclude that one may get a haircut on chol ha’moed if it fulfills a mitzvah purpose. The poskim mention three examples: (1) A man who puts on tefillin on chol ha’moed may cut his hair if he is concerned that his long hair may be a chatzitzah; (2) A married woman who is unable to cover her hair because it is too long may trim her hair on chol ha’moed; and (3) Finally, a chassidish woman who has a custom of shaving all her hair before going to the mikveh may do so even on chol ha’moed.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@ gmail.com.