by R. Gil Student
Children are off from school and the schools are warning parents to avoid risky situations. Some are in quarantine. Many of the regular Chol Hamoed attractions are closed and those that are open may not seem sufficiently safe to concerned parents. What can you do over a full five-day Chol Hamoed? One possibility is arts and crafts — coloring, drawing, building with glue, paper and sticks. Usually, these activities are done for the fun, the experience, and not for the finished product. Writing, cutting, gluing, etc. are forbidden on Yom Tov. Are children allowed to do arts and crafts projects on Chol Hamoed?
I. Fishing for Pleasure
One of the general rules of Chol Hamoed is that an otherwise forbidden labor is permitted if it is both a holiday need (tzorekh ha-mo’ed) and an amateur task (ma’aseh hedyot; see Maggid Mishneh, Hilkhos Yom Tov 8:7). If the labor requires expertise or is not needed for Chol Hamoed or Yom Tov, then it is forbidden. An important test case, much discussed in recent literature, is fishing for pleasure. On Shabbos or Yom Tov, fishing is forbidden as the labor of tzeidah, capturing an animal. Standard fishing does not require expertise and therefore qualifies as a ma’aseh hedyot. The question remains whether fishing for pleasure constitutes a tzorekh ha-mo’ed. You do not need the outcome of the labor for the holiday but rather just the labor itself. Is that considered a holiday need?
The Artscroll Chol Ha-Mo’ed book, by Rav Dovid Zucker and Rav Moshe Francis, contains rulings from various authorities who were asked specific questions in writing the book. The authors asked Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Moshe Stern about fishing for pleasure. Rav Moshe Feinstein (no. 13) answered that fishing for pleasure is permitted, although it is best to eat one of the fish that was caught so the fishing is not just for pleasure but also for food. Rav Moshe Stern (no. 30) answered that fishing for pleasure is forbidden even if you eat one of the fish, because it looks like you are fishing for pleasure. It seems that these two authorities disagree whether doing a labor for pleasure is considered tzorekh ha-mo’ed.
II. Arts and Crafts
However, regarding coloring for enjoyment, the authors write: “A child may draw pictures or color in a coloring book as a means of festival enjoyment” (p. 88). In a footnote (n. 25), the authors explain that this is permitted because coloring is a ma’aseh hedyot which is being done le-tzorekh ha-mo’ed. They consider coloring for enjoyment a holiday need, without mentioning Rav Moshe Stern’s apparent disagreement. Presumably, the authors do this because in their Hebrew essays in the back of the book (no. 4), they argue that the definition of tzorekh ha-mo’ed varies. The more severe the labor, the greater the bar to constitute a holiday need. Apparently, fishing is more severe than writing and therefore pleasure is insufficient a holiday need to permit fishing (according to Rav Stern) but sufficient to permit coloring.
Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl (Yerushalayim Be-Mo’adeha, Chol Hamoed, p. 325) writes that he thinks that drawing and coloring are permitted on Chol Hamoed because they constitute tzorekh ha-mo’ed and ma’aseh hedyot. However, he rules that we should not allow children to draw or color on Chol Hamoed in order to teach them not to do labor on Chol Hamoed. Children, and many adults, find Chol Hamoed confusing because it seems like labor is allowed when really labor is forbidden and only exceptions are permitted. Rav Nebenzahl teaches that in order to raise children who recognize that Chol Hamoed has restrictions, we need to prevent them from doing some activities. (Rav Nebenzahl does not rule about fishing on Chol Hamoed specifically because when asked, he said that fishing for pleasure is always forbidden as a cruel act, like hunting for pleasure – p. 176.)
III. Apple Picking
Many people enjoy going apple picking during Chol Hamoed Sukkos. The authors of the Chol Hamoed book (p. 54) compare apple picking to fishing. Since Rav Moshe Feinstein permitted fishing for pleasure, he would permit apple picking for pleasure, although he would also recommend eating some of the apples on Sukkos if possible. And similarly, Rav Moshe Stern would forbid apple picking.
Rav Yisroel Reisman and Rav Daniel Kleinman, in responsa regarding Coronavirus (Responsa Bigdei Chamudos; Kovetz Halachos, nos. 67-68), question whether children may do arts and crafts, including drawing and coloring, on Chol Hamoed. Is an activity considered a holiday need if it is done for pleasure and not for the outcome? Rav Kleinman quotes Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky as forbidding apple picking on Chol Hamoed, and Rav Reisman likewise quotes Rav Avraham Pam as forbidding it. Rav Reisman suggests that perhaps children’s arts and crafts is more permissible than apple picking because picking apples is inherently preparation for after the holiday, when the apples will be eaten. Arts and crafts are entirely for the pleasure on that day. The resulting crafts are merely an afterthought, often thrown in the garbage when the fun has wound down.
IV. Drawing and Coloring
Rav Asher Weiss (Minchas Asher – Corona, 2nd edition, no. 45) permits arts and crafts on Chol Hamoed. Rav Weiss quotes the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Orach Chaim 545:12) who points out that the permission to write a letter on Chol Hamoed applies even if the recipient will only read it after the holiday. How is that a holiday need? The Arukh Ha-Shulchan explains that because writing involves so little effort and is done in private, it is permitted even when there is no holiday need (although due to custom, Ashkenazim write in a different manner than usual). Rav Weiss adds that this was the case even when people wrote with feathers and ink, and many were illiterate. How much more it must be true today. He also cites Responsa Radbaz (1:357) as support. Chol Hamoed Ke-Hilchaso (6:84) and Peninei Halakhah (Mo’adim 11:14) also permit children to color and draw.
In conclusion, it seems that most authorities permit arts and crafts on Chol Hamoed, particularly this year when children have fewer options. I suspect that Rav Nebenzahl would also permit it this year but I have not been able to confirm it with him. (As always, ask your rabbi specific questions and do not rely on newspaper articles or the internet.)