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Tefillin on Shabbos and Yom Tov continued
MBY 31:2 Any one who wears tefillin is bound (n.p.i.) to ask (or be asked): “Do I/you wear tefillin on Chol Hamoed (the intermediary days of Pesach and Sukkos)? And it is amazing how there is such a split response to this question. There doesn’t seem to be any particular pattern in terms of who does and who doesn’t (at least to me). What is the background behind this age-old question?

We have learned that the reason we are not permitted to wear tefillin on Shabbos and Yom Tov (according to the Torah) is because it would be a slight to the ‘kavod’ (honor) of those holy days to wear an ‘os’ (sign), when the day itself is an ‘os’. The question is whether the ‘os’ of tefillin is a slight to the days of chol hamoed or not. On one hand, chol hamoed is also part of the holiday – we eat matzah on chol hamoed Pesach, and we sit in the sukkah on chol hamoed sukkos. On the other hand, those days are not sanctified with the strict prohibition against ‘melacha’ (forbidden labors) as the Yom Tov days are. (Ed: Indeed, there are restrictions against ‘melacha’ on chol hamoed as well, and that is a very important, and unfortunately under-studied, topic in halacha, which, Iy”H, we will study in the future.)

Anyway, the variant customs about wearing the tefillin on chol hamoed is simply rooted in a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama about the above issue: the former rules that chol hamoed is just like Yom Tov, and the latter rules that it is not. Here is the bottom line (as I understand it): If you have a family minhag (custom) not to wear them, then follow it and do not wear them. If you do not, then wear them (but do not make the bracha, out of deference to the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling) unless your rebbe instructs you otherwise! (Ed: Do not do like the joke: well, my father did not wear tefillin on chol hamoed! Oh, did he wear tefillin at all...?)

Furthermore, a shul should try to accommodate the two groups by having two separate minyanim, if possible. The reason for this is that the Torah generally prohibits having people follow different traditions of halacha in the same “space”, in order to minimize the perception that there are different “Torahs”, chas v’halom. If this is not possible, my understanding is that people of both minhagim may daven together. If, in fact, an individual walks into a minyan which completely follows the opposite minhag of his own, he should not deviate from them in their presence. This means that even if one’s minhag – for his entire life – was not to wear them, if the entire minyan is wearing them, he should wear them as well! (Ed: I would like to point out at this juncture that this is one of the great advantages to learning halacha: a person who hears what I just wrote – about “deviating” from his father’s minhag not to wear tefillin in an all-tefillin minyan – might react “How can I wear tefillin? According to my minhag, it is forbidden; it would be sac-religious! Let’s think now: we learned in our last lesson that it is forbidden to wear tefillin on a non-tefillin day only if one wears them for the sake of the mitzvah. If he wears them not for the sake of the mitzvah – e.g. he found tefillin lying in the street on Shabbos, so he puts them on rather than carrying them – he is not violating any prohibitions! Well, the same applies here: the reason that a non-tefillin-wearer would be wearing tefillin in a tefillin minyan is not for the sake of the mitzvah, but for the sake of not creating a split in the community! Thus it is perfectly permissible - and indeed required - that he wear tefillin in this case, even according to the Shulchan Aruch! In fact, once we are going this far, I will tell you that the Mishnah Berura writes that really everyone who wears tefillin on chol hamoed could/should make the following stipulation: “If the ruling of the Rama is correct, then I am indeed obligated to wear the tefillin, and hence I am doing so for the sake of the mitzvah. If, in fact, the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch is correct, then I am not permitted to wear tefillin any more than on Yom Tov; thus I will do so not for the sake of the mitzvah!” Of course, the rabbis would not prohibit me from wearing them either, according to the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling, like they do on Shabbos and Yom Tov, because there is no muktzah issue, nor a concern that I would violate carrying!)

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