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MBY 545:1-11 Writing (abridged)
MBY 545:1-11 Writing (abridged)

The matter of writing on Ch”H is often mis-understood (I know it was by me for a long time!) I would estimate that for those who are “fuzzy” about the halachos of Ch”H, the laws of kesiva/writing are stricter than they think. For those who are a bit more familiar, they are probably more lenient than they think! With that introduction, let us begin by putting kesiva into our general rubric of hilchos Ch”H, and then move into a bit of contemporary application, as guided by Rabbis Zucker and Francis, our Ch”H Rabbis. Sound good?

One more review of the “ground rules” of hilchos Ch”H: If a melacha is a ‘maaseh hedyot’ (i.e. not requiring unusual skill), it is permissible as long as it serves a ‘tzorech hamoed’ (festival need). If it is a ‘maaseh uman’ (a specialized skillful work), a ‘tzorech hamoed’ is not sufficient grounds, and either a DHA (‘davar ha-aveid’ – avoiding a loss) or ‘tzorech rabim’ (communal need, as defined in our last lesson) is required to permit it. Of course, questions may arise as to what constitutes a DHA, or a bona fide ‘tzorech rabim’, but at least the general principle is clear.

Kesiva / writing. Is writing a maaseh hedyot or a maaseh uman? It depends what kind of writing it is. If it the skilled, artistic writing of a sofer (scribe) or calligraphist, it is a maaseh uman. If it is plain ordinary writing, it is a maaseh hedyot. That should just about do it as far as summarizing the halachos of writing on Ch”H in a nutshell. There! Wasn’t that easy?

Not so simple… In my introduction, I wrote: “For those who are a bit more familiar, they are probably more lenient than they think!” Now, I will clarify that statement: I believe that many people have the sense that whenever writing is done on Ch”H, it must be done with a ‘shinui’ (deviation from the normal way of writing). This understanding stems from the general concept of ‘shinui’ we discussed in earlier lessons, whereby a maaseh uman can be commuted down to a maaseh hedyot if it is done with a shinui. (See MBY 533:1-5 Melachos permitted on Ch”H.) Based upon what we have learned so far in this lesson, it would seem that a shinui would not be required for ordinary writing, because it is already a maaseh hedyot. So why would someone think that would a shinui ever be required? Is there basis for this common understanding?Note that both of the above are mere customs – one more severe than the next. (Note: Some authorities are of the opinion that even personal correspondence may be written with no more than a token slant on the first line of the letter. There is a rather lengthy and scholarly-written appendix at the back of their sefer to explain the origins of these minhagim.) While minhagim should be respected, it is important to know the difference between a minhag and halacha, and to know when a minhag should be adhered to. In practice, I would say that the first minhag is worthwhile for us to follow (at least the first-line shinui) – and that is for social correspondence only. As far as the extension to all writing, I believe that this minhag is not widely practiced.

Conclusions: - Ordinary writing does not require a shinui, with the possible exception of social correspondence. This is the point I was trying to make in the introduction about the more knowledgeable people!
- If one’s writing is not l’tzorech hamoed, it is completely forbidden, and writing with a shinui does not make it permissible! This is the point I was trying to make in the introduction about the less knowledgeable people!

Writing and Technology
Let us address now some contemporary applications of writing on Ch”H, as excerpted from Hilchos Chol Hamoed Zichron Shlomo, by Rabbis Zucker and Francis, pp. 90-93:

“With the advent of modern technology, new questions have arisen with regard to writing on Ch”H. One such area involves the use of a computer. Inputting data into a computer where the letters appear only on the screen is not considered a melacha according to many authorities. Saving information on a hard drive or a CD is permitted according to many opinions…. Emails, e-faxes and text messages may be sent on Ch”H… Printing out information from a computer is considered by many authorities to be a maaseh hedyot, which is permitted for festival needs…. Taking pictures with a digital camera or a camcorder is permitted according to many authorities. Mp3 players and digital recorders may be used to record if there are no separate, removable media storage units…

Ed. What I have excerpted from Rabbis Zucker and Francis may seem confusing. It’s actually not! What is being said is this: Regular computer functions (which do not involve printing or copying onto external drives) do not constitute melacha at all – i.e. they do not fall under the halachic category of writing (!) and there is no prohibition whatsoever. Where writing is involved – i.e. printing or possibly copying onto an external drive etc. – it is considered by most authorities to be a maaseh hedyot (and not a maaseh uman), which is still permissible as long as it is l’tzorech hamoed.

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