Guest Post – Dr. Dan Fertel – Tefillin on Chol HaMoed

This week I went to morning minyan during Chol Hamoed. I brought my tefillin with

me. It was not the first time I attended minyan during Chol Hamoed, but it was the first time I

had my tefillin with me there during Chol Hamoed. No one there put them on. Should I have?

 

If you answer yes, you are correct. The argument here is that weekday Chol Hamoed is not a Shabbat

or Yom Tov. We wear tefillin on holidays during weekdays without Yom Tov’s including Rosh Chodesh,

Chanukah, and Purim. Therefore we need to be wearing them on Chol Hamoed.

 

However, if you answer no, you are also correct. We do not wear tefillin the Yom Tovs of the major

holidays in the Torah as we read in Emor on the second day of Peasch, this past Sunday and on the first

two days of Succos. Since Pesach lasts 7 days and we are eating Matzah throughout that holiday, and

since Succos last 7 days, not including Shemini Atzeret and Simchas Torah, we are still saying the Succos

prayers with the lulav and esrog and eating in the Succah. We are still celebrating those holidays on chol

hamoed. Therefore we need not be wearing tefillin on chol hamoed.

 

The Shulchan Aruch advocated not wearing them on chol hamoed. Sephardic Jews follow this custom

and therefore do not wear tefillin on chol hamoed. I read that Yemenite Jews wore tefillin on Chol

Hamoed. As of now I haven’t confirmed this.

 

What about early European and Ashkanazic Jews? In the Mishna, Rabbi Yehudah teaches that one may

write and correct Mezuzahs on Chol Hamoed. Rashi explains that with that it is permitted to use

Mezuzas and tefillin on Chol Hamoed and many but not all have interpreted Rashi that one must wear

tefillin as that is what the Mishna is teaching. Many early religious European Jewish communities did.

Some did without reciting a blessing, which included those that followed Jacob Ben Asher from the 13-

14 century who was born in Germany and died in Spain, Moses of Coucy from France in the 13th century

and David Halevi Segal from the 17th century Poland. Others recite a blessing in an undertone which

follows the RAMBAM, Maimonides. There were those who took their tefillin off before Hallel and those

who may have put them on only for the early blessings and took them off before the major portion of

shacharit. Two of the most influential rabbis and scholars in Eastern Europe for Ashkanazic Jews on

whether or not to put on tefillin on chol hamoed were the Rama and the Vilna Gaon.

 

Moses Issereles, also known as the Rama, who lived 16th century Krakow, now part of Poland and at one

time part of the Austrian empire, wrote interpretations of the Shulchan Aruch and was very influential,

especially in what is now southern Poland and adjacent countries. He believed in wearing tefillin on chol

hamoed. His custom was to take them off before Hallel which I was told (by Lazlo) followed by the

religious Jews of Budapest, Hungary and is also followed by Ashkanazic Jews in the United States whose

follow the custom of wearing them.

 

Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman also known as the Vilna Gaon was a famous Talmudic scholar in the 18th

Century in Vilna which is now in Lithuania and his teachings were very influential on those living in what

is today northern Poland and Russia and today all over the world. His teaching on this subject was that

tefillin not be worn on Chol Hamoed. Also from the same general area as the Vina Gaon was another

influential rabbi, Shner Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad rebbe also known as the Alter Rebbe, who also

taught that tefillin not be worn. Therefore the Chabad Chassidic Jews and those Ashkanazic Jews

around Lithuania, that part of northern Poland, and that part of Russia did not wear them for chol

hamoed. Even though Chabad Lebavitch do not wear Tefillin on Chol Hamoed, I was told by Yossie

Nemes’s brother Menachem Mendel that there are other Chassidic sects who wear tefillin on Chol

Hamoed.

 

For Ashkanazic Jews in United States, it is to follow whatever tradition followed by the family. If the

father put on tefillin of chol hamoed, he did. If the father did not, he did not. Those who didn’t know

the family tradition would follow those around them and whatever their rabbi answered when asked. I

was told by Norman Fertel that in the 1950’s those at Chevra Tehillin did and those at Anches Sfard did

not. It was not as clear about those at Beth Israel in the early days, but it may have been mixed. I asked

Rabbi Bienenfeld about the 1970’s when he was here, and it was his recollection, that those who

attended Beth Israel minyans at that time did. Rabbi Bienenfeld did put on tefillin on chol hamoed, and

therefore there may have been those who followed his lead. The last time I was at Beth Israel before

Katrina for chol hamoed which I think was Pesach 2005, it was the opposite. Rabbi Schiff did not wear

them and told those who brought tefillin that it was Chol Hamoed and they didn’t have to wear them,

and therefore no one put them on. I asked our current Rabbis at Beth Israel their custom. Rabbi Gabe

as many or most of you know by now, does not put on tefillin on Chol Hamoed. He mentioned to me

that his mother’s family who was from Galicia in an area which is now bordering Poland and Ukraine did

not. The rabbis at the Yeshiva in Israel where Rabbi Gabe studied also did not put them on. On the

other hand, Rabbi David as many or most of you know, puts on tefillin on Chol Hamoed. He told me he

does not know his family custom and follows the custom of his rabbinic teachers who do.

 

Rabbi Bienenfeld also told me about a Halachic Discussion as to whether there should be two minyans

for those who put on tefillin and those who do not when there are enough men for both minyans. For

the next holiday, Succos, there will be 2 minyans at Beth Israel for Chol Hamoed. Rabbi David will lead

the minyan for those who put on Tefillin and Rabbi Gabe will lead the minyan for those who do not.

(Note: This was intended to be a joke). Actually, Sion Danishrad told me that when goes to New York to

visit his sons, he goes to such a center that has two separate minyans, and they combine for Musaf. Rav

Moshe Feinstein did write in Orah Chaim (5:24:7) that it was fine for multiple people in one shul to

practice different minhagim whether or not to wear tefillin, but mentions that the chazzan should be

practicing the shul’s minhag. His opinion was also if someone has no minhag in regards to wearing

them, they should wear tefillin with a blessing as that was the minhag going back a long time. There are

those who would probably not agree with this, including those who follow the Vilna Gaon and those

influenced by Chabad.

 

I initially read that most Israeli Ashkanazic Jews follow the Vilna Gaon and do not. Shabi Perl told me

that where he goes to Minyan where he lives in Israel, some do, some don’t. Shabi told me that he used

to wear tefillin on Chol Hamoed, but no longer does after spending time at Chabad Center for years

before moving back to Israel. Though Rabbi Bienenfeld told me he used to put them on for Chol

Hamoed following his father’s custom, he changed his custom after moving to Israel when he was told

by the great poskim that the minhag in Israel was not to wear tefillin on Chol Hamoed, and he used the

terms great poskim and minhag.

 

What about me? Until recently, I never really knew what my father’s family did. I also never knew what

my Grandfather Blotner and his family did. My great grandfather Shaul or Charles Blotner passed away

when my Uncle Joe and my mom were little. I was told by my cousin Malcolm Blotner, a descendent of

Shaul’s brother Moshe, that Moshe was not religious. Like Rabbi Gabe’s family, the Blotners also came

from Galicia and came from the part which is now part of the Ukraine and it is possible they may not

have. The only one I knew about was that my grandmother Hilda Blotner told my cousin Jonathan that

her father and our great grandfather Joseph Levin who was the first generation Beth Israel member did

not wear tefillin on chol hamoed. My grandmother was born in Russia, and they were from an area of

Russia influenced by the Vilna Gaon and the Alter Rebbe and, with previous discussion with family

members, there may have also been Sephardic influence with her family.

 

I don’t remember what I did at minyans before moving back to the New Orleans Area approximately 26

years ago. I may have just followed the custom of those there, but I do not remember putting them on.

I have spent time attending services approaching 20 years at Chabad Center, including Chol Hamoed.

For at least 20 years and probably longer, I have not worn tefillin attending Chol Hamoed minyans at

Chabad Center following Chabad custom, and as I discovered later, also following the custom of my

maternal grandmother’s family.

 

Recently, I have been in contact with my father’s half-brother, Norman Fertel and with one of his sons

Baruch and they wear them. Norman told me that he was following the custom of those at Chevra

Tehillim at that time around the 1950’s. That also makes sense for another reason. If you remember

the talk given by Randy Fertel, our Great Grandfather Samuel Fertel, a Chevra Tehillum member, was

born in Krakow, the home of Rabbi Moses Issereles, the Rama, and all the rest of my father’s family

including the Deiches and the Cohens came from England, but were also originally from Krakow.

So should I now start putting them on because it is probably the original custom of all of my dad’s

family, or do I not since this is what I have done all these years. I have not sought advice from any of the

rabbis, but in discussing the situation with Yossie Nemes’s brother, Menachem Mendel, his comment

was that in not putting on tefillin all these years, that I have developed my own custom, and therefore, I

have continued not wearing tefillin on chol hamoed, including this week. Talking to others faced with

the same situation, including Shabi Perl and Rabbi Bienenfeld, I have found it easier to not to put them

on since I haven’t been all these years, than it is to start or restart putting them on after not putting

them on in the recent past.