The mishna in Pesachim 50a discusses the fact that various places had various customs with regard to whether or not they performed labor on the 14th of Nissan (Erev Pesach). The gemara instantly jumps on this point, asking why Erev Pesach is different than the day preceding any other holiday or Shabbat? We know from Shabbat 9b that there are various things that a person is forbidden to do on Erev Shabbat from the time of mincha (nine and one-half halachic hours into the day) and on. However, by Erev Pesach, the prohibition begins at midday. Furthermore, the gemara here notes, one who performs labor on Erev Shabbat is told that he will not benefit from his toil, while regarding Erev Pesach a person receives both that punishment plus he is placed under ban.

However, this answer given by the gemara does not really answer the question. Why is Erev Pesach any different? There are two major answers that are suggested in the Rishonim, plus a third that is not stated openly yet is implied by several statements of the Acharonim.


The first approach is that of Rashi. He claims that labor is forbidden on Erev Pesach because a person has many other obligations on that day that pertain to Pesach itself, such as burning the chametz, slaughtering the Paschal lamb, and preparing the matza. As a result, we forbid all other labor so that a person will be able to prepare for Pesach and will not come to do any of these labors on Pesach itself, when such labor is undoubtedly forbidden. The second main approach is that of the Yerushalmi (Pesachim 4:1) cited by Tosafot and others. The Yerushalmi claims that there is a law that a person may not perform any labor on the day that he brings a sacrifice. As such, since every Jew brought a sacrifice on this day (the Paschal lamb), labor is forbidden for everyone.

Before preceding, we should delve a bit deeper into these two reasons. What exactly is the nature of this prohibition? Is it similar to the prohibition of labor on Shabbat and holidays? Is it merely a "protective fence" around the holiday? More importantly, is this law Torah-ordained (d'oraita) or Rabbinic (d'rabbanan)? An understanding of these issues will provide us with a framework within which we can better understand this law. Also important to note at this juncture is what exactly is under debate. According to the Chok Yaakov, Rashi essentially agrees with the view of the Yerushalmi with regard to the prohibition after midday, and the only argument is whether or not the prohibition applies beginning in the morning, and if so why. However, several Rishonim are of the opinion that Rashi is actually arguing on the Yerushalmi with regard to the law after midday, when the prohibition is not merely a custom.


Let us begin with the view of Rashi. His take on this law seems to be that it is an extension of Pesach itself, that we forbid labor so as to ensure that one will be ready when Pesach begins. Given that, his view sees this law as qualitatively similar to the general law by any other Shabbat. The only difference here is that there is more to prepare and thus more time is needed. However, there are problems with this opinion. First, if Rashi's view is as we have described it, then why is there a harsher punishment for one who performs labor on Erev Pesach? If the difference is a quantitative one only, then the punishment here should be the same as by Erev Shabbat! A second problem here is raised by the Magid Mishne. He asks why, according to the view of Rashi, do we not have the same law by Erev Succot as we do by Erev Pesach, seeing as Succot also has several mitzvot that must be prepared before the holiday starts? The Lechem Mishne proposes an answer to this second objection. He claims that among the preparations on Erev Pesach is the making of the matza, which is a specific mitzva after noon. Thus, while both holidays may have many things that need to be prepared before the holiday itself begins, the preparations on Pesach can be assigned to a certain time and thus we can extend the time from which labor becomes forbidden from the time of mincha back to midday. Nevertheless, the first question that we raised remains problematic.

Leaving that problem for now, how are we to understand the view of the Yerushalmi? What are the implications of the prohibition being a function of the sacrifice? The first issue here is why is labor not forbidden for the entire day, as by any other sacrifice? This issue is neatly answered by the fact that the Paschal lamb could not be brought before noon, and thus the first half of the day is not defined as a day when one brings a sacrifice. The second issue is similar to the one raised with regard to Rashi's position: why do we not see such stringencies by any other sacrifice? In general, there is no penalty of excommunication for performing labor while one's sacrifice is being brought, and thus we once again must ask why this sacrifice is different.

The third approach to this prohibition stems from the verses that discuss Pesach. As Rav Mordechai Breuer discusses at length in his book Pirkei Mo'adot, there are really two holidays involved in what we simply refer to as Pesach. The first is "Chag HaPesach," which refers to the day of the 14th of Nissan and the night of the 15th, i.e. the time when the sacrifice was brought and eaten. The second is "Chag HaMatzot," which is the seven-day holiday beginning on the night of the 15th. What is important here is that the day of the 14th itself is in some way viewed as an independent holiday, and thus there may be a prohibition stemming from that facet. It is possible that this view lies behind the various opinions that compare Erev Pesach to Chol HaMoed, and the GR"A actually states that Erev Pesach is considered to be a "mo'ed," the term used in Vayikra 23 for the holidays (I have also ben told that Rav Michael Rosensweig of Yeshiva University has discussed this aspect of the 14th of Nissan).



Given this introduction, we can now go through the various views on this law throughout the Rishonim and Acharonim, as well as gain a better understanding of some of the various details surrounding this law. Ran deals with the question as to whether or not this law is d'oraita or d'rabbanan. He claims that the view of Tosafot, as based on the Yerushalmi, would seem to imply that the law is d'oraita. However, the Ba'al HaMaor notes that if the view of the Yerushalmi is accepted, then there is no longer any prohibition, as the sacrifice no longer exists and thus there is no reason not to perform labor on Erev Pesach. Two avenues of response are given to the Ba'al HaMaor's opinion. The first is that of Ra'avad, who states that even after the destruction of the Temple this law still applies, as we hope that the Temple will be rebuilt at any moment, and we will once again be obligated to bring the sacrifice and thus be forbidden from working on this day. Ramban offers an alternative approach to rejecting the Ba'al HaMaor. He claims that even if the sacrifice is no longer brought, this prohibition still has the status of a law that was created by the power of a Sanhedrin, which can only be retracted by another Sanhedrin which is greater than the original one in both wisdom and number of students. Since no Sanhedrin currently exists, the prohibition stands as it is.

The words of Rambam present us with somewhat of a problem. He states (Hil. Yom Tov 8:17-18) that the prohibition here is Rabbinic similar to that of Chol HaMoed, although it is a more lenient prohibition than that of Chol HaMoed. Furthermore, he states the reason for the prohibition as being that one is obligated to bring both the Paschal lamb and the Chagigah-offering on Erev Pesach. What does this mean? Does Rambam follow the view of Rashi, making the prohibition contingent on the sheer amount of preparation that is required, or is he claiming that the prohibition here is connected to our general law that labor is forbidden when one offers a sacrifice? If we say that he is following Rashi, then we must still explain why he states that the prohibition takes effect at the time when one could bring the sacrifice - what is the connection between the two? On the other hand, perhaps we can better understand Rambam's view through the perspective of the Yerushalmi. The only issue would be to explain why we are stricter here than by other sacrifices, but perhaps we can suggest that the fact that there are two special sacrifices being brought adds a certain degree of strictness to the prohibition not found by other sacrifices.

There are two issues in which we can see the debate between Rashi and the Yerushalmi playing itself out. The first is in regard to the type of labor that is forbidden on Erev Pesach. Rosh states that a person may not perform any form of labor for the purpose of earning money, although he may fix his clothes so that they will be ready for the holiday and he may write notes for himself while he is learning. His son, the Tur, cites the Avi Ezri (Ra'avyah) who is of the same opinion. The Beit Yoseif notes that the Avi Ezri (and thus Rosh) does not permit actual labor, and thus while one is allowed to fix his garments, he may not do so by actually sewing them. Similarly, one may only write notes for himself, as such as act does not appear to a labor, yet one may not write things down on behalf of other people. Ramo cites the Mahari Bruna who writes that only real labors are forbidden, while all others are permitted, and the Magen Avraham states that anything that is permitted on Chol HaMoed (i.e. things that refraining from doing them will lead to a financial loss or labors that do not require the skill of a craftsman) is permitted on Erev Pesach as well. Finally, the Taz quotes the Levush who states that in many places the accepted practice is to perform all categories of labor. There is a dual issue at play here. The first is what is meant by "labor"? The likely suggestion is that the reference is to the 39 categories of labor that are forbidden on Shabbat. If this is true, how do we get from there to allowing certain labors under various conditions (i.e. writing for oneself)? This leads back to our main issue with regard to the general nature of the day. While Shabbat provides us with our model with regard to which labors we will forbid, how we view the day will define the strictness of the prohibition. The stricter approaches likely stem from the opinion of the Yerushalmi. Rambam (Hil. Klei HaMikdash 6:9) discusses that various families used to take turns bringing the wood to be burned on the altar. The day on which they brought the wood, which is considered as an offering in the same way that a sacrifice is, was considered to be a holiday for them and they were forbidden to perform labor on that day. Based on this, perhaps we can view the prohibition of labor with regard to bringing a sacrifice in the same way that we view labor on Chol HaMoed (thus explaining the Magen Avraham's view) - while the day itself is not defined by the Torah as a holiday, we are commanded to refrain from labor to some degree so as to differentiate the day from any other weekday (see Rambam Hil. Yom Tov 7:1). As such, labor done for profit would certainly be forbidden, as well as any labor that could be deemed unnecessary, such as labor that is performed for others. On the other hand, if the prohibition stems from Pesach itself, as is mainly a "protective fence" around the holiday, then perhaps there is room to be more lenient. Based on that, it is possible that any category of labor is permitted (as per the Levush), as our concern is that we will not be prepared in time for Pesach, a concern that would not necessarily relate to the general prohibition of labor on Shabbat.

The second issue is whether or not one may ask a non-Jew to perform labor for him on Erev Pesach. Such an act is forbidden on Shabbat, and thus the law here will depend on how closely we identify Erev Pesach with being an actual holiday. The Beit Yoseif cites the Mordechai, who rules that to do so is forbidden, as it is on Chol HaMoed. However, he also quotes the Rokeiach, who claims that this prohibition of asking a non-Jew to perform labor applies only on Shabbat and holidays. The real argument here is the holiday status of Erev Pesach. According to the Mordechai, it has that status to a very high degree, while the Rokeiach distinguishes it from other such days. The Bach qualifies the view of the Mordechai, claiming that one may not get a haircut from a non-Jew on Erev Pesach because a Jew helps in the labor by moving his head (see Makkot 20b). However, the Maharshal claims that we do not have such a concern, and it is permitted to get a haircut from a non-Jew, although not from a Jew, on Erev Pesach. The Shulchan Aruch (and the Mahari Mintz) rules that our practice is to allow one to ask a non-Jew to do work on his behalf. As far as the root issue involved here, two approaches are discussed among the Acharonim. The GR"A claims that one may not ask a non-Jew to do work either because Erev Pesach is considered to be a mo'ed (echoing the view of the Yerushalmi) or because we fear that if we allow a person to work on Erev Pesach, he will assume that just as it is permitted then, so too is it permitted on Shabbat. This second view may also be a derivative of the Yerushalmi's position, in that Erev Pesach is enough like a holiday that we fear that a person may come to confuse it with an actual holiday. The second approach is found in the Aruch HaShulchan. He claims that the debate here is whether or not our law is d'oraita or d'rabbanan. If it is a Torah-based law, then we are strict with it, while if it is Rabbinic we are able to be more lenient under more sets of circumstances.

One final difference between the views of Rashi and the Yerushalmi that we will raise here. The Chok Yaakov notes that the two reasons will result in different laws if Erev Pesach falls out on Shabbat. If the reason is that we need time to prepare, then that preparation time will be pushed back a day to Friday and thus the prohibition of labor that Friday will begin at noon and not at the time of mincha. However, if the law follows the view of the Yerushalmi, then our only concern is when the Paschal lamb was actually offered. Since its offering could occur even on Shabbat, there would be no reason to be strict on the Friday before.

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