We’ve been discussing what labor we can do for ourselves on hol hamoed; today’s daf asks what labor we can do for the animals that are part of our households. Rabbi Hama starts the discussion by quoting Rabbi Meir:
The horse that one rides upon and the donkey that one rides upon, one is permitted to trim their hooves. However, a donkey that turns the millstones, no.
Though it’s never stated explicitly, Rabbi Hama’s opinion aligns with the prohibition against causing animals pain (see Bava Metziah 32b). Donkey hooves, which grow quickly, are adapted for extremely rocky terrain. In domestic settings, they do not wear away enough and require regular trimming. Overgrown hooves can split or cause problems in the donkey’s stride, causing instability and pain for the animal. This sensitivity is what the medieval commentator Rashi points to when explaining Rabbi Hama’s position. He writes that when it comes to animals that carry humans, untrimmed hooves not only cause pain but also make it difficult to walk. When it comes to donkeys pushing millstones in a small circle to grind grain, however, one is not permitted to grind more than required for the holiday and so a donkey would be able to do that limited work even with untrimmed hooves.
The Gemara continues with the opinion of Rav Yehuda, who argues that one can trim the hooves even of the donkey who turns a millstone. Curiously, Rashi doesn’t explain why Rav Yehuda disagrees with Rabbi Hama, but presumably Rav Yehuda does not want the donkey to take even a single painful step.
The Gemara then cites several of Rava’s opinions. One, I’ll be honest, seems pretty obvious:
Rava also permitted one to let the blood of an animal for medical purposes on the intermediate days of a festival.
Owning animals means committing oneself to maintaining their health, so medically necessary procedures are permitted on hol hamoed (and it’s worth reminding ourselves that ancient medicine thought bloodletting was medically necessary … a lot).
But Rava offers a second teaching which seems far less obvious: He even permits one to groom a horse on hol hamoed. Horse grooming involves cleaning the horse’s hooves, and brushing its coat, mane, and tail to remove dirt and add shine. Add shine? Why does that override the restrictions on work that operate on hol hamoed?
I’ve maybe ridden a horse twice in my life, as a kid on Lag Ba’omer field trips. But a little more research taught me that grooming your horse is not just aesthetic — it functions as preventative medicine, increasing blood flow and massaging muscles, and also strengthening the bond between rider and horse, increasing relaxation and decreasing anxiety for both! Perhaps Rava permitted grooming one’s horse on hol hamoed in recognition that the relationship between horse and rider is a long term one and requires regular maintenance to thrive. Not grooming your horse for the five days of hol hamoed might not cause immediate physical pain or a loss of productivity, but it can harm the horse in less obvious ways. Taking care of animals isn’t just about medically necessary procedures — it’s also about maintaining your animals’ physical and emotional well-being, even on hol hamoed.
Read all of Moed Katan 10 on Sefaria.