A student once asked me whether he could have a haircut or at least shave on Chol Hamoed for the sake of a class photograph. This issue raises a very interesting halachic dilemma.
It is quite clear that the Sages forbade cutting ones hair during Chol Hamoed. The enactment was made in order to motivate people to cut their hair prior to the festival and hence fulfill a basic requirement of honouring them. If the person were to wait for Chol Hamoed, then one would enter the chag looking shabby. It is clear that the halacha recognizes that self respect and taking care of physical needs is of prime importance.
The question now arises – does this prohibition also apply to shaving? On the one hand, shaving is a form of hair cutting .On the other hand the rational behind the enactment does not exist because one will in fact look shabbier if he were not to shave. The poskim take different sides on this debate…
The Node BeYehuda and Be’er Moshe are stringent.
Rav Moshe Feinstein has an interesting opinion. He suggests that one would be permitted to shave during Chol Hamoed on condition that he usually shaves regularly throughout the year, and that he has a need to shave now. Discomfort would, for example, represent a valid need.
There is a third school made up of students of Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchic, (such as Rabbis Liechtenstein and Riskin) who feel that one who regularly shaves throughout the year is obligated and not just allowed to shave on Chol Hamoed. They feel this is the greatest fulfillment of the requirement of honouring the festivals.
It seems the overwhelming custom in our communities is to follow their opinion or the view of Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Shlomo Fisher (Edat Charedit, Yerushalyim) once indicated that those who hold that it is permitted to shave during the year are obligated to shave on Chol Hamoed.
Obviously as in all matters of Psuk, one should consult ones local Rabbi for a definitive opinion.