A food stall in Pompeii Photo Credit: Pompeii Sites


Last month, archaeologists made a fascinating discovery at an ancient site that dates back to nine years after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. According to a report by the New York Times, the latest major finding in Pompeii is a street food stall — or a thermopolium — that dates to 79 C.E.

This is the first modern-day discovery, of the ancient kirah discussed in the Mishnah in tractate Shabbos.

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

This one, however, was obviously treif as it was in Pompeii and was decorated with painted images of a nymph among other things. The snack bar was found along with what are likely the remains of snails, sheep, fish, and other foods for purchase by passersby. It is among 80 other thermopolia unearthed at Pompeii; researchers have learned about the eating and living habits of residents of the ancient city from excavations of such enterprises.

As a background, in the times of Chazal there were three types of ovens — tanur, kupach, and kirah. Each contained a fire that was fueled either by olive pit remnants and wood or by straw and grasses. Each of these ovens had a hole on the very top where a pot could be inserted. A large lip that curved around the pot prevented the pot from falling into the hole.

A tanur was very hot and had a triangular or cone shape. The heat was greater because the shape intensified the heat. A kupach was cube shaped and had room for one pot insert. A kirah was rectangular shaped and had room for two (or more) pot inserts.

All three of these different types of ovens have different halachos.

Before we discuss the exact technical differences, we should know that our poskim have determined that modern day ovens are considered like a kirah, perhaps like that just discovered. Do not be confused by the fact that modern Hebrew calls all ovens a “tanur.” A pizza oven or baker’s oven, however, is considered like a tanur according to the Mishnah Berurah (253:28). The Chazon Ish (OC 37:7) is lenient.

Reviewing Chazara

Chazara is defined as the placing back of a food item on the heat source on Shabbos. Chazara could never be done on or above a tanur because it was so hot that the rabbinic prohibition of “looks like cooking” — mechzi k’mevashel — always applied. This is true even if fuel was removed (grifah) or covered up with ash (ketimah).

There are two possible scenarios for chazara to occur. The first scenario is a cooked food being placed on the heat source for the first time on Shabbos, and the “placing back” refers to the original time that the food was cooked.

The second scenario is when a food item was on the heat source on Shabbos and was taken off in such a manner that the initial placement has become discontinued or invalid. Both of these scenarios are considered violations of the rabbinic prohibition of chazara.

[It should be noted that the heat source referred to here is one that is generally used for cooking. However, if that source of heat is never used for cooking, then the rabbinic prohibition of chazarah does not apply if the food is fully cooked. Thus, one could place a cold potato kugel from the refrigerator onto an old house radiator on Shabbos morning since 1] the potato kugel is already cooked and 2] the radiator is never used for cooking. Similarly, one can place such a kugel on top of the cholent pot since one never cooks food there. A blech, however, is a place where cooking is done and one may not even place cooked food there if it is possible for the kugel to reach a temperature above yad soledes bo.]

The term chazara is used by people to mean the permitted manner in which to place food back on the blech. Such a chazara is permitted, when done while carefully adhering to the five conditions. When done with the conditions absent, it is considered forbidden chazarah.

Reasons for Prohibition: Mechzi K’mevashel and Shema Yechateh BaGachalim

Mechzi K’mevashel happens when it appears as if you are cooking. This prohibition is discussed by the RaN and Rashi. Shema Yechateh BaGachalim is when there is a risk of someone coming to stoke the coals. This second reason is given by Rabbeinu Tam in his Sefer HaYasha.

Which of the reasons do we follow? The Mishnah Berurah (253:37) rules that one should be stringent like both of the reasons cited in the Rishonim.

Why should there be a prohibition on account of shema yechate b’gechalim when dealing with fully cooked food? We have no such concern on Friday in regard to shehiya — the issue of leaving fully cooked food on the flame. Why then, according to Rabbeinu Tam, is there such a concern on Shabbos? The Mishnah Berurah (253:52) explains that we are concerned that one may stir up coals to heat up a chilled dish that was just placed on the fire, but there is no such concern when the dish was on a fire from before Shabbos and is cooking. The First Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rav Shulchan Aruch 253:15) explains that since this chazara is happening on Shabbos itself, the rabbis were more stringent.

Another Type of Chazarah

There is also a second type of chazara which we shall term “Tosfos Chazara,” because it is the opinion of the Baalei Tosfos and the Rosh. Other Rishonim such as Rashi, the Ran, and the Rambam do not agree that this is forbidden.

“Tosfos Chazara” forbids placing a cooled off food on an open flame on Friday if it will not come to a boil before sundown. For example, if one places cold kugel on the blech on Friday ten minutes before candle lighting. Here the food was cooked but is just now heating up.

The Ramah (253:2) rules that the custom is to be lenient in regard to “Tosfos Chazara” but it is good to be stringent when there is no need otherwise. [This type of chazara seems to resemble shehiya more than chazara.]

A Workaround

Let’s say that someone is running late and forgot to place the cold kugel or chicken on the blech and it is only ten minutes before candle-lighting. Is there any way they can still fulfill the Ramah’s “good to be stringent” ideal?

According to Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, (cited in Otzros Shabbos p.405) there is a workaround. He holds that if one placed the food on a very high flame and then lowered it afterward, one does not violate the “Tosfos Chazara.” The problem with using this workaround is that one may not wish to violate the Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach requirement of not adjusting the fire after the blech has been placed.


The five conditions that make chazarah permissible in our modern day ovens, stovetops, and hot plates, can be remembered with a mnemonic device. “HI – I am from the W. CHIB Company. HI, I am negotiable.” The five conditions of Chazara are:

  • Warm. The food that was taken off the covered flame must still be detectably warm. If it has cooled off to room temperature, it may not be put back.
  • Cooked. The food that is placed back on must have been completely cooked.
  • Hand. One must still hold onto the pot that was taken off the flame if one wishes to place it back on the covered flame.
  • Intent. One should have had the intention of putting the food back on the fire in order to do so.
  • Bleched. The flame that one is placing the food back on must be covered with a blech.
  • HI, I am negotiable.” Reminds us that the hand requirement and the intent requirement can be dispensed with in cases of necessity. If it is a case of some necessity but not great necessity, we can dispense with the hand requirement or the intent requirement, but not both.

Hopefully, the new discovery should give us an impetus to review Hilchos Shabbos.

Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com


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