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I had thought that mashgochim (kosher kitchen supervisors) had to have semikkha or darn close. But people have been telling me that all you need to do is "know the laws" of kashrus, which they seem to mean on a very superficial level. I have heard that women and non-shomrei Shabbos can be mashgochim; it just depends on getting a Vaad to trust you to oversee the kitchen.

Is this true? What are the objective standards that need to be met to become the official mashgiach in a hechshered, Orthodox kitchen? How does the process for appointing mashgochim actually work?

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    I think the main job of the mashgiach isn't really to issue psak on complicated kashrus issues. The main job is to answer basic questions and to know when something seems suspicious so that a competent rabbinic authority can be contacted. – Daniel Jul 15 '15 at 12:07
  • But kashrus agencies will have their own standards. They'll probably require a rabbi who is an expert in kashrus for large-scale factory production, but might be a little more relaxed for a restaurant run by a frum Jew who keeps kosher at home. – Daniel Jul 15 '15 at 12:10
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There are at least three positions most people refer to when they say mashgiagh. The following are things I've heard from my Rebbeim and fiends who are in the hashgacha business.

  1. The person who's name or organization is on the store or taking care of an event, who, either in person or through an employee, is supposed to pop in once in a while to make sure everything is kosher v'yosher.

  2. The person who would sit in the establishment the entire time the cooking process (or milking) is going, this is called a mashgiach temidi. Sometimes this person will be involved in the actual cooking to make it bishul yisroel according to sfardi standards.

  3. The person who goes into a nonjewish establishment and prepares it for kosher use, such as a hotel for a wedding. This person usually then fills the role of #1 or #2 for the duration of the event, many times employing others for help.

Now, which one of these mashgichim know what?

The umbrella name of #1 its usually headed by a knowledgeable person. Many times the employees, the on-site mashgiach, know less about kashrus than the average person attending the event. They are instructed to call their supervisor if a question arises. This proves problematic when points cannot be properly conveyed over the phone, or when the event is on shabbos. Many times a shabbos morning kiddush will have boys (who I would call barely religious, but won't for fear of 'who are you to judge' comments) who you wouldn't trust to cook your eggs in your own house, two calling themselves the waiters and one calling himself the mashgiach. Next event They swap roles. This is common even by the most Chareidi/Yeshivish/ Chassidish kiddushim you could imagine.

The name on the store is also a tricky sticky point. How often does someone come inspect the store? One of the largest Jewish communities has a certain mashgiach's name on 80% of it's restaurants. This mashgiach has no employees and is left to supervise every single store himself. Reports vary, but apparently it's easier to sight Bigfoot than to see this mashgiach in one of his restaurants.

Mashgiach #2 is usually the least knowledgeable. Consider the hours they keep and the money they get paid and you'll understand we are not dealing with skilled labor. We are dealing with someone being paid to sit somewhere with the single qualification of being Jewish. (I was in a restaurant once, under the hashgacha of one of the biggest and most used kashrus organizations, which I was told was the most reliable hashgacha in Manhattan restaurants. Halfway through the meal the mashgiach temidi who obviously suffered from a mental disorder was making his way through the restaurant asking people where they live and of he could hitch a ride home. I would trust the illegal immigrant employees more, but they are not Jewish.)

On to #3. This is usually the most knowledgeable mashgiach. Fortunately or not that knowledge is often times used to invoke a leniency that other mashgichim would not rely on, which can lead to issues.

As with any other endeavor, buyer beware.

Considering Orthodox societal norms, a woman could theoretically find work as mashgiach #2, although I doubt it would happen. Perhaps if they gave the job a different title like 'eid echad/ yisroel hamivashel' it might fly.

  • I have seen women doing job #2 for at least one reliable, widely-accepted kosher certification agency. – Daniel Jul 15 '15 at 14:10
  • @Daniel that's good to hear. But I doubt they referred to her with the same title as they would have a man. – user6591 Jul 15 '15 at 14:16
  • 1. I have known a story of a woman who owned a kosher hotel being told to attend when they milked the cows just so she could be certain that it was cows being milked rather than some non-kosher animal (and that nothing else got mixed in. Apparently she said there is no way it is possible that anything else could ever get mixed in. 2. I also once gave a ride to a woman who was acting as shomer for DD sandwiches. – CashCow Jul 16 '15 at 10:41
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A woman is permitted (as they are also required to eat Kosher therefore they can supervise on this). Someone who is not Shomer Shabbat cannot be (as you cannot trust them).

The kashrut authority will have their own set of standards beyond this. This is quoted from London Beit Din:

MASHGICHIM -WHO IS ELIGIBLE? What does KLBD look for in a mashgiach? “Someone who has eyes at the back of his head!” Rabbi Conway answers with a chuckle. But when he shares a wine-production fluke to prove the importance of a mashgiach being on the ball and highly perceptive, it’s no longer very merry. Wine production is undoubtedly the hardest thing to supervise, he says. A non-Jew may not move nor touch any keilim involved in the production. He may not even switch on the machinery. During a run in Spain this August, the mashgiach, Rabbi Shimon Black, noticed a worker climbing up a ladder to the top of the press. “What’re you doing?” he yelled. The sieve had fallen into the wine-filled vat and he was innocently going to dive in to dish it out. “Oh, no, you can’t do that!” Shimon cried, frantically switching places and slipping into a harness himself for a dry red…dip. On another note, at a joint-KLBD catered royal banquet at Buckingham Palace, his mashgichim dressed in coats and tails to replace the butlers for the night so that the choice of exclusive non-mevushal wines, selected by Her Majesty’s vintners, wouldn’t become yayin nesech. “A mashgiach must also be a people person or he won’t last 24 hours.” Having to deal with chefs, often non-Jewish ones, and service staff who naturally prefer it their way and may get annoyed if change is demanded, a mashgiach has to tactfully balance being diplomatic, firm and courteous. “Also, the mashgiach has to be a yirei shamayim to appreciate his awesome responsibility to the Jewish community. At the end of the day, hundreds of people will be relying on the shomer in the restaurant kitchen daily.” With the hard-to-find combination of qualities, and responsibility and integrity an obvious must, it’s very hard to find the right candidate. KLBD ends up rejecting nine out of every ten applicants. “If someone does already tick all the boxes, he’s probably an executive director somewhere up there!” The exacting search process means that the winning candidates are always high-calibre individuals. But high-calibre mashgichim alone is not sufficient for KLBD. “If he wasn’t on site for the right amount of time, he has failed,” notes Rabbi Conway. “KLBD insists that every catered function has fulltime hashgachah from start to finish, no difference if it’s a heimishe caterer or if it’s in a shul hall.” This is because, unlike restaurants, which have a fixed venue and menu and are either milky or meaty, functions involve different logistics, staff and menus every night and one can’t know, for example, which chef will decide to bring his own knife or garnishing tools. “Similarly, at the very least, restaurants must have a shomer Shabbos person on site responsible for kashrus whenever the kitchen operates. And I’d encourage customers to enquire about a shomer’s presence. You’d be surprised how many kashrus agencies don’t enforce this basic requirement.” KLBD’s senior rabbinic inspectors can be seen going up and down London’s bustling kosher high-streets all day. Rabbi Conway actually authored a comprehensive manual for roving mashgichim and it has since been used, and adapted, by other UK hashgachos.

  • I'd be interested in a source which says that women are permitted to do this job. My understanding is that they are not trusted as much as men in many halachic situations, like serving as a witness. Are you sure this is an exception? – SAH Jul 19 '15 at 10:43
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    @SAH there is an Aruch Hashulchan in the laws of Bedikas Chametz who says women nowadays (late 19th century) are believed because they are 'zerizos' (scrupulous?). I can only assume the nature of women's zerizus had gotten even better. – user6591 Jun 6 '16 at 23:44
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Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that a woman may be appointed as a mashgicha. See 2 teshuvos beginning here

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A woman is trusted as a mashgiach in a kosher kitchen, just as one's wife is trusted in her kitchen.

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    Ben, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for your first answer! If you haven’t done so already, you should take a look at the tour. Please consider registering your account, to enable more site features, including voting. I hope you find more Q&A of interest and stay learning with us! – mbloch Jun 6 '16 at 18:04
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    This being said, MY places a lot of emphasis on sources (after all most of us don’t know you personally). Maybe you will be interested by something I wrote to help you understand the site "A beginner’s guide to MY - How is this site different from other Judaism sites” ? – mbloch Jun 6 '16 at 18:04
  • This does not really answer the question. The question is what are the actual standards that a man (or woman) must meet to be trusted as a mashgiach rather than just in their own home kitchen. – sabbahillel Jun 6 '16 at 19:54
  • eveybody you trust it can provide you a meal. – kouty Jun 7 '16 at 7:48
  • @sabbahillel, well, part of the question above is whether it's true that a woman can be a mashgicha. This answers that. And [continued] – msh210 Jun 7 '16 at 19:16

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