Suppose a Mashgiach of a food establishment is threatened to "keep quiet" about some of the questionable behaviors [for purposes of the question, consider both actual non-kosher, and possibly non-kosher practices] going on in the establishment he's responsible for. If he doesn't keep quiet, there is an implicit threat that he will be "dealt with" in a physical matter (either literally with his life, or simply being beaten...).

Is such a Mashgiach required to be מוסר נפש and report this information to the public anyway? Or is he allowed to keep quiet for fear of his life?

4 Answers 4


In the words of the esteemed sage Jerry Garcia:

Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.

I'd advise the individual to get out of the situation as best as he can. There's a similar legend has it regarding Ridbaz, who was a rabbi in Chicago in the early 1900s. He found himself "accidentally" locked into a freezer when inspecting a meat plant on a Friday afternoon. Finally he managed to break out, by then it was Friday night. He got up Saturday morning, said "it's a matter of life and death", and put himself and his kids on the train to New York.

But to answer your question: I'd presume as it's not "big three" (idolatry, murder, severe sexual transgression), he's not obligated to put his life on the line for it. Baltimore's Where What When had a piece c. 2009 from Rabbi Dovid Katz regarding a kosher butcher from long-ago Baltimore; the rabbis had asked that butchers apply tags with the meat's date (so consumers would know that it's been washed within 72 hours); this was the only butcher to do so, and he was threatened with his legs broken or worse; he backed down and removed the tags (though still keeping his meat up to standards).

As everyone else is quoting rabbi stories, here's one: around the year 1770 a man showed up in Prague with some wagonloads of cheese, looking to open a cheese store. He provided the Chief Rabbi of Prague, Ezekiel Landau a.k.a. Noda Bihuda, with a letter from his local rabbi certifying the cheese's kashrut to the highest standards. Rabbi Landau deduced from the way the local rabbi had dated the letter that the cheese was not kosher, but that the cheese merchant could have had the rabbi killed had he not written the letter.

The fly in the ointment is a discussion in the beginning of Ketubot regarding witnesses validating signatures on a document; there is an opinion in the commentaries there that a witness should give up his life rather than sign falsely on something, to preserve the integrity of the system. But I believe we conclude otherwise there.

There is a similar opinion (Maharam Shif I think?) that if someone points a gun at a rabbi's head and says "rule that X is kosher" when it isn't, or "that it's not" when it is, he's obligated to give up his life rather than allowing Torah to be falsified. But it's counterfeit Torah to say "cows are a non-kosher species"; to say "Shmergie's restaurant uses only kosher-certified ingredients" when they don't isn't falsifying Torah per se, it's falsifying reality (which is analogous to the witness case above).

Lastly there's the discussion if Jewish law regards torture as worse than death. The Talmud says that Hananya Mishael and Azarya were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow to Nebuchadnezar's statue, "but had they been beaten, they would have bowed." Some read that as they would have been allowed to do so. (An alternative reading is even though it's prohibited they would have done so because torture can break Biblical heroes too.)

  • 1
    I'm just commenting, not answering, because I don't have sources for this, and it might run counter to the Gemara you cite in Kethuboth, but it would seem to me that he might have to risk his life in order to preserve the institution of Kashruth supervision. That's not to say that Kashruth supervision needs to be saved (maybe it's even obsolete), but if the integrity of the Kashruth system were brought into serious question the underlying premise upon which it is based would also be weakened, namely 'Eid Ehad NeEman BeIsurin. Without that, we'd have many problems that would grow exponentially.
    – Seth J
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 15:39

R. Ephraim of Vilna writes (http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1405&st=&pgnum=94, bottom of left column and on) that "apparently, it appears to say that sometimes we find that it is appropriate to turn over an individual, even to be killed, in order to avoid some damage to the public...to prevent any stumbling block or difficulty for the community" So he is quite clear that when it comes to a potential communal damage, we can turn over an individual to be killed -- so certainly that individual can risk his life.

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    A community could hand someone over to prevent hezeka derabim, damage to the public. The examples of such damage are murdering or raping the whole city. I'm not sure the same would apply if they're threatening to add pork juice to the water supply. (I.e. do the same concerns apply with regards to spiritual damage?)
    – Shalom
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 23:53
  • Read the tshuva and you'll see that he is not referring to murdering or raping -- he is referring to any michshol or takalah that could face the community.
    – Curiouser
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 0:29

The Lubavitcher Rebbe told a story about his father, the Rov of Dnepropetrovsk:

"The city in which my father was a Rov, was in southern Russia [Dnepropetrovsk, now Ukraine] which had many wheat fields, which supplied the whole Russia with grain. Since he was one of the bigger Rabbonim, the hechsher on baking matzos was always under his hechser.

When the government nationalized all factories, including flour mills and matza bakeries, realizing that since everyone relied on his hechsher for matzos, they realized that if he doesn't put a hechsher on the matzos, they will not be able to sell it. Therefore, the government called him, and told him to put a hechsher on the matzos that year. If he will not put a hechsher on any part of the wheat, they warned him, he will have damaged the economy of the Soviet Union and will be punished as a counter-revolutionary [!!].

My father answered that if he would be given free reign on the supervision, then he will give a hechsher, if not, then not only would he not give a hechsher, he would publicize that the flour is not under his responsibility.

The government officials re-warned him that unless he OK's the flour, he would be considered a counter-revolutionary. My father responded that he will not do anything against the Torah, and added that he was willing to travel to Moscow and explain to Kalinin how he would not go against Shulchan Aruch."

It goes on to explain that in the end, the government backed down, and let the Rebbe's father run the Hashgacha the way he saw fit.

There is also a story (I think published in Who's Who in Chabad) about R' Yaakov Landau (of Bnei Brak) that someone pulled a gun on him and demanded a hechsher. He refused.

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    I don't know about the Bnei Brak story; but please don't bring any proof from any stories about fighting Communism; as Communism sought to stamp out religion, many cases fell under sha'at hashmad (times of religious persecution), in which we have to put our lives on the line for all sorts of things.
    – Shalom
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 14:14

The gemara in the beginning of Sanhedrin discusses how a Judge cannot be afraid of anyone and must rule justly even if it means ruling against a powerful person who may harm him in revenge. If he is afraid, he can avoid taking the case, but once he takes the case, he must rule correctly without favoring anyone.

Similarly here, the mashgiach can avoid getting involved, but once he does, he cannot just lie and say something is Kosher which isn't. If he's really afraid they will harm him if he resigns, he should probably try hiring some security or fleeing.

  • A Mashgiach is not a judge. There's a big difference. That is not to say that a Mashgiach should lie, just that it is not analogous.
    – Seth J
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 15:31
  • Its comparable in that you cannot issue a public psak that distorts the truth out of fear of harm.
    – Ariel K
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 16:27

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