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The Mashgiach Wore a Dress: The Fight over Opening Kosher Supervision to Women

Israel's Chief Rabbinate is yet to give its formal approval to the initiative.

Emunah chairwoman Liora Minka is ready to take her female kashrut supervisors case all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Emunah chairwoman Liora Minka is ready to take her female kashrut supervisors case all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Photo Credit: Yori Yanover, based on photo by Tess Scheflan

This January, Midreshet Emunah, a college devoted to Jewish women and family studies, will begin to train women to work as a kashrut supervisors. Training will be given in a comprehensive course that will include 150-180 hours of study, at the end of which each participant will receive a certificate that qualifies her to supervise commercial kitchens in Israel, Mynet reported.

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate is yet to give its formal approval to the initiative, but sources in the Rabbanut say they would consent to the training of female supervisors only after an organized set of rules is established to facilitate their integration into the field. But beneath the surface there are already ripples of resistance to the entire project. A source in the Rabbanut suggested that “there are fears that women’s organizations are behind the idea, in order to undermine the halakhic establishment.”

With or without chief rabbinate support, the college leadership is determined to offer the course anyway. “Until two years ago, that body that supervised the kashrut supervisors in hotels, restaurants, hospitals and other institutions were the local rabbinates in their city,” says Emuna movement spokesman Itzik Rhett. According to him, only two years ago a new law went into effect, empowering the chief rabbinate of Israel to decide who is qualified to be a kashrut supervisor.

“At the time we approached the chief rabbinate and asked their permission to open a course for women,” says Rhett. “Through informal means, we discovered that the rabbinate would not approve our course. We didn’t give up and constructed a complete course system, just like the one available to men. Laws of meat and dairy, meat preparation, kashering utensils, laws connected to the Land of Israel, Shabbat in the domestic and institutional kitchens, and keeping kashrut in hotels, hospitals and restaurants. We included every item included in the courses for men, and they still ignored our requests.”

Emunah Chairwoman Liora Minka has been very critical of the chief rabbinate. According to her, if the college is not granted rabbinical approval for the course, they will not hesitate to reach all the way up to the Supreme Court. “If they cannot embrace this rationally, let the High Court determine it,” she says.

“The notion that ‘the Torah prohibits anything new’ has become the expression of Haredi opposition to any renewal, any technological development, even if no religious prohibition is involved. The examination of insects in vegetables, adhering to the laws of milk and meat – are any of these beyond the comprehension of women? Of course not. Is there is an halachic prohibition on a woman working in a dining room or a kitchen? Is it so outlandish an idea that a woman would walk into the kitchen of a restaurant, a hospital, a banquet hall or a nursing home, open refrigerator doors and track the processing of raw materials and mixtures? These are rhetorical questions the answers to which are clear,” says Minka.

“Unfortunately, there are uneducated rabbis who cannot keep up with modern life. They are marching backwards in time. Just recently we heard statements by rabbis who still can’t accept the fact that women can cast a ballot on their own, to influence and sometimes to be elected and be excellent public representative, better than many men.”

Ten women have signed up for the course since it was announced on Sunday. Aliza Hochshtad from Efrat, one of the first women serving as kosher supervisors in Israel, says she is delighted with the news. “For years I tried to convince colleges that offered courses for kosher supervisors for men only that they should offer these courses to women, too. Unfortunately they didn’t pay attention to me.”

Hochshtad works for the rabbinic council of Efrat as a kashrut supervisor. She says she also travels a lot to conventions of kosher supervisors in the U.S.

Finally, the spokesmen for Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and for the Rabbinic Posek (halachic “decider”), said they did not object to the idea of women kashrut supervisors in principle, but were worried about issues of… modesty and chastity.

When all else fails…

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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11 Responses to “The Mashgiach Wore a Dress: The Fight over Opening Kosher Supervision to Women”

  1. Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan says:

    -
    These are the times when the Orthodox establishment shows itself for what it is – stupid and power-hungry and greedy and abusive of Dat Moshe.

    The idea that an Orthodox woman is less able to be a Kashrut supervisor than an Orthodox man is downright perverse.

    We are the Kashrut supervisors in our homes! Why not in restaurants and other public places?

  2. Miriam Rubinoff says:

    Are these rabbanim the kashrut supervisors in their own homes? I doubt it. For the day to day management of their kitchens, they trust women. They have to, or do the unthinkable – shop for, prepare, cook, and clean up after every meal. Institutional kitchens present greater challenges, of course. but I have seen more than one capable rebbetzin in charge of, in effect, a restaurant, yeshiva kitchen, even the cafeteria of a small hospital, all at the same time.

  3. Grace Acosta says:

    Women have been supervising the kashrut of their own homes for centuries. Would anyone tell them that they weren't doing it right? What are the rabbinate really afraid of? Maybe they are worried that it wil take jobs away from men. Mashgiach work is gruelling, underpaid, with crazy long hours. Most men I know only do it if they can't get work anywhere else, and they're not cut out for kollel life. So what's the big deal?

    (BTW, I consider myself fairly haredi, and hardly a feminist!)

  4. The men trust us to minister their own private homes in terms of Kashrut. And, because we tend to be the chief cooks and bottle washers, we already have knowledge of the laws of Kashrut. It's ridiculous to think a woman can't do this job in a commercial kitchen.

  5. Sara Wolf says:

    I have always wondered about this…

  6. Emet Elisheva Bliliuos says:

    i dont have time to read the article now, but plan to, maybe what iam about to say will go against some of the article, maybe it will. what i heard years ago, was 1. women used to be mashigiach
    2. they decided to go for men later because they are more 'reliable' in a way that if some home stuff needed to be attended (were pregnant, gave birth, sick child etc the woman would need to be home, and the restaurant would be in a dire place, having to find someone at the last minute, compared to a man, who rarely has such issues to deal with thus more work reliable (and that is all i mean by reliable)
    3. where i have a problem with, is that most men i know who get into mashgiach work have VERY LITTLE knowledge, and rarely do kashrut organization give detailed enough training. my experience is 'here is a book, rely on that' (If the guy is lucky)
    4. again my experience has been that some men would call me (including my husband when he did it) to ask how to clean this or if that was acceptable. including some cooks using raw liver in the best and most popular dish of the restaurant.
    i have in the past wanted to become a mashgiach (and some city in the usa do accept women)

  7. This article makes me giggle because of the ridiculousness of the situation…

  8. Shanna Reichman says:

    This article os redic! The line about "being concerned that womens groups are behind this" is hilarious…like a mafia. It makes the most sense for women to be mashgichos because we know kitchen halachos better then some stupid men. Hahahahahaha love to hate! ;-)

  9. Benny Hutman says:

    I think this is great idea. The only "downside": kashrus standards will be better enforced.

  10. When I first saw this I wasn't sure if it was about cross-dressing or about women's rights.

  11. Alexandra Sonnenblick says:

    I died reading this. I cannot believe this is still an issue!!!!!!!

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