A kosher woman’s place may no longer be in the kitchen. Star K, one of the two most widely known kosher certification agencies, soon will be formally training women for the position of “mashgiach,” a supervisor who certifies whether food is fit be eaten according to Jewish dietary laws.
The venerable OU also is offering courses to increase women’s knowledge of dietary laws but is not yet at the stage of formally training them to be mashgiachs. However, officials did not rule out the possibility in the future.
There is no religious question as to whether a woman can act as a maschgiach, but the gender change has stirred up a controversy in the American religious community, and several who enrolled in the course maintain that “a woman knows best.”
Although women do not undergo the same training as men, who also visit slaughtering houses where decisions may have to be made concerning Jewish law (halacha), the former's experience in the kitchen can help them identify a problem that men might miss.
Ruth Greiter, a formally trained chef, told the New York Jewish Forward, "There are oversights that a man can make because he doesn’t know what to look for, because they’re not raised in a kitchen. My daughters know it instinctively. The men have to be told. A woman knows that.”
Women in an OU course proved the point during a class in which they were told of an oversight by a male kosher supervisor. Two women immediately responded, “This is where having a woman would have made a difference.”
The OU is conducting a five-day advanced course for 25 women, who visit industrial kitchens. The Baltimore-based Star K operation, which already employs women as mashgiachs in restaurants and hospitals, is offering a two-day course for women.
One of Star K’s longtime supervisors, Yael Kaner told the Long Island Jewish Star that despite her approximately three decades of experience, men often are surprised to see her working as a mashgiach.
“I’ve received some weird looks here and there from people who asked to see the mashgiach, expecting a rabbi with a long beard,” she said.