In response to a pending lawsuit, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has pledged to allow women to take the exam for kosher supervisors, and to certify them if they pass. The suit, brought by religious group Emunah, came after the rabbinate installed new guidelines that prevented women from achieving certification.
Halacha (Jewish law) has no prohibition against women serving as mashgiachot (kosher supervisors). However, a mashgiacha (female supervisor) has always been a rare sight in modern Judaism. But in 2010, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel began requiring special certifications open only to men, and four years of yeshiva education after the age of 18 (another rarity for Orthodox women).
Mashgiachot supervise kosher kitchens and food production facilities in restaurants, cafeterias, factories, bakeries, and even private homes. They offer expertise on issues like the separation of meat and milk, inspecting produce for insects, and kosher wine production and handling. If the supervisors find violations of kashrut, the establishments could lose their coveted kosher certifications.
Emunah, which ran a certification course in alignment with the other requirements of the rabbinate, filed a petition with the High Court of Justice (the Supreme Court of Israel) in July after 16 women completed training but could not receive certification.
In the US, female mashgiachot are still rare, but have faced less obstacles. The Jewish Week noted that the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher organization, began offering an “advanced kashrus seminar for women” in 2009.
Many have praised the work of the female supervisors, even saying their gender is an asset. Rabbi Mayer Kurcfeld of the Star-K told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2009 that the female mashgiachot are more “meticulous” and precise than their male counterparts.
“They don’t deviate—either a thing is right or it’s not,” he said. “A guy, a lot of times he’ll do a Talmudic analysis. I don’t want a Talmudic analysis. A mashgiach’s job is to see and to hear and to report.”
In the same article, mashgiacha Evelyn Prizont said her gender has allowed her to disarm tough kitchen workers, getting her better information about potential violations.
“Never underestimate the power of lipstick,” she said.