Mashgiach- kosher supervisor, i.e., the person who sees to it that all the kosher rules are followed.
In far too many cases, a mashgiach is paid directly by the business for which he gives supervision. This can create a whole host of problems, not the least of which is the honesty of the mashgiach.
A mashgiach has but one job, and that is to supervise the kitchen and the food it produces. The mashgiach is responsible to make sure that every ingredient used in the preparation of the food is certified kosher. The mashgiach is also responsible to see to it that no outside food is brought into the food establishment.
The cost of this supervision is not cheap, but, on the other hand, the fee the mashgiach receives is not large. For the business, the cost of the mashgiach may be onerous in terms of the profits the business is able to make.
Many stores, therefore, ask the mashgiach to do other work. That might include running the cash register. Also the mashgiach is responsible for checking the vegetables for insects. Many places have the mashgiach crack all the eggs to be sure there are no blood spots in them. The mashgiach’s work begins long before the first meal is served or the food prepared.
When a store hires a mashgiach directly, the mashgiach is literally at the mercy of the owner. He is an at-will employee, one who can be fired at any time for just about any reason.
Jobs are not easy to find today. The mashgiach knows that he must be a “team player.” If he is too strict, he may lose his job. If the owner decides that he wants the mashgiach to enforce different standards, the mashgiach could be fired if he says no to the owner.
As a result, the mashgiach is often in a position of second guessing himself. “Is this really no good, or is it barely acceptable?” “Can I live with this?” Most important of all, the mashgiach is faced with the major question, “Is this worth losing my job?”
Once that happens, the mashgiach has been put in a precarious and compromised position. Let’s give an example. A case of stuffed mushrooms comes into the commissary. The box has a different kosher mark on it. The mashgiach phones the distributor who tells him/her that he does not have their regular brand, but he does have this other brand which is marked kosher.
The problem is that the usual product has a superior kosher supervision, that of the “You know we are the best kosher supervision agency (YKWATBKSA symbol).” This other box has the certification of the “Parrot Kosher” agency, an agency located on El Tiperillo (the stink hole of the Caribbean), where there are no Jews and the mashgiach only visits once a decade.
The mushrooms are needed for a catering tonight. What does the mashgiach do? A truly independent mashgiach would inform the owner that the mushrooms were not acceptable. The owner would lose his temper. The mashgiach would not lose his job. The owner would get over it.
A mashgiach paid by the business, now has to second guess himself. “What should I do? I cannot afford to lose this job.”
BINGO! And there is the problem. No mashgiach should be paid by the business. The business needs to pay the agency, and the agency will pay the mashgiach. Should the owner want to fire the mashgiach, it will have to be with the agency’s permission and a replacement.
We gave hashgacha (kosher supervision) to a bakery for a very long time. We never charged for our services. As a community rabbi, it was our heartfelt conviction that we should do that as a benefit to the community.
As it happened, the owners were Gentiles who were very respectful of kosher laws and regulations. There was never a question as to any decisions by the mashgiach. By not charging, we literally could afford to walk away at any time.
That gave us a tremendous amount of freedom and, in truth, honesty. Were the owners unhappy sometimes with the decisions we made? Of course they were. But they accepted those decisions.
The mashgiach must be independent of the store owner’s whims and payroll.