Mashgiach (Mahsh-GEE-ahkh) is Hebrew for “supervisor.” A mashgiach can refer to either a) the agent of a kosher supervising organization, who ensures that food is produced according to the kosher requirements; or b) the rabbi who is responsible for the performance and wellbeing of yeshivah students.

What Does a Kosher Supervisor Do?

A mashgiach may supervise a restaurant, catering facility, factory or even several factories.

The mashgiach ensures that everything purported to be kosher is indeed kosher. If the food being produced will be certified as kosher for Passover, the mashgiach will be checking for that as well.

In some facilities, the mashgiach’s focus may be on checking labels on everything entering a plant. Often, the mashgiach also checks eggs to ensure that they have no blood spots, and leafy greens to ensure that they are bug free. (Read more: What Is Kosher?)

In instances where food is baked (or sometimes cooked), the mashgiach will participate in the process, often by lighting the fires, so that the food is considered pat Yisrael (Jewish bread) and bishul Yisrael (Jewish cooked foods) and kosher to the highest standards (read more about that here).

Depending on the work arrangement, the mashgiach may have other responsibilities within the facility. For example, some mashgichim of restaurants also work as cooks. Some mashgichim spend weeks or months on the road, traveling to factories and production facilities all over the globe.

What Are the Qualifications for Becoming a Mashgiach?

The most important aspect of the mashgiach’s position is trust. The wider public relies on the mashgiach to tell them that the food they are eating is 100% kosher. Often, the difference between kosher and nonkosher is not discernable to the naked eye. Thus, the public needs to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the mashgiach is deeply committed to living a Torah life.

It goes without saying that the mashgiach must know the laws of kashrut, and how they apply in the environment he is supervising. Obviously, this can vary. In many instances, the mashgiach is a rabbi. This helps, since rabbinical students learn the laws of kosher as part of their syllabus. However, not every mashgiach is a rabbi, and not every rabbi is qualified to be a mashgiach. A mashgiach in a dairy restaurant needs a different skill set than one overseeing a meat production plant. It is up to the supervising agency to ensure that the mashgiach is knowledgeable and present. It is up to the mashgiach, however, to be sure that everything produced under his watch is 100% kosher.

What Is a Mashgiach Temidi?

In many instances, it is not necessary to have a constant on-site mashgiach. For example, in a noodle factory, where the sole ingredients are flour and water, it may be sufficient for the mashgiach to come around occasionally, checking in on the plant along with a host of others.

Then there are the places, notably busy restaurants, where a mashgiach is present from opening until closing. This type of mashgiach is known as a mashgiach temidi—a “constant mashgiach.” (Read: Why Supervision Is Needed in a Commercial Environment)

What Is a Mashgiach Ruchani?

The second, and unrelated, usage of the term mashgiach is analogous to the “dean of student life.” While most yeshivah staff focus on teaching students and advancing their Torah learning, the mashgiach, properly known as mashgiach ruchani (“spiritual supervisor”), is responsible for their emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing.

In some yeshivahs, the mashgiach may address the students regularly. These talks are often called shmuessen, Yiddish for “conversations.” (Read more: A Day in the Life of a Yeshivah Student.)

Is It the Same in Chabad?

In the Chabad yeshivah system, many of the responsibilities associated with the mashgiach are in the domain of the mashpia (“giver”), who teaches the students Chassidic texts. This leaves the mashgiach with a more minor role, monitoring academic progress and attendance.

It is the mashpia who guides the students as they aspire to incorporate the teachings of Chassidism into their lives. Much of this guidance takes place in the informal context of a farbrengen, an inspirational Chassidic gathering where words of Torah are shared and melodies are sung over refreshments and spirits. (Read more: What to Expect at a Farbrengen)