Question: May a kashrus organization hire (and rely upon) a trustworthy and knowledgeable non-frum individual to oversee kashrus at a restaurant or company?
Short Answer: A kashrus organization may not hire a non-frum individual to serve as a mashgiach. In limited circumstances, however, such individuals may be relied upon.
I. The Lenient Argument
Rav Moshe Sternbuch, in T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (1:424), writes that he heard that certain rabbanim allow a food store to be supervised by a non-frum mashgiach, even someone who does not observe Shabbos. They reason that since the mashgiach is knowledgeable and trustworthy, and he won’t do anything improper that would risk his livelihood, there is no problem with hiring such an individual.
These lenient rabbanim, however, need to reconcile with the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 119:7), which rules that a person who publicly is mechalel Shabbos is not believed for matters of isur/heter. Rav Sternbuch explains that this lenient opinion follows the Binyan Tzion, that nowadays a non-frum person who publicly does not observe Shabbos is not considered a “mechalel Shabbos” because such a person most likely is unaware of the severity and k’dushah of Shabbos.
II. The Strict Argument
Rav Sternbuch attacks this leniency. First, he argues that we do not follow the leniency of the Binyan Tzion, certainly not l’chatchilah. Second, kashrus is an issue of yir’as Shamayim (fear of Hashem) and thus we cannot rely on someone who wantonly violates Shabbos. If he violates Shabbos, he will surely violate and ignore the many kashrus issues that arise on a daily basis in the food store.
In a later volume of T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (2:379), Rav Sternbuch expounds that we do not apply the leniency of “lo mara umnasei” (that a worker will not lie so as not to lose business) by a mashgiach who violates Shabbos, as this rule is only said with respect to a hired worker where it is clear to all that he has much to lose by lying. It is not clear to all that this mashgiach – who is not performing a recognizable trade or skill – has what to lose by lying.
Accordingly, Rav Sternbuch likewise forbids hiring a frum mashgiach who is not a y’rei Shamayim, as this fear is a prerequisite to trustworthiness in the field of kashrus. Indeed, some of the kashrus issues that arise are so granular that only a y’rei Shamayim will care to properly oversee each issue.
Rav Sternbuch does note that one may hire such mashgiach to supervise a food chumra, that fundamentally is kosher without such supervision. Nevertheless, these cases are far and few between. Indeed, he cites a story of a person who once accosted a mashgiach about a certain kashrus issue in a hotel on Shabbos. The mashgiach responded that such a person who is so scrupulous with kashrus does not belong in a hotel!
III. The Non-Frum Host
But what about eating at the house of a non-frum person? The host assures you that everything will be cooked or bought under the strictest kosher standards, and in fact, the host is knowledgeable of these standards. May you eat at this house?
The Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 11:26) rules that it is forbidden to stay at a house where the owner is “muchzak” (i.e., known) not to observe the laws of kashrus. If you stay at his house, you cannot eat meat or wine there until an observant person testifies that they are kosher. Rav Sternbuch adds that this rule is similarly found in the Gemara (Shabbos 13a), that a zav (impure male) may not eat together with a zavah (impure female), lest they come to eat together when only one of them is impure. According to the T’vuos Shor, this is an actual prohibition, and not simply a chumra.
Nevertheless, Rav Sternbuch notes that there is room to be lenient and permit you to eat foods (other than meat and wine), as the Rambam is limited to meat and wine. Indeed, he suggests that the minhag is to be lenient and to eat foods other than wine and meat in a house of a non-frum person, when the person tells you that it is kosher (and is knowledgeable in the laws of kashrus).
IV. Losing Trustworthiness
The Shraga HaMeir (8:67) discusses an interesting question: whether a frum person working as a messenger in the transportation of non-kosher food (that is forbidden to eat but permitted to benefit from) loses his trustworthiness to serve as a mashgiach. The Shraga HaMeir concludes that he does not lose his trustworthiness and may still serve as a mashgiach. Since the messenger has no direct financial stake in the transport, nor is he financially responsible if the food gets ruined or destroyed, he does not lose his trustworthiness as someone who may oversee kashrus.
Next Week’s Topic: Is it permitted to purchase shares of a company that sells non-kosher food?