Women­break­thekashrut­bar­rier

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BY SUE FISHKOFF LOS AN­GE­LES

EVE­LYN PRIZONT, an Or­tho­dox woman in Wash­ing­ton State, spends her days pok­ing through pantries, vet­ting veg­eta­bles and sniff­ing spices, all part of her job as a kosher su­per­vi­sor for the Rab­bini­cal coun­cil of Greater Seat­tle.

“I do it for the glam­our,” she notes sar­cas­ti­cally, “and the re­spect”.

Mrs Prizont is in the mi­nor­ity. There are thou­sands of shom­rim, or kosher su­per­vi­sors, work­ing in North Amer­ica, but very few are women.

But as the kosher food in­dus­try con­tin­ues to swell, so does the need for more su­per­vi­sors. Women are in­creas­ingly fill­ing that need, and for the first time, are re­ceiv­ing pro­fes­sional recog­ni­tion.

In Au­gust, the Or­tho­dox Union, the world’s largest kosher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion agency, ran a five-day ad­vanced kashrut course in New York for 25 women. The class vis­ited in­dus­trial kitchens and re­ceived class­room in­struc­tion in prac­ti­cal kashrut.

In Novem­ber, the Star-K kosher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion will hold a sim­i­lar two-day course for up to 20 women at its head­quar­ters in Bal­ti­more, Md.

There is no pro­hi­bi­tion against women kashrut su­per­vi­sors in Jewish law, as an ob­ser­vant woman has the au­thor­ity to su­per­vise kosher stan­dards in a kitchen. Still, the an­nounce­ment of th­ese cour­ses stirred up some op­po­si­tion in re­li­gious cir­cles.

In re­sponse, the or­gan­is­ers in­sist they are not seek­ing to train new shom­rot, but to en­hance the skills and knowl­edge of women al­ready work­ing in the field.

Par­tic­i­pants will not visit slaugh­ter­houses or food man­u­fac­tur­ing plants, as their male coun­ter­parts do in the agen­cies’ more in-depth cour­ses for shom­rim.

Yael Kaner, chief kosher su­per­vi­sor at the Pearl­stone Re­treat Cen­tre in Reis­er­stown, Md., says it is about time women re­ceived ad­vanced train­ing.

“I’ve been jeal­ous of the guys for years,” she says, not­ing that as a Lubav­itcher, she would not have been comfortable at­tend­ing one of the train­ing cour­ses for men.

When Mrs Kaner started work­ing three decades ago, she was paid con­sid­er­ably less than her male col­leagues. In some cities, she was told not to bother ap­ply­ing for jobs, as only men were hired.

To­day at Pearl­stone she re­ceives a good salary, with full ben­e­fits and a pen­sion plan.

Most fe­male su­per­vi­sors work in the food ser­vice in­dus­try, and are more of­ten found out­side cities like New York and Los An­ge­les, where plenty of Or­tho­dox men are avail­able to fill the jobs.

Most fe­male su­per­vi­sors pre­fer part-time work, as they have chil­dren at home. Mrs Prizont is one of the few women she knows with a full-time po­si­tion. She over­sees a re­tire­ment home, some restau­rants and the Hil­lel kitchen at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton.

Rather than see­ing her gen­der as a draw­back, she says it helps her fer­ret out wrong­do­ing.

“Never un­der­es­ti­mate the power of lip­stick,” she says. “I have to rely on per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, get­ting peo­ple to speak to me openly and hon­estly.”

When chefs see her ap­proach­ing, they start to sweat, she says. “I wield power, and they know it.” Rabbi Mayer Kur­cfeld, who is or­gan­is­ing the Star-K course, says 20 per cent of the agency’s lo­cal kosher su­per­vi­sors in hos­pi­tals and restau­rants are women.

“They’re very metic­u­lous,” he says. “They don’t de­vi­ate — ei­ther a thing is right, or it’s not. And they’re tough. They stand their ground and are not in­tim­i­dated.”

Eve­lyn Prizont, a rare fe­male kashrut su­per­vi­sor. When the chefs see her ap­proach­ing, they sweat, she says

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