Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Jarghb Well Done

This past Sunday I worked as a mashgiahh at a wedding. I had never had such a gig before, and it was a very interesting experience.

As many of the people reading this assumedly know, I am an aveil. My father passed away this past February, and I am still in the 3rd stage of mourning, the 12 months. One of the strongest practices of mourning is not going to weddings. Weddings serve as the protoype of a joyous celebratory occasion, and mourners are not supposed to attend weddings or their associated celebrations, such as sheva‘ berakhot meals.

However, Shabbat cancels aveilut restrictions, and so, while weddings themselves are problematic, wedding-associated celebrations such as an aufruf, shabbat kalla, shabbat hhatan, or a Shabbos sheva‘ berakhot, are perfectly fine. [CYLHA: consult your local halakhic authority].

So, when I received an invitation for the wedding of friends of mine, I RSVP'd not coming, and then added a note that I would love to attend the aufruf, if possible. The wedding was scheduled for Sunday, with the aufruf the Shabbos immediately preceding, and I was planning on participating in the aufruf celebration, and then spending Sunday while the wedding was going on just bumming around the city where the wedding was, meeting up with friends from Israel who now live there. That way I would be able to get some of the people who were actually attending the wedding to drive with me back to NYC, instead of trying to drive the whole way by myself.

And then, about a week and a half before the wedding, I got a call from the bride, saying that there were some kind of complications with getting a mashgiahh for the wedding, and asking if I would take the job, since I had already planned on being around with nothing much else to do. I said I would do it, and ended up meeting my friends from Israel on Shabbos, so we didn't miss out on any catch-up time.

I had a lot of fun over Shabbos, and then woke up early Sunday morning to go to minyan and then head to work. I inspected the packages of food that the caterer had brought, making sure that everything was on the list that had been approved by the officiating rav and his local kashrut organization, and checked a representative amount of the vegetables for insects.

Everything was going fine until the wedding actually started, and guests began arriving. I spent most of the time in the kitchen, learning Rashi on the parsha, reading Narn i Chîn Húrin, and keeping an eye on the ovens, stoves, and catering workers to make sure that nothing went wrong that might render the food they were making no-longer-kosher. I also set up and made sure to keep filled a washing station, since a number of people assumed that the mashgiahh would be the one to ask about such things. A few accidents happened in the kitchen, and I had to make sure that the problematic food was disposed of. But that was relatively easy.

The hard part was when I wandered out into the wedding to wish the hhatan-and-kala "mazal tov" and say hi to other friends of mine who were there. While the bride and groom had asked me if I would do the job because they needed someone and I was available, and I was trying to be as professional about it as possible with my limited experience, all of our friends assumed that we were playing some kind of aveilut loophole game — the kind where you get around a mourner's inability to attend a wedding by giving them some quick symbolic job that would take them out of the 'guest' category and into the 'assisting participant' category. People do that all the time, and I don't object to it on principle, but the idea makes me personally feel highly uncomfortable. I had sent my RSVP card back saying "not coming", and logically enough had no place card with my name on it. At no point did I participate in the dancing, sit down at a table to hang out or eat with the guests, or stand around simply mingling. I was hired to do a job. Doing my job well and making sure that nothing catastrophic occured to the food, so that the wedding ran according to plan, was my way of "being mesameiahh the hhatan and the kala". No subterfuge or fuzzy categories involved. And yet everyone I saw insisted on exclaiming about "how great it is that [I'm] able to attend the wedding after all." They simply didn't realize that I wasn't there. Steg-the-guest had no name card; he had sent his RSVP in saying 'unfortunately no'; Steg-the-mashgiahh was at work.

Speaking of work, let's move on from the angsty aveilut part of the post to the job experience part.

Being a mashgiahh was a lot of fun. It's the best excuse ever for being nosy — even better than circulating through a classroom as a teacher while students answer classwork sheets or learn in hhevruta. Being nosy was my job — the kashrut of the food depended on it! So I got to stick my face in everywhere, ask catering workers to show me stuff, read the multilingual labels on the spices, and get offered sneak previews of hors d'oeuvres. I could move around, have an interreligious discussion with the security guys, do some reading/learning, make sure the pitchers at the washing station were full, and still be present and observant in the kitchen the majority of the time, catching mistakes and preventing others from occurring.

There were a number of issues that came up where I wasn't sure what to do, and the officiating rabbi wasn't available, so I just erred on the side of stringency. It's good that I'll be learning all about the details and intricacies of kashrut this year, though, so I'll be more prepared for any other mashgiahh gigs I take in the future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

[Preface: this comment is without sources. I unfortunately do not own a Shulhhan ‘Arukh, and the copy which I use is located in a beis medrash which is a bit too far to leave my wife to go to at 11:40 PM. Im yirteh hashem I will look this up in the near future for my own enlightenment. If sources are particularly desired, please inform me via the comment thread.]

To the best of my knowledge the "working as part of the staff to overcome the restrictions of aveilut against attending a wedding" work-around only applies to family members' weddings. I.e. if a parent is, god-forbid, an avel at their child's wedding, they should bring in a plate from the kitchen to be considered "working," and they can then stay at the meal.

If the marrying parties are not family members, then this does not apply. I know that at my wedding one of our guests was in aveilut, so she, her husband, and another couple friendly with them, sat outside the hall and did not join the meal or the dancing.

On the other hand, an avel can attend the chuppah and leave immediately thereafter (ma'aseh rav: Rav Azarya Berzon, my rosh yeshiva, did this at his nephew's wedding).

As you write, "CYLHA: consult your local halakhic authority"

8/23/2007 11:42 PM  
Blogger Phillip Minden said...

The traditional (at least Western) understanding in fact doesn't allow for those pass-me-the-water-now-you're-a-waiter tricks, and even less so if you're not a close relative.

8/24/2007 5:08 AM  
Blogger thanbo said...


>R' Azarya Berzon...

His father was my camp rabbi, and had met my great-grandfather's brother (the semi-famous Joseph H. Cohen).

8/24/2007 6:11 PM  
Blogger Lion of Zion said...

i'm curious what problems came up in the kitchen

8/29/2007 12:49 AM  

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