You might hear someone raving about a new kosher restaurant, only to be confronted by the question, But whats the hashgachah? meaning, which kashrut authority is supervising and certifying the establishment? (Why there may be multiple kashrut authorities, even in the same city, is a good question beyond the scope of this column to answer.)
The on-site supervisor responsible for the kashrut in the restaurant is called the mashgiach. Sometimes people wonder what mashgichim do all day, but having served as one for six weeks in a well-known Golders Green restaurant, I can assure you that its a demanding and responsible post.
Mashgiach (which comes from the Hebrew verb meaning to consider or take care of) is also the name for the rabbi in a school or yeshivah who is a counsellor and adviser responsible for the moral and spiritual development of the students. This position was an innovation of the 19th-century Mussar movement of Rabbi Israel Salanter, which focused on refining the character and ethical behaviour of the students as much as on their intellectual attainments.
Hashgachah is also the word for Gods providential attention to the world. Medieval Jewish philosophers argued over whether God exercised providence over individuals (hashgachah pratit) or over peoples (hashgachah klalit). A religious Jew will often attribute a fortuitous coincidence to hashgachah. As the Bible puts it, God looks upon (mashgiach) all the people of the world (Psalms 33:14).