Monthly Archives: March 2016

When an artist or author is antisemitic

How do you deal with the knowledge that one of your favorite artists, writers or philosophers was anti-Semitic? I am a longtime fan of Howard Philips Lovecraft. Little known in his day, but greatly respected soon after, he became the 20th century’s most powerful voice of “weird fiction”, the predecessor to some forms of modern day horror and science-fiction.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft in_1915

According to Joyce Carol Oates, Lovecraft – as with Edgar Allan Poe in the 19th century – has exerted “an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction”. Stephen King called Lovecraft “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale, and his influence today would take an entire encyclopedia article to fill.

As great as his literary talents were, he also was a racist and anti-Semitic, although mostly in private letter writing. When he met people of different races he was friendly – and in the end, he ended up marrying a Jewish woman. As he got older, he gradually lessened his racism towards many people, but not towards black people, who today are still – understandably – offended by his writings.

He is in the news this week, (11/15) as it was announced that the World Fantasy Award trophy would no longer be modeled on H. P. Lovecraft. (there has been a subsequent controversy within the fantasy and science fiction community.)

As a Jewish American, I feel ashamed when I read the racist and anti-Semitic statements in his correspondence. But I still feel awed by his mastery of his art, especially given the unfortunate circumstance in which he was raised – and effectively neglected. I can’t see myself removing any of his volumes from my home.

Do you have any favorite artists, writers or philosophers who turned out to be anti-Semitic? How do you deal with this issue?


A valuable resource on this topic is What Did They Think of the Jews? Allan Gould (Jason Aronson Inc)  ISBN 10: 0876687516 / ISBN 13: 9780876687512

What Did They Think Of The Jews

Throughout history, the Jewish people and their religious traditions have been viewed in different ways by their contemporaries. Reactions from their non-Jewish neighbors expose a broad spectrum of emotions: honest respect, genuine acceptance, begrudging tolerance, subtle dislike, and vicious hatred. In “What Did They Think of the Jews?” Allan Gould has gathered over two hundred documents, written by well-known men and women from ancient times through today, that reflect the writers’ personal views of the Jewish people and their societies’ general attitudes and beliefs.

This anthology includes the works of philosophers and poets, politicians and novelists, inventors and world leaders. The documents are by and about diverse personalities. Cicero, Saint Augustine, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Thomas Hobbes are among the writers whose works document the perception of Jews from Ancient Greece and Rome through the Renaissance. How Americans have viewed the Jews throughout United States history is portrayed in the writings of figures such as Benjamin Franklin, William Cullen Bryant, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Herman Melville, Theodore Roosevelt, John Steinbeck, and Charles Lindbergh. The works of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Charles Dickens, Emile Zola, Joseph Conrad, and others exemplify European and British viewpoints.

There are also reflections on the Holocaust and the State of Israel by personalities such as Carl Sandburg, Charles DeGaulle, and Frank Capra. And the virulent hatred of the Jewish people by Communist, Fascist, and Nazi ideologies is tragically demonstrated in the documents of those eras.

While some of the material in this volume bears witness to the slanders and slurs the Jewish people have encountered, What Did They Think of the Jews? also contains a large portion of powerfully moving and affirmative documents. Readers can take great pleasure in the inspiring essays, letters, quotations, and anecdotes of Henrik Ibsen, James Joyce, Harry Truman, and others whose visions allowed them to see past the walls of prejudice. What Did They Think of the Jews? is a truly unique and comprehensive resource. These documents present a balanced and insightful perspective on the Jewish experience.




The Unlikely Reanimation of H.P. Lovecraft: 125 years after his birth, the author known for his eerie tales—and his racist beliefs—has had one of the biggest comebacks in Western literature. Philip Eil, The Atlantic, Aug 20, 2015

The World Fantasy Awards, established in 1975, are presented annually at the World Fantasy Convention.  The World Fantasy Award has been described as one of the three most prestigious speculative fiction awards, along with the Hugo (voted on by fans and professionals) and the Nebula Awards (voted on members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) …The award statue was formerly a caricature bust of H. P. Lovecraft … In 2015, the old award statue was retired because of protests over Lovecraft’s racism.


Maimonides’s Guide For the Perplexed commentary by Scott Alexander

Maimonides’ “Guide for the Perplexed” is a work of philosophy, incorporating Neoplatonic, neo-Aristotelian, and Islamic philosophy. Without some knowledge of these topics, it is impossible to understand this book.

One generally studies the Guide after taking classes in classic Greek philosophy (including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle), medieval philosophy, rabbinic Judaism (Mishnah, Midrash, Talmud), and after gaining some knowledge of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).

I especially recommend:

Strauss, Leo. “How to Begin Study: The Guide of the Perplexed.” In Pines, S. (tr.) Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press
Joel L. Kraemer’s “The Islamic Context of Medieval Jewish Philosophy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy, ed. Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman, 38-68. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
“Maimonidean Controversy”, in “Maimonides”, Volume 11 of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, Keter Publishing.
What we need is an expert teacher who has studied this topic for years, such as the Scott Alexander. Presented here are the first chapters of Alexander’s commentary to Maimonides’s Guide.

The Guide of the Perplexed

Part I of the Guide.

Introduction I – The Well, The Pearl, and the Golden Apple

Introduction II – Contradictions

1-1,  1-21-31-41-5

1-6, 1-7,  1-8,  1-9,  1-10

1-11,  1-12


Abraham Isaac Kook

Are you familiar with Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935)? He was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine [pre-state Israel] Simultaneously an Orthodox rabbi and an unabashed radical- today he would be considered heterdox.

Rav Kook was a mystic and Kabbalist – which usually isn’t quite my thing – but perhaps Rav Kook is the exception which proves the rule  His mysticism speaks to yearnings of the Jewish heart. Today he is highly regarded by Jews of all denominations/streams.

This book, from the Classics of Western Spirituality series, is a great collection of his thought: It includes complete English translations of Orot ha-Teshuva (“The Lights of Penitence”), Musar Avicha (“The Moral Principles”), as well as selected translations from Orot ha-Kodesh (“The Lights of Holiness”) and miscellaneous essays, letters, and poems.

The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems: at

Kook The Lights of Penitence Book

* founder of the Religious Zionist Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav

* known in Hebrew by the acronym HaRaAYaH or simply as “HaRav.”

* one of the most celebrated and influential Rabbis of the 20th century.


Rav Kook’s Secret Writings: A Drama In Several Parts
By Hillel Fendel – 19 Tishri 5773 – October 4, 2012



Chabad synagogue on the north shore in Massachusetts

Over the past few decades, many North Shore communities saw a decline in their Jewish populations; many synagogues shrank or shut down. Yet some communities have stayed strong, like Marblehead and Swampscott. And some places offer new life to the community.  Chabad of the North Shore is one many new outreach centers (nationwide and worldwide) that reaches out to Jews of all backgrounds and observance levels.


Chabad has a point of view, like any group worth respecting does. It’s an open-hearted Hasidic Orthodoxy that meets Jews where they are, offering pathways to a meaningful Jewish life. They’re not missionaries; rather, they inspire Jews to become educated about their own heritage, and to take a step up the ladder of observance, from wherever they are.

As is traditional, some rituals are for men, some are for women; only men can be rabbis; and there is a tasteful, translucent mechitzah (divider) between the men’s and women’s sections during prayer services.

Women and men are both valued equally, and that’s not rhetoric. Chabad encourages women to study Torah and Talmud, and to teach. At their community seder, the service was led equally by the Rebbetzin and Rabbi. The Rebbetzin teaches classes on Talmud and on Kabbalah. That’s egalitarian, even if not Reform style.

My family has been to the Chabad Community Synagogue for their community Purim party, a traditional Shabbat morning service, and to their community Passover seder. We felt most welcome!

I have been to many kinds of synagogues, and what matters most is this: Is there joy? Ruach (spirit)? Does it encourage people to come to again, and inspire children to think “Judaism is worth doing, learning, celebrating.” Chabad of the North Shore succeeds in this. Their Purim celebration and Passover seders are lively, and a joy. If you haven’t been to one, you are missing out.

The Shabbat service could use more Shlomo Carelebach-type melodies and harmonies. But that’s true of nearly all synagogues nowadays. It also could use a few more moments of prayers in English, which helps keeps people involved if they don’t know the format.  That aside, this is a place very much worth coming to, and a worthy addition to the Jewish community of the North Shore.

Ethical kashrut

Ethical & Sustainable Kashrut

Some religious Jews separate certain technical laws of kashrut from the rest of Torah. They determine if a kosher food company is acceptable only if a small number of mitzvot, especially about slaughter and inspection, are followed. People in this school of thought believe that this is a “traditional” or “Orthodox” position.

Others, influenced by teaches such as Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi advocate integrating kashrut to include all Torah mitzvot. This would include mitzvot related to ecological considerations, humane treatment of workers, and humane treatment of animals.

Hazon has collected information on a number of companies who make sustainable, kosher food products.

Recent scandals in the kosher meat world have led many to reconsider what kosher meat really means. While we might have at one time assumed that kosher meat was healthier and more sustainable, in fact most kosher meat is raised the same as conventional non-kosher meat.However, a small number of crusaders have launched companies to make sustainably raised kosher meat available ….as more and more people are looking for meat that meets their standards of kashrut, as well as environmental sustainability, worker treatment and animal welfare, these companies are in the right place at the right time.

Green Pastures Poultry: Founded by Ariella Reback in Cleveland, Ohio, this company offers chicken, duck, turkey, and free-range eggs. Green Pastures Poultry can also help you organize an on-farm slaughter with your community.

Grow and Behold Foods: Founded by Naf and Anna Hanau, Grow and Behold Foods currently offers pasture-raised chicken under the product line Sara’s Spring Chicken, delivered fresh in the New York, Boston and Philadelphia areas.

KOL Foods: Founded by Devora Kimmelman Block in the Washington, DC area, KOL Foods (which stands for “Kosher Organic Local” offers grass-fed beef, lamb and poultry, shipped frozen nation-wide.

Wise Organic Pastures believes that animals should be treated with dignity and allowed to roam free. Meat is no place for antibiotics or hormones or pesticides. Families, not big business, make the best farmers and that the quality and purity of the foods we eat is not negotiable. Heksher: Crown Heights Kosher and OU. Products: Chicken, Turkey, and Beef. Distribution: Online shipping is available. or 718-596-0400

Kosher Sustainable Meat : Hazon

Another major player in ethical kashrut is Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization guided by Torah values and dedicated to combating suffering and oppression.

Through community based education, leadership development and action, Uri L’Tzedek creates discourse, inspires leaders, and empowers the Jewish community towards creating a more just world. Tav HaYosher, launched by Uri L’Tzedek, is a local, grassroots initiative to bring workers, restaurant owners and community members together to create just workplaces in kosher restaurants.

Thousands of workers are paid below minimum wage. Even more are denied their legal rights to overtime pay and time off. Workers are often subjected to unsafe and abusive working conditions.
There are three standards that a restaurant must meet to qualify for the Tav HaYosher:
The right to fair pay.
The right to fair time.
The right to a safe work environment

Launched by Uri L’Tzedek, the Tav HaYosher is an initiative to bring workers, restaurant owners and community members together to create just workplaces in kosher restaurants.
The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute is a Jewish animal welfare organization that educates leaders, trains advocates, and leads campaigns for the ethical treatment of animals.

Video interview on Jewish Social Justice and Kashrut: PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

oil turned into plastic spoon and then thrown away

Related resources

The Magen Tzedek Commission has developed a food certification program that combines the rabbinic tradition of Torah with Jewish values of social justice, assuring consumers and retailers that kosher food products have been produced in keeping with exemplary Jewish ethics in the area of labor concerns, animal welfare, environmental impact, consumer issues and corporate integrity. From Conservative Judaism’s Rabbinical Assembly.  Magen
What Is Next for Kosher Living? Modern Orthodox group takes up one aspect of eco-Kashrut.  What’s next for kosher living?