What is the connection between Judaism and Freemasonry?
Freemasons are the favorite targets of both political and religious tyrants. Often and wrongly accused of being part of some world-wide Jewish conspiracy by hate groups such as Christian Identity and the Religious Right, Freemasons in fact vary from country to country and reflect the culture of the host country.
Freemasons in America, England, the Netherlands accepted Jews, Deists, Unitarians, Christians, etc. from the beginning as they did all moral persons that believed in God. Half the signers of the Constitution were Freemasons and Freemasonry shares all the great ideas that make America the great nation it is.
What is the connection between Judaism and Freemasonry?
The following is extracted from a paper by Paul M. Bessel of Arlington VA that accompanied presentations in February 1989.
Jews were actively involved in the beginnings of Freemasonry in America. There is evidence they were among those who established Masonry in seven of the original thirteen states: Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia.
A Jewish Mason, Moses Michael Hays, helped introduce the Masonic Scottish
Rite in America. Paul Revere served under him as Deputy Grand Master. There were
several other Jews who held the masonic titles in the late 1700's: Solomon Bush
in Pennsylvania, Joseph Myers in Maryland and later in South Carolina, and
Abraham Forst of Philadelphia in Virginia in 1781.
Jewish Masons played an important part in the American Revolution, with 24 of them serving as officers in George Washington's army. In addition, several helped finance the American cause, including Haym Salomon, a Philadelphia Jewish Mason who with others contributed and raised money for the American war effort and loaned money to Jefferson, Madison, Lee, and others for their personal expenses. Salomon was imprisoned by the British and died in his 40's bankrupt and with penniless heirs.
There is evidence that Jews, including rabbis, continued to be involved in the Masonic movement in the United States. There have been at least 51 Jewish American Grand Masters. Today there are many Jews active in Masonry in America and other countries. Israel has about 60 Masonic lodges with 3,000 members.
Jews had also been involved to a small extent in the formation of modern Freemasonry in the early 1700's in England. Until then Jews were not permitted to participate in many of the ordinary activities of life.
Then the Enlightenment concept of the universality of all people brought about a society where people's religious beliefs did not affect their rights as citizens. Jews were gradually permitted to exercise the rights of citizenship and to pursue their lives as they wished.
Many Jews viewed joining Freemasonry as part of their "emancipation" from the
old legal and social exclusions. Modern Masonry was as much a product of the
Enlightenment as the emancipation of Jews. Many society leaders were Freemasons
and if Jews could join this fraternity that would prove they were being
There are many common themes and ideals in Masonic and Jewish rituals, symbols, and words:
While there are many common aspects of Judaism and Freemasonry, it also
should be recognized that because of the history of attempts to force Jews to
convert they can be uncomfortable about being asked to say Christian prayers or
otherwise indicate non-Jewish beliefs.
Did Masonry always welcome Jews? No. Although a Jew, Edward Rose, became a
Mason in a London lodge in 1732, this event apparently excited attention and led
to other lodges debating whether they should permit Jewish members. Eventually,
significant numbers of Jews joined English Masonry where they were apparently
It is probably not surprising that the country with the longest history of anti-Semitic prejudice in Freemasonry as well as in society is Germany. Most lodges there did not permit Jews to be members, and they even questioned visiting Masonic brethren about their religion at the doors of their lodges and barred Jews even if they were Masons in good standing in other lodges. This caused lodges in England, the Netherlands, and the United States to protest but they did not retaliate against visiting German Masons.
German officials feared secret societies as potential sources of subversion,
so the Prussian government became involved in Masonry as a means to watch and
control it. The future Kaiser Wilhelm I was the patron of the three Berlin Grand
Lodges for many years, and he decided that Jews would only be permitted if there
was unanimous agreement.
In Russia, Freemasonry was also suppressed because of the belief it might be used to support political activity against the Csarist regime, at the same time that Jews were prevented from obtaining rights of citizenship in that country.
Various claims were made by those who wanted to keep Jews out of Masonry. Some said Masonry was a Christian institution and Jews could not become members unless they converted. Some said only Christians could possess the good character necessary to achieve Masonic ideals.
Others said Masonry has Christian symbols and prayers but Jews could become
Masons if they simply complied with requirements such as swearing on the
Christian Gospels and eating pork at Masonic meals (both violations of halacha),
without having to convert.
Another argument was that Jews preferred to be in their own social groups. It was said they should not try to push their way into Masonic lodges where they were not wanted, would be uncomfortable, and would make others uncomfortable by their presence. Some Jews did join lodges that were primarily Jewish and the B'nai B'rith organization in its early days had a ritual parallel to Freemasonry.
Finally, there were the rawest antisemitic arguments. Some of those who wanted to keep Jews out of Masonry said the Jewish religion was inherently evil, or that Jews were racially and genetically evil and could never be permitted in Masonry even if they converted.
In general, Freemasonry's attitudes toward Jews mirrors those of the rest of
society. Jews became more acceptable from the late 1700's until the 1870's. From
that time on, anti-Semitism increased in many countries.
Freemasons and Jews always had critics. Eventually the bigots realized they could promote their ideas by tying Masons and Jews together as objects of hatred.
Critics said Freemasonry and Judaism were dedicated to undermining the
institutions of existing society, including Christianity and the State, and
pointed to the secrecy associated with both as proof of their evil intentions.
Ironically, Masons and Jews were also sometimes accused of being too
reactionary. Aristocrats often belonged to Masonic lodges, and some German
Masons promoted the return of the Kaiser after World War I brought about a
Increasingly Jews and Freemasons were accused of being disloyal to their countries, keeping strange secrets, and designing to take over the world.
The ultimate form of this hatred was the sinister "Protocols of the Elders of
Zion", which originated in Russia and received wide circulation after it was
translated into German in the 1920's. Some bigots claimed this document was a
transcript of a meeting of Jewish leaders plotting world domination, in
partnership with Freemasons.
It was a short step from this to the ideology of the Nazis. Hitler attacked
Masons as well as Jews, and after taking control of Germany and other European
countries Nazis used the slogan "All Masons Jews--all Jews Masons", and
persecuted Masons, Jews, and others.
Dictatorships have regularly attacked and persecuted Masons and Jews, and these attacks on Masons and Jews together are not all in the past. Last year a group called the "Islamic Resistance Movement--Palestine" said that Freemasonry and other "Zionist-affiliated" organizations are about to be liquidated.
The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.
Ref. http://www.shamash.org/lists/scj-faq/HTML/faq/16-03.htmlThank David Kaufman for this information. The full text is online at http://www.bessel.org/masjud.htm.
Freemasons, Unitarians, Deists
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