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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Holocaust, Antisemitism, Missionaries (9/12)
Section - Question 16.3: What is the connection between Judaism and Freemasonry?

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   The following is extracted from a paper by Paul M. Bessel of Arlington
   VA that accompanied presentations in February 1989. The FAQ would
   would like to thank David Kaufman ([5] for
   providing this information; the full text of the presentation may be
   obtained from him. The full text is online at
   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. Another Jewish Grand Master was
   Moses Seixas in Rhode Island from 1791 until 1800. There were many
   other American Jewish Masons in early American history, including one
   in George Washington's original Fredericksburg Lodge.
   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
   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 accepted. They could also use the
   opportunities presented by their participation in a social
   organization with Christians to prove the two could prosper by their
   association. Freemasonry's philosophy of the brotherhood of all people
   indicated Masonry would accept Jews as members.
   There are many common themes and ideals in Masonic and Jewish rituals,
   symbols, and words:
     * Belief in G-d, prayer, immortality of the soul, charity, and
       acting respectfully to all people are essential elements of
       Freemasonry as well as Judaism, and of course other religions too.
     * Masonry and Judaism, as well as other religions and statements of
       ethical standards, teach that we must discipline ourselves and
       keep our passions in check. Jewish masons follow rituals in
       synagogues and in Masonic lodges to help them develop this
     * Judaism and Masonry give the greatest respect and support for
       freedom of individuals. Judaism teaches that everyone is capable
       of good or evil and attempts to help us use our free will to
       choose the righteous path. Masonry teaches that those who are
       morally fit can find "light" in Masonry if they desire it of their
       own free will. The concept of exercising free will to accept the
       law and atone for past transgressions is what Rosh Hashanah and
       Yom Kippur are about.
     * Light is an important symbol in both Freemasonry and Judaism.
       Contrast the holiday of Chanukah with the use of light in Masonry,
       where it represents the Divine spirit, religious freedom, and
       rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and of the spiritual
       Temple within us all.
     * One of the fundamental symbols of Masonry is the Temple of Solomon
       and the Second Temple, which also figured as the central part of
       the Jewish religion. King Solomon, one of the greatest figures in
       Jewish history, is also one of the most important figures in
       Masonic rituals.
   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. Some
   parts of Masonry use New Testament prayers, references to Saints, the
   cross as a religious symbol (although it is stated that the cross is
   being used as a symbol of religion in general rather than the
   Christian religion), and one Masonic organization requires aspiring
   members to swear to support the Christian faith. Jews must deal with
   these references to other religions by remaining quiet or not
   participating in those parts of Masonry.
   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 welcomed. French Masonic
   lodges, and those in different countries affiliated with the French
   Grand Orient during the Napoleonic occupations, admitted Jews without
   restrictions. In 1869 a Jew was Grand Master of the Scottish Rite in
   Paris. However, later in the 1800's French society became more
   anti-Semitic, culminating in the Dreyfus affair where a French army
   officer was unjustly accused of treason mainly because he was a Jew,
   and French Masonry unfortunately also became more anti-Jewish. Today,
   some parts of French Masonry are officially neutral about religion and
   do not even require a belief in G-d. In Scandinavia, according to some
   sources, Masonry is officially Christian and does not accept Jewish
   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.
   Since one of the Grand Lodges was known to be adamant against
   accepting Jews, this forced the others who wanted to be more tolerant
   to maintain anti-Jewish policies.
   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. However,
   there was also an argument that if a Jew voluntarily complied with
   Christian practices he showed he was contemptuous of his own religion
   and had a bad character, and was thus unworthy to be a Mason.
   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. This also occurred in Freemasonry, but by then Judaism and
   Masonry were being jointly attacked.
   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. Masons and Jews were said to be involved in, or
   benefited from, radical efforts such as the American, French, and
   Russian revolutions. Masonry and Judaism promoted free will of men,
   contrary to efforts of those who sought to insure that people had the
   "correct" thoughts. (This may explain why the Roman Catholic Papacy
   has expressed its antagonism toward Freemasonry so frequently and
   strongly since 1738, and why extreme conservatives in other religions
   also oppose Freemasonry.) Gradually the charge was made that
   Freemasons and Jews were both evil and they were purposely supporting
   each others' radical schemes.
   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 republic. Also, some Jews still dressed and acted in
   the same conservative ways as their ancestors in the middle ages and
   thus kept themselves apart from modern society.
   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.
   Although this document was not even a clever hoax, its influence was
   unbelievably widespread and long-lasting in whipping up hatred against
   Jews and Masons by many, including Henry Ford in the United States
   during his long anti-Jewish campaign in the 1920's and 1930's.
   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. The
   Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes have consistently attacked
   Freemasonry, because they cannot tolerate an organization whose basic
   beliefs are freedom of individuals and tolerance and generosity toward
   all people.
   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.

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