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FREEMASONS, members of a secret society which developed out of craftmen's associations, originally consisting of masons proper. From the 17th century the society existed mainly as a social organization and cultivated a tradition of doctrines, passwords, and symbols, a ritual which is supposed to derive from the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem. The coat of arms of the English lodges is said to have been adapted from one painted by Jacob Judah Leon *Templo. Modern Freemasonry began in England around 1717; in 1723 the London Grand Lodge adopted a constitution formulated by the Reverend James Anderson, based on some older traditions. A printed constitution facilitated the foundation of new lodges on the basis of a recognized authority. During the next decades the lodges spread, in Britain, France, Holland, Germany, and many other countries. All the lodges regarded themselves as belonging to the same fraternity, and a Freemason appearing at any lodge with a certificate of membership was admitted to the work of the lodge and entitled to hospitality and help in case of need. The first paragraph of the constitution stated that anyone found to be true and honest, of whatever denomination or persuasion, was to be admitted. The constitution obliged the member only to hold "to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves," a declaration of religious tolerance based on the current Deist trend, which postulated a Supreme Being who could be conceived of by any rational being. It is not known whether the possible aspiration of Jews to be accepted in the lodges influenced the wording of the constitution; yet it is formulated in a way that includes Jews as possible members. Thus, when a Jew asked for admission in 1732, one of the London lodges accepted him. The doors of the English lodges remained open to Jews in principle, although in practice there was some discrimination.

The Deistic declaration in the constitution did not remove some traces of Christian practice, including the New Testament, playing a part in the lodges. Nevertheless in the middle of the 18th century Jews joined the lodges, not only in England but also in Holland, France, and Germany. A Jewish lodge, the Lodge of Israel, was established in London in 1793.

Masonic tolerance weakened as a result of attacks made on it by the traditional sectors of all religions, who feared its all-embracing intentions. The Catholic Church banned – and still bans – Freemasonry in a bull promulgated by Pope Clement XII in 1738. The Deism of Freemasonry was clearly contrary to Church doctrines, and conservative Protestants and Jews also felt that its rituals were in conflict with their religious beliefs. To the objection of the Churches and other conservative elements in society, the Masons reacted by an apology which, in the main, tried to prove that Freemasonry was not an un-Christian institution, an argument supported by the fact that the Masonic fraternity consisted exclusively of Christians: Jews, Muslims, and pagans were not and should not be accepted. However, in England and Holland no objection in principle to Jewish applicants existed and in France the objections were swept away with the Revolution. Here Freemasonry became a kind of secular church in which Jews could participate freely. Adolphe *Crémieux was not only a Freemason from his early youth but in 1869 became the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Scottish Rite in Paris.

In Germany objection to Jewish membership persisted, remaining a matter of controversy for generations. Until the 1780s only a few German Jews were admitted to Masonry. About this time Jewish applications for admission to the Masonic lodges became frequent. Though there were some attempts to open the lodges to Jews, no German Freemason of any standing at that time advocated Jewish admittance. Some German Jews became Freemasons when traveling abroad in England, Holland, and, particularly, in post-revolutionary France. In Germany itself French or French-initiated lodges were established during the Napoleonic occupation. A Jewish lodge, L'Aurore Naissante, was founded in Frankfurt, authorized in 1808 by the Grand Orient in Paris. These ventures, however, hardened the resistance of the indigenous lodges in Frankfurt and in other German towns, and some Masonic fraternities introduced amended constitutions specifically excluding Jews.

In the 1830s German intellectuals who were Freemasons protested against this exclusion, joined by Masons from Holland, England, France, and even by a lodge in New York, who resented the fact that their Jewish members were refused entrance to German lodges. By 1848 some lodges admitted Jews, if not as full members at least as visitors. The years of the 1848 Revolution swept away some of the paragraphs excluding Jews, and the Frankfurt Jewish lodges were now acknowledged by their Christian counterparts. The exceptions were the Prussian lodges, controlled by law from 1798 by the mother lodges from Berlin. In 1840 there were 164 Prussian lodges with a membership of 13,000. No Jew could ever be admitted to these, not even as a visitor, but many members, and sometimes entire lodges, wanted to reintroduce the original English constitution which excluded the attachment of Freemasonry to any specific religion. By the early 1870s most branches admitted Jews as visitors, sometimes even as permanent visitors, and in one of the branches of the Prussian lodges the restrictive paragraph was removed in 1872. A new wave of antisemitism, however, soon swept over the Bismarckian Reich, and by 1876 the lodges were already adopting an antisemitic tone. Those Jews who had been accepted by Prussian lodges left during the antisemitic outbreaks, followed by some liberal-minded Christians who were shocked by the behavior of a society ostensibly committed to the ideal of brotherhood.

Some Freemasons genuinely believed that confessing the Jewish faith was a disqualification for Freemasonry, which they regarded as a Christian institution, a view contested by those who adhered to the original English constitution and called themselves humanistic Freemasons. The struggle between the two trends continued during the 19th century.

In Germany in the 1860s Jews and Freemasons began to be identified as twin agencies responsible for undermining traditional society. This combined criticism of the two groups was transplanted to France, where a succession of books stressed "le peril judéo-maçonnique." The notion of a sinister alliance between the two played a conspicuous part in the *Dreyfus Affair and it became an antisemitic commonplace. The Protocols of the *Elders of Zion (first published in Russia in 1904) included the idea of a Jewish-Masonic plot to control the world. In Germany up to this time, Freemasonry was still thought of as a conservative and partly antisemitic association. When the Protocols were translated into German and English in the 1920s, Jews and Freemasons were identified as the sinister agents of the outbreak of World War I and of the German defeat. The slogan Juden und Freimaurer became a battle cry of the German right wing, and was utilized by Hitler in his rise to power. During World War II, Freemasons together with "Bolsheviks and Jews" were persecuted by the Nazis.

[Encyclopaedia Hebraica]

In the U.S.

Jewish names appear among the founders of Freemasonry in colonial America, and in fact it is probable that Jews were the first to introduce the movement into the country. Tradition connects Mordecai Campanall, of Newport, Rhode Island, with the supposed establishment of a lodge there in 1658. In Georgia four Jews appear to have been among the founders of the first lodge, organized in Savannah in 1734. Moses Michael Hays, identified with the introduction of the Scottish Rite into the United States, was appointed deputy inspector general of Masonry for North America in about 1768. In 1769 Hays organized the King David's Lodge in New York, moving it to Newport in 1780. He was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts from 1788 to 1792. Moses *Seixas was prominent among those who established the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island, and was Grand Master from 1802 to 1809. A contemporary of Hays, Solomon *Bush, was deputy inspector general of Masonry for Pennsylvania, and in 1781 Jews were influential in the Sublime Lodge of Perfection in Philadelphia which played an important part in the early history of Freemasonry in America. Other early leaders of the movement included: Isaac da *Costa (d. 1783), whose name is found among the members of King Solomon's Lodge, Charleston, in 1753; Abraham Forst, of Philadelphia, deputy inspector general for Virginia in 1781; and Joseph Myers, who held the same office, first for Maryland, and later for South Carolina. In 1793 the cornerstone ceremony for the new synagogue in Charleston, South Carolina, was conducted according to the rites of Freemasonry.

The later history of Freemasonry in the United States shows a number of prominent Jewish names, but nothing corresponding to their influence in the earlier period. In 1843 the Grand Lodge in New York addressed a letter to the Mutterloge in Berlin complaining against the refusal of German lodges to accept registered Masons of the American Lodge because they were Jewish. Nonsectarianism in matters of religion has always characterized American Freemasonry, and regulations excluding Jews have not been part of their constitutions, though whether admissions policies have ever been restrictive would be difficult to establish. The apparatus of secrecy, ritual, and regalia which was a feature of *B'nai B'rith in its early years no doubt reflected the influence of Masonic practice as well as a desire to offer a substitute within the Jewish community.


J. Katz, Jews and Freemasons (1970); idem, in: JJSO, 9 (1967), 137–47; J.G. Findel, Die Juden als Freimaurer (1901); D. Wright, The Jews and Freemasonry (1930); S. Oppenheim, in: AJHSP, 19 (1910), 1–94; A.M. Friedenberg, ibid., 95–100; H. Loewe, in: Masonic News, 1 (1928), 14–15.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.