I have been a Mason for more than fifty years, and a rabbi for more than forty years. The two are totally compatible. My friend and mentor, Rabbi Edgar Magnin, a"h, was the Grand Chaplain for California for several years, and the present president of the synagogue to which my wife and I belong just completed his term as Grand Lecturer for California.
In addition to my own personal knowledge, the following scholarly article may be helpful to you.
The following is extracted from a paper by Paul M. Bessel of Arlington, VA that accompanied presentations in February 1989. The FAQ would like to thank David Kaufman (firstname.lastname@example.org) for providing this information; the full text of the presentation may be obtained from him. The full text is online at http://www.bessel.org/masjud.htm.
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
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 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
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.
I know very little about the Free Mason movement and am reluctant to comment. I do know that it uses many Jewish symbols and imagery, claiming to date back to the time of the Building of Solomon’s Temple. Jews, where permitted, were prominent members, and conspiracy advocates saw masons and Jews as well as masons as Jews working together to weaken Christianity and dominate the world. This simply reflected the paranoia of those who felt threatened by secret societies as well as cultures they did not understand. In the same way as there is no Jewish conspiracy, so too there is no Mason conspiracy, but rather an open plan to bring the world to one of peace and understanding.
However, and this is a big however, the Free Mason movement does seem to be in favor of the eventual dissolution of national identities, as well as separate religious identities which I do not believe sits well with the philosophy of orthodox Judaism. Jewish national identity is a very strong element in orthodoxy (unlike early Reform), and everyone does not need to become Jewish to bring in the Messianic age. There are basic laws of morality (the seven laws of Noah which does exclude idolatry) which all people are expected to follow; however, separate cultures and nationalities are not expected to disappear and perhaps can be seen as a beautiful tapestry of the uniqueness of human differences.
I would be uncomfortable joining the Free Masons because of some of the Christian religious symbolism, and the reasons I mentioned above. As to whether it is religiously prohibited from joining them, I’m not sure but would say instead “not recommended”.
I don’t see why not. Freemasonry is a fraternal order open to members of a wide variety of religious faiths and traditions. True, members are asked to declare belief in a “supreme being.” But the nature of that belief is not specified nor is the nature of the “supreme being” in which a member is required to believe. An observant Jew certainly could testify to belief in a “supreme being” – and, for that matter, to behavior furthering that belief. Freemasonry does involve rites and rituals that may seem vaguely Christian or pagan. But these rituals do not, to me, necessarily appear to be contrary to Jewish faith or practice. (As with any organization in which both Jews and non-Jewish people are involved, an observant Jew would have to take steps to avoid violating mitzvot (such as those involving Kashrut or Shabbat) whose observance is not required of non-Jews.)
The fact is, Freemasonry opened itself up to Jews relatively early. Many Jews, in this country in particular, have been drawn to Freemasonry for many years as a universalistic and humanistic channel for charitable pursuits.
Free disclosure: One could argue that I have no business answering this question in the first place because my beloved late father, alav ha-shalom (may he rest in peace), was a Freemason. Indeed, I recall how, in his modest way, he was proud to be one. For my father, Freemasonry was a meaningful way to live out the values to which he was devoted, and it provided important fellowship.
My father was a dutiful, devoted, and proud Jew – and a proud Mason. As far as I’m concerned, that answers the question!
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