Judaism and Freemasonry

The teachings of Freemasonry draw from traditions of biblical and Egyptian antiquity.

Freemasonry today has many facets, and there are many layers of esoteric and exoteric knowledge, that are not always Christian.

Over the centuries, Freemasons have added/integrated other traditions, and intermingled them with Biblical accounts of the Temple of Jerusalem, King Solomon, and other biblical figures

Jesuit Priest Augustin Barruel (1741-1820)
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In the latter years of the eighteenth century, a narrative emerged in Catholic Italy and France, which claimed that Jews and Freemasons had joined forces to overthrow the established order of the Throne and the Altar. [1]

In 1791, the Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel fled revolutionary France, and with other conservatives in Britain came to the conclusion that a large conspiracy to establish a sort of anti-Monarchic and anti-Catholic political system in Europe had been designed by Jews and Freemasons.

This fantasy of a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy would flourish during the 19th century and would be at the heart of the Vichy State’s (Régime de Vichy) ideology in the early 1940s, leading to persecutions during the war.

An example of French Anti-Masonic/Anti-Semitic propaganda: “The Aryan breaks the chains of the Jew and the Freemason that held him captive”, drawing of 1897 in a book by Augustin-Joseph Jacquet, in France.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

A Jew was initiated for the first time in 1736, in London, and as Daniel Beresniak has described in his book Juifs et Franc-Maçons (Bibliophane, 1989) Freemasonry was a way of Jewish integration in the larger society during the Enlightenment. However, one should not overestimate Freemasonry as a portal to integration.

In his opening sentence of The Hidden Life in Freemasonry, C.W. Leadbeater writes;

‘The origins of Freemasonry are lost in the mist of Antiquity” [2]

In a way, he is right. The teachings of Freemasonry draw from traditions of biblical and Egyptian antiquity.

Freemasonry today has many facets, and there are many layers of esoteric and exoteric knowledge, that are not always Christian.

Over the centuries, Freemasons have added/integrated other traditions, and intermingled them with Biblical accounts of the Temple of Jerusalem, King Solomon, and other biblical figures.

Modern Masonic scholarship came to consider that the essence of Renaissance philosophy – that took place in fourteenth century Italy – was a body of thought which some have called the Hermetic/Cabbalistic tradition.

Revisiting Antiquity, the Renaissance gave birth to this esoteric corpus that made its way in Freemasonry in various forms and teachings. [3]

Among those traditions, the Kabbalah revaluated by Christian authors.

On the other hand, the historical phenomenon of ‘Freemasonry’, even though it has no founder nor founding dates can trace its history back to the 1600s in Britain, at least for its speculative part.

The operative background goes back to the Middle Ages. A distinction must be made between the structure of the lodge and its various rites and content, and the teachings that it conveys.

These two aspects – historical and ideological – are not mutually exclusive, and Freemasonry, as we know it today, is the result of a subtle dynamic between those.

Its diversity in rites, Grand Lodges, and approaches is the result of this evolution. Freemasonry is, in essence, progressive: its core teachings go back to an age-old tradition, or traditions, and its structure – albeit built on common aspects – has evolved and progressed over the centuries.

So, is there a direct link between Judaism and Freemasonry?

The birthplace of modern Freemasonry is seventeenth-eighteenth century Christian Britain; more accurately Protestant Britain.

Operative masonry took roots in medieval Christendom, even though some have made a connection between the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the building sites of cathedrals in Europe.

A direct historical link is yet to be proven, although in both cases, the aim was to build God’s abode on earth.

The word ‘Judaism’ describes the religion of the Children of Israel after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. and is often referred to as Rabbinic Judaism.

After this national catastrophe, a Jewish religious group re-invented the biblical religion to operate under new circumstances. There is an element of continuity – the people, the land, the commandments – also creativity: the service of the Temple, so central to Biblical Judaism, became the service of the heart, Torah study, prayer, and acts of good deeds.

The main biblical narratives – the Exodus, the Revelation at Mount Sinai, the forty years in the desert – are at best alluded in Freemasonic rituals, but the centrality of the Temple of Jerusalem, King Solomon, and Hiram, do not belong to the core of Jewish teachings.

The Temple remains in Jewish texts insofar as some Jewish movements are waiting for the Temple to be rebuild when the Messiah comes.

Many parts of the Talmud mention the sacrificial system so as not to forget it, but in Jewish daily practice, the Temple is placed somewhere in the future.

The Hebrew Scriptures – called The Old Testament in a Christian milieu – that are used in Freemasonry are mainly taken from the King James translation of the Bible; a monument of English literature, that shows its original roots.

There was undeniably theological hostility towards Judaism in the seventeenth/eighteenth century, and one of the major tenets of Christian thought was to ascertain that it fulfils and overtakes Judaism.

Can we conclude, with Robert Jan van Pelt, that ‘Rabbinic Judaism had no influence on Freemasonry’, and that ‘the masonic temple and the synagogue stands universes apart’ ? [4]

However we read them, many narratives and characters, and the Temple of Jerusalem, are Jewish in essence.

There is more of course, and some degrees have a clear Christian origin. Nevertheless, the Temple, the columns, the drama take their origin in the first part of the Christian Scriptures.

Like Judaism, Freemasonry is a hermeneutic endeavour. It questions texts of the tradition and attempts to reach a deeper meaning.

In that sense, their methods are identical.

In addition to that, one cannot encompass Judaism with a single definition, as it is also impossible to do so for Freemasonry.

Every religious and spiritual tradition has an esoteric and mystical side that is not always fully accepted.

In Rabbinic Judaism, although it was not necessarily mainstream, some Rabbis have explored the hidden secrets of the Creation of the world, the creative power of letters and words, meditative techniques that help improve the soul.

Some human beings have no taste for initiation, and are satisfied with a structuring religious life, without its mystical aspects.

In other words, one could possibly argue that Judaism is as close to Freemasonry as is Christianity.

The same is true for all other traditions that came along during its long history, and created this unique path of initiation that is at the same time pioneering and encapsulated in an age old tradition that some call ‘the centre of the union’.

Article by: Rene Pfertzel

Rene Pfertzel was initiated in 1992 in Lodge Ouverture et Fraternité 1540, in the French Federation of the International Co-Masonry, Le Droit Humain.

After a gap of over 15 years, he re-joined Le Droit Humain in the British Federation, Lodge Hermes 20.

He has a PhD in Biblical Studies, and after a career as a history teacher in France, he retrained to become a Rabbi in London, and stayed in the United Kingdom ever since. He serves a Progressive community in Surrey.

Foot Notes
Sources

[1]  See Robert Jan van Pelt, ‘Freemasonry and Judaism’, in: Bogdan H. and Snoek Jan A.M., Handbook of Freemasonry, Brill: Leiden, 2017, p. 196.

[2]  Reprinted in 2007 by Cornestone Books Publishers, New Orleans, LA. First edition 1925.

[3]  See W. Kirk MacNulty, Freemasonry. Symbols, Secrets, Significance, Thames & Hudson: London, 2006, p. 43.

[4]  Op. cit. p. 190 & 192.

Juifs & francs-maçons
(French Edition)

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The Hidden Life in Freemasonry

The Masonic fellowship differs from all other societies in that candidates for membership have to join it blindfold, and cannot receive much information about it until they actually enter its ranks.

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In this book it is the object, while preserving due secrecy upon those matters which must be kept secret, to explain something of the deeper meaning and purpose of Freemasonry, in the hope of arousing among the Brn. a more profound reverence for that of which they are the custodians and a fuller understanding of the mysteries of the Craft.

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Freemasonry: Symbols,
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Handbook of Freemasonry
(Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion)

Freemasonry is the largest, oldest, and most influential secret society in the world.

The Brill Handbook of Freemasonry is a pioneering work that brings together, for the first time, leading scholars on Freemasonry.

The first section covers historical perspectives, such as the origins and early history of Freemasonry.

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