Masonry has always been attractive to Jews – there were Jewish Freemasons in England before the premier Grand Lodge, and the closeness of this connection still exists. Many of my friends are active in both Lodge and synagogue, several rabbis are keen Freemasons, and occasionally internal differences within the Jewish community can be bridged in and through the Craft.
There is no conflict between Judaism and Freemasonry. I view with bemused incomprehension the way that other faiths sometimes oppose the one major force in society that both shares their ideals and actively promotes them.
The connection between Judaism and the Craft was obvious to me from the night of my initiation. I remember being amazed that the tyler’s toast, almost word for word, is identical to part of the synagogue service.
As I progressed through the degrees and the offices, I realised that alongside my faith would stand my Freemasonry, not as a second religion, but as a “handmaid to religion”, as a support and an enhancement.
There is so much that is common to both Judaism and Freemasonry, and these two major influences on my life flow in parallel channels. The most obvious similarity is the use of the Volume of the Sacred Law and Biblical passages, and sometimes this can be more than just Bible stories.
In December 1996 I was founding senior warden of a Lodge that was consecrated in King Solomon’s quarries under the Old City of Jerusalem. The chisel marks of the masons who had quarried the stones are still visible, and since the stones were dressed where they were cut, it suddenly became very obvious why, at the Temple site itself, “there was not heard the sound of metallic tool”.
Both Judaism and Freemasonry provide a continual intellectual challenge. Neither is, nor ever can be, fully understood and interpreted, and each provides an ongoing field for study – the concept of a daily advancement in knowledge is a common ideal.
Occasionally there are parallels that cause much thought. The three verses of the priestly benediction have three, five and seven words respectively in the original Hebrew – is this merely a coincidence with the numbers needed to form, hold and perfect a Lodge?
Freemasonry is described as “illustrated by symbols”. Judaism emphasises the value of symbolic action for both faith and education. The importance of being free men forms the core of the major Passover home ritual. The synagogue service on the Day of Atonement re-enacts the actions of the people in Temple times on hearing the name of the Most High.
The description of charity – the Hebrew term Tzedakah also means both justice and righteousness – as a quality “that blesses him who gives as much as him who receives”, resonates with the Rabbinic comment that the highest form of charity is when neither donor nor recipient knows the identity of the other.
But the quality that appeals to me above all is the sense of brotherhood and toleration inherent in Masonry. Almost without exception, the regimes that have been intolerant to Jews are the ones that have also been prejudiced against Freemasonry.
Through Masonry I have come to know many wonderful people; without Masonry we would “have remained at a perpetual distance”. The wide circle of friendships that I have made in Masonry has enriched my life and that of my family.
Is there a conflict between Judaism and Freemasonry? Not at all.
Would I recommend a Jew to become a Freemason? Unhesitatingly.
I have found it a daily delight, and one of the greatest influences of my life.
Elkan Levy is Provincial Grand Chaplain for Middlesex and Metropolitan Deputy Grand Chaplain for London