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Page created: 20 April 2015
Latest revision or update: 21 April 2015

JEWS IN ENGLISH FREEMASONRY

Prof. Aubrey Newman

Transcript of a lecture delivered by Professor Aubrey Newman, Emeritus Professor of History at Leicester University, England, to the Israel Branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England in Jerusalem, Israel, on 14 April 2015, and reproduced here with his kind permission.

Thanks for the invitation to be here, the first time since Lloyd Gartner(1) died. There are few historians of whom it can be said that in effect he invented a new aspect and approach to modern Jewish history – Jewish migration and its impact upon the receiving host country. My subject tonight is in part a tribute to him in that I am going to be talking about one particular aspect of his work. 

Let me make clear that I do not intend to go beyond the basic first steps in Freemasonry; I am not going to discuss all the various Masonic degrees and Orders which in England are, or might be, restricted to believing Christians.  Nor, am I going to mention Jacob Judah Leon Templo, Charles II, and I am certainly not going to say anything that might bring a blush to the cheek of any Grand Secretary.

In looking at this subject this subject this evening my purpose is not one of merely counting up every Jew or quasi-Jew who is known to have become a Freemason, an example of the process once described as discovering the first Jew who lived in Hampstead. The question of Jewish freemasons, or the presence of Lodges that were recognized in some form or other as Jewish Lodges, is an important part of the general discussion of the place of Jews in Western society since the middle of the seventeenth century, not least of all under the strains represented by the mass immigration after 1880. Since in order to become a Freemason one has to be vouched for by at least two other Freemasons the fact that a Jew becomes a Freemason has something to say about the nature of the general society in which he lives.  Very much similar to that is the question of so-called Jewish Lodges.  A Lodge can only become part of the general structure of Masonry if it is sponsored by other Lodges and approved of by a chain of Masonic authorities going up to the very top.  If therefore there are Lodges recognized as Jewish it makes a statement, paralleled equally if there is a refusal to accept Jews as Freemasons or to recognize the existence of specifically Jewish Lodges.  I am not however specifically interested in the issue of Jewish Lodges as such except to point out that one cannot have Jewish Lodges until there are Jewish freemasons. A lodge is formed from bottom up, i.e. a number of individuals have to come together to ask for such a possible lodge to be recognized, and a number of existing Lodges have to agree to sponsor such a request. Therefore when in 1886 there was formed in Glasgow a Jewish Lodge, Montefiore,  the point to be made is that its founding members must have become masons much earlier than that and acquired sufficient standing among fellow masons to have persuaded a number of leading non-Jewish masons to agree to their Lodges giving support. Some of us are working on the early history of Jews in Scotland, and are looking at the period of the 1810s, 1820s for the early appearance of Jews up North. If there are Jews of sufficient seniority in the 1880s to enable them to form a Lodge they must have been initiated into freemasonry by their fellow non-Jewish Scots several years before then, within a generation of the arrival of a community in Glasgow.

I must point out however that there is technically no such thing as a Jewish Lodge that restricts membership only to Jews.  The correct definition is that of a private Lodge on the Roll of the United Grand Lodge of England or some other such constitution whose bye-laws provide for kosher food to be served at Lodge meetings and where no meetings are held on Sabbath and Festivals. Grand Lodge would not accept a Lodge that says specifically that only Jews can become members of it any more than it would accept a Lodge that specifically excluded Jews.  One could turn to other exclusively Jewish organizations that are similar in many ways to Freemasonry and we would see it suggested that they were set up precisely because their founders had been denied membership of Freemasons; my response to that would be that broadly speaking even if that were true they were not originally created in England – certainly the best-known of them were not – and the only ones I know of that were founded in England were benefit societies, and they have extensive parallels as such in the non-Jewish society of their time.

The further obvious point I am making is that the process of being accepted as a Freemason is that it is a two-way one; one side has to wish to become a freemason and the other side has to accept that wish.  If therefore we find significant numbers of Jewish freemasons there is the implication of an acceptance into society as well as a desire to become accepted into that social group. In England, certainly in the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century, after the future Edward VII became Grand Master, Freemasonry exploded both in the number of Lodges and the number of individual masons. The social, dining side became very significant; hence the need from a Jewish point of view of having Kosher meals. It was also comparatively expensive. As a result the willingness of the new Jewish immigrants, or their children,  to enter Freemasonry says something about their social and financial status.  I earlier mentioned Scotland; it is important to realize then and later that Scottish masonry as a whole is much more populist than in England, so that different lessons need to be drawn from there.

Let me now sketch in the general masonic background, and I hope that those here tonight who are already aware of that background will forgive me.   Organized Freemasonry in England is traditionally held to begin in 1717 when four independent groups of Freemasons within the cities of London and Westminster came together and declared themselves a Grand Lodge. I am not saying that they founded freemasonry, because we know of the existence of freemasons Lodges before then and we have records of individuals who became freemasons long before then, but that they gave it a degree of organisation. At all events, within a few years other Lodges elsewhere, both in England and overseas, accepted the jurisdiction of this Grand Lodge or were formed under its auspices. It had a strong background of upper-class respectability, the annual election of a noble Grand Master became an occasion of great publicity, and even attracted the attention of leading politicians and an eighteenth-century Prince of Wales. Individual Lodges were to be found all over the country, and similar Grand Lodges were established in Scotland and Ireland.  It attracted a great deal of interest from non-Masons and a number of pamphlets were published claiming to reveal the so-called secrets of Freemasonry; the attraction of such knowledge was that since an important part of the work of Grand Lodge was the granting of charitable relief persons who had not actually become masons could pretend to be entitled to such payments. In an attempt to stem these outsiders Grand Lodge ordered some changes to be made in the ritual and thus imposters who were not aware of the changes could easily be detected.

It was about this time however that a number of Irish masons in London seem to have felt that they were being kept out of the mainstream of Masonry, and were not made welcome by these Lodges. In consequence in 1751, under the guidance of an Irishman called Laurence Dermott (of whom I will say more later), five Irish Lodges set up a rival organization, which they also termed a Grand Lodge.  And as they claimed that unlike their rivals, they were sticking to the old ways of doing things they declared that they were working in conformity to the Ancient Constitutions of Freemasonry, that they were the Antients, and the other lot were Moderns. You may well recall the old jokes amongst the Litvaks – two shuls and fifty opinions; I can assure you that the bitternesses between these rival organizations went very deep, neither recognizing the validity or even the existence of the other. It took over sixty years before these two groups agreed to sink their differences, to come together as the United Grand Lodge of England, and to accept the Prince Regent's  brother, the Duke of Sussex, as Grand Master. Even then the expansion of Freemasonry in terms of numbers and of breadth of attractiveness was limited until the 1870s; then, as I have already mentioned the Prince of Wales became Grand Master of Freemasons and the Order took off dramatically.  It was socially desirable among the middle classes, and the would-be middle classes, to become freemasons.  Numbers of Lodges soared and membership was publicized.

Let me also to point out to you how few Jews there were in England at the time when Freemasonry appears, and discuss their general status in society. When the first Grand Lodge was established in 1717 there were in England perhaps a thousand Jews, mostly in London and mostly Sephardim; by the end of the eighteenth century there may have been about 25,000, resident mostly in London but also to be found in the Provinces, and by then mostly Ashkenazim. Jews were to be found at a number of levels of society, and certainly Jews were found at all levels of economic activity. There were Jewish rhubarb sellers, pencil-makers, and peddlers just as there were diamond merchants and bankers who played an important role in the organization of Government finance.  Look at the criminal records of the Old Bailey and you will find Jews there a plenty.  But look also at the correspondence of Horace Walpole, the youngest son of the Prime Minister, and you will find also the Jews amongst whom he mixed. Remember that they lived in a society that was not only Christian but very much dominated by the Church of England. So that if we find that Jews  were excluded from public life so also were Roman Catholics and many branches of  English Protestantism who for various reasons did not fully conform to the Church of England.  And while discrimination against Roman Catholics and these Protestant non-conformists was ended in the 1820s as we all know it took until 1858 before Jewish political emancipation in Britain was even partially secured. It is equally important to point out however that substantially social and economic emancipation had been secured long before that, and that there was comparatively little anti-semitism as distinct from discrimination; in 1753 there was the furore over the so-called Jew Bill and in 1772 the Chelsea murders aroused for a short period considerable anti-Jewish feeling.  A century later, with the beginnings of the Great Migration, the numbers of Jews resident in Great Britain – and equally significantly passing through Great Britain – had increased.  By 1870 there were probably 70,000 Jews resident and by 1914 some 280,000 residents.  There was undoubtedly a strong anti-alien element, although I would not be inclined to regard it as necessarily always anti-semitic.  Let me go back however to the days of the first Jews in London to give an example of the general position of Jews in the commercial life of the day. In the 1690s, when there were probably about 600 Jews in London, the City of London decided to restrict the number of brokers allowed to be members of the Royal Exchange.  It allowed licenses to 100 Freemen of the City, but in addition 12 to foreigners in general, and a further 12 to Jews. It was a very generous allocation which a hundred years later had become restrictive, but in terms of the original decision was very generous.

Let me return to my early Masons. I have already mentioned the name of Laurence Dermott who was largely responsible for organizing the so-called Antients. He was an Irishman who came to London sometime in the 1740s. He is very much a shadowy character who at various times lived on the fringes of the London Jewish community.  One of my colleagues is working on him, and it would seem that his wife was involved in the administration of the Sephardi London hospital. Certainly he seems to have known Hebrew, for there is a well-known entry in the minutes of one London Lodge: 'An "Arabian Mason having petitioned for relief, the Grand Secretary (i.e. Dermott) conversed with him in the Hebrew Language" after which he was voted one guinea.' How there was an Arabian Mason I cannot tell, but despite an attempt to suggest that it was Ladino that was spoken the consensus is still that it was Hebrew that was spoken.

It was Dermott who in 1756 produced a Book of Constitutions for the Antient Freemasons, a book titled Ahimon Rezon, with the sub-title 'Or a Help to a Brother'. His second edition in 1764 has a new sub-title 'Or a Help to all that are (or would be) Free and Accepted Masons'. Much ink has been expended upon the exact meaning of these two words and I will admit that I am not qualified to be able to come to any acceptable conclusion.  But I am interested in the fact that it includes a section of prayers as used 'At the opening the Lodge for the making of a new Brother, used by Jewish Freemasons' or a sub-heading - comments on 'the Prayers used in Jewish and Christian Lodges.'  It does not prove that there were such lodges, merely that Dermott did not disapprove of them. At this stage I must also point out that both brands of Freemasonry insisted that the only obligation so far as belief was concerned was 'to that religion in which all Men agree … to be good men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty'.

The first question that the historian has always to consider is that of evidence; what evidence do we have of Jewish Freemasons? What names are available to us and how?  There are broadly speaking three major sources of information.  During the eighteenth century it was often the custom or even a requirement that individual lodges submitted lists of members to Grand Lodge, and these lists were often included in the Minutes of the Proceedings of Grand Lodge.  Most of these Minutes have been published or are easily available in the Library of United Grand Lodge in London, and so names can be drawn from there. Where Jews have become Officers of Grand Lodge their names are also preserved in the printed lists of such officers. The problem however is that very often lodges submitted numbers of members without including their names.  During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Lodges were also supposed to make an annual return of the names of their members to the local Justices of the Peace.  Some of these lists can still be found in various Record Offices in England but they are by no means complete.  In addition, from the middle of the nineteenth century Provinces have produced Provincial Yearbooks which usually include all the names of the members of various Lodges and Orders within that Province. It therefore becomes much more possible, with a certain degree of effort and cross—referencing to identify Jewish masons in each province.

Our second source comes from the records and histories of individual Lodges. A recent nation-wide attempt to discover and survey the records of Lodges in England has uncovered a large number of records – correspondence, Lodge Minute books, lists of members – which had hitherto never been accessed by anyone other than the members of their own Lodges, and very often not even by them. There are individual Lodges which have had histories written and published – for example to mark centenaries - and yet there is not even a list of them to aid the historian. If therefore you are lucky you may well find a Jewish Lodge which has not only preserved its own records but which has also published a history of itself. The Lodge of Israel in London is an outstanding instance of that.

A third source is the Press, both Masonic and non-Masonic. Certainly during the eighteenth century there was considerable interest both in the national press and in local provincial newspapers in various masonic doings, and recent research has led to the rediscovery of very many reports of persons who were becoming Masons. Various Libraries are not putting their holdings of eighteenth century newspapers and magazines 'on-line', and this will certainly aid the work of researchers.  It is all still to do out there.

If we begin with the Grand Lodge records, those of 1723 show the names of several Jews, such as Benjamin Deluze and Simon Ansell, and in 1725 Israel Segalas and Nicholas Abrahams; by 1732 Solomon Mountford, Solomon Mendez, Abraham Ximenes, and Abraham Cortissos.  Grand Lodge each year appointed a number of Grand Stewards who had the very responsible and very public task of organizing the annual Grand Festival; among the lists of stewards can be found such names as Solomon Mendez (1732), Dr Meyer Schomberg (1734), Benjamin da Costa (1736), and Isaac Barrett, Joseph Harris, Samuel Lowman, and Moses Mendez (all in 1738).

From the records of individual Lodges we find that when Lebeck's Head Lodge was constituted in 1759 thirteen of its founders had Jewish names. The Lodge of the Nine Muses which was founded in 1777 included amongst its earliest members Francis Franco, Raphael Franco, Dr Isaac Sequira, and Abraham Teixera. There are other Lodges of distinction and prestige which contain Jews.  The Prince of Wales' Lodge – admission to which was in practice restricted to associates of the Prince himself – has several Jews and equally we find that in the Grand Master's Lodge No. 1 that a Jew was its Master in 1800.

These of course are largely Sephardim and it would seem that throughout the years of rivalry between the two Grand Lodges the Sephardim preferred to join the Moderns and that when the growing numbers of Ashkenazim became Masons they gravitated towards the Antients. This is, I think, almost certainly, evidence of their social background. On the whole the Antients took their members from a different social class than the Moderns. The records of the Lodge of Israel, founded in 1793, show that its founders and members came largely from Ashkenazi tradesmen in the East End of London.  In 1802 Nathan Meyer Rothschild was initiated in Emulation Lodge, while his brother-in-law, Moses Montefiore, was initiated into Moira Lodge in 1812. There were then four other Jewish members – Benjamin Cohen, Isaac Cohen, Moses Asher Goldsmid, and Myer Solomon Solomon – all Ashkenazim. The records of these Lodges usually give details of the occupations of their new members and there is a very wide variety of them - Dealer, Chapman, distiller, doctor, feather dresser, draper, merchant, musician, jeweler are all to be found.

If we turn to the Press, one of the earliest Press reports of the initiation of a Jew comes in the Daily Post of 22 September 1732 which reports that Edward Rose, a tavern-keeper, had been initiated 'in the presence of Jews and non-Jews, the Master officiating being Daniel Delvalle, an eminent Jew snuff merchant'.  This is sometimes referred to as the first initiation of a Jew, which is clearly not the case, but merely the first newspaper account.

A question which must be asked is whether there was any antagonism amongst Freemasons to the appearance of Jews amongst their ranks. There is certainly one vey clear instance of this. In the Lodge of Friendship there is a minute for 2nd November 1752; 'Br Oliver Newman proposed a Jew to be made a Mason; the question being put for and against it was by order of the Master to be decided by a holding up of hands which was carried in the negative and concluded for the future no Jew should be recommended or admitted into the Lodge.'  I would add that despite that ruling later that same month a Jew was apparently initiated in that very Lodge, and three years later he was elected Master of that Lodge.  Two other Lodges at the end of the century passed similar resolutions but they all seem to have been ignored, as testified by the number of Jews on their lists of members. 

I have argued that the question of anti-Jewish feeling was minimal so far as English freemasonry is concerned, but that feeling was certainly not universal. There was considerable anti-Jewish feeling amongst various branches of Freemasonry on the Continent.  In 1813 for instance there was a leading Swedish Mason, Count Jacob de la Gardie, who was passing through London and who was consulted about various aspects of the proposed Union of the Moderns and Antients which I mentioned earlier.  Freemasonry in Sweden has always been restricted to Christians. Count de la Gardie reported in terms of disgust to the King of Sweden, who was the head of Swedish Masonry, that he had discovered that there was a Lodge in London composed entirely of Jews, that he had complained about it to the Duke of Sussex, and that, he thought, the Duke had promised to do something about it. I have tried to find out what the Duke actually did think on the subject. There is no evidence that the Duke did do anything, and indeed the Duke throughout his life was highly philosemitic. Indeed he secured the removal of certain phrases from Masonic ceremonial ritual which had, or could bear, a Christological interpretation.

So far as the United Grand Lodge of England was concerned it was always very careful to avoid religious discrimination itself, and indeed discourage such sentiments in others. There have been a number of occasions when Grand Lodge took up a very strong attitude and this came particularly significant in connection with links to German Lodges.  Lodges in Germany were originally established under the aegis of the English Grand Lodge but when German Grand Lodges were set up as independent bodies they could go their own way. Many did exclude Jews. While German Lodges could not be stopped from refusing to admit Jews as Freemasons there was a difference when it came to allowing Jews to visit German Lodges. In 1845 three eminent London Jewish Freemasons were refused admission to a Lodge in Germany because they were Jews. They thereupon complained in London in Grand Lodge. Their complaint was taken very seriously indeed by Grand Lodges not only in London but also in the United States, France, Sweden and Holland.  The official German delegate representing the German Grand Lodge in London was excluded from meetings in England and the London equivalent in Berlin was instructed by London not to attend any meetings there.  The Germans gave ground on that occasion, but thirty years later another variety of German freemasonry repeated the offence.  England again objected but on this occasion the German Lodges ignored all complaints. One result of that was the founding of a number of entirely Jewish Lodges in Germany, usually under the jurisdiction of a non-German Grand Lodge.

There was also an episode in New York when Jews who had been refused admission into Freemasonry in New York State were also refused permission to establish a Jewish Lodge of their own.  The Freemasons' Magazine was very vociferous in its condemnation of such attitudes.

Over most of my career as a worker in the field either of Anglo-Jewish history or of Masonic history, I have emphasized the importance of examining developments in the Provinces and of the dangers of concentrating solely on events in London.  This evening I make no apologies for emphasizing that point. Most work on Jews in Freemasonry has concentrated on Jews and Lodges in London and at a national level. There has been a lack of such work at a local level.  I have already shown how an examination of Jewish masons in Glasgow can throw some interesting light upon the ways in which even in the early days of Jewish life there Jews found acceptance in Freemasonry.

Some work has been done amongst Jews in the north east of England. There the earliest Jewish mason we know of is Lazarus Myers who became a joining member of a Lodge in Newcastle in 1812, though we still do not know where or when he was first initiated. Between 1834 and the 1870s there is a stream of Jews with such varying occupations as ship-broker, solicitor, engraver, auctioneer, merchant, pawnbroker, Ship-chandler, or even Rabbi.  But thereafter the numbers increase as does their range of Masonic activity.  One of these Masons for example, a commercial traveller, was a member of five Lodges, four of which he had been a founding member, and in all four of which he served as Master of the Lodge.  My notes do not state how many evenings he spent at home, or whether he was married.  Others owned a public house in Newcastle called 'The Freemasons' Arms'.

Work done in other areas would also be of value. There are other areas of early Jewish settlement where we might well expect to find not only individual Jewish masons but a desire to come together with other Jewish masons. While we ought not to make judgments only on the basis of the names of various Lodges it is not unimportant that we find a Lodge of Israel founded in Birmingham in 1873 and another in Liverpool in 1875. I know of a Zion Lodge in Manchester in 1878 and I would expect to find parallel activity in Leeds, though I have not yet found it. There is activity in the South of England as well such as in Brighton, Lewes, and Southsea, Portsmouth. If in this context we consider the East End of London as being in a sense provincial – outside the main influence of London itself it is interesting to find new work which is at present being undertaken relating to Jews and Jewish Lodges in the East End of London.  It is too soon to present any results from it, but it is sufficient to show that Freemasonry proved attractive to Jews at an early stage of their acculturation within the wider host community and that this certainly assisted in that process. There is certainly scope here for a great deal of research.

There is however another important aspect which has not been examined in any depth.  There is in English Freemasonry a hierarchy of Masonic office; Grand Lodge has under it a number of Provinces, each with its own Provincial Grand Master and a plethora of subordinate offices under him.  Once an individual has served as Master of his Lodge he has a possible further career as a Provincial officer.  Many of such appointments are honorific but many are what is termed 'active', playing a leading part in the work and administration of the Province. No work has been done on that aspect of Freemasonry – or of Jewish influences there – even though it is extremely significant for the whole structure of English Freemasonry.

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have tried to show that my title tonight is highly relevant to the study both of Anglo-Jewish history and of Masonic history. Within Anglo-Jewish history an important field of study has been to examine the ways and the extent to which Jewish immigrants and the descendants of those immigrants wanted to find a place within the host society and how far they were able to do so. This was especially important during the period of what we have all come to know as The Great Migration. Many historians have worked on the issue of how far they did so.  We have looked at the importance of the system of compulsory elementary education. We have looked at the economic impact which these immigrants made upon their contemporary society by bringing forward new trades and industries or by changing the existing methods of production. If therefore during the generation which saw the Anglo-Jewish population quadrupling in size we can also see them being accepted into such Establishment institutions as Freemasonry then we can further judge the extent to which that host society was prepared to receive them. I do not say that there is at present a categorical answer to that question.  What I am saying is that it is a very important subject for research.  We do not now need to know 'who was the first Jew in Hampstead?', but I would like to know how many of the Hampstead or Golders Green Jews were Masons.  I suspect that there were many more members of Masonic Lodges than there were of the local Tennis or Golf Clubs. But that is a subject for some other evening. In the meantime I think that I have been able this evening to show that Lloyd Gartner's pioneering work is still a significant part of Anglo-Jewish historiography.

I thank you for having invited me here this evening; I thank you for coming; and I thank you for having stayed awake, at least most of the time.

(© 2015 Aubrey Newman - This paper may not be further reproduced in whole
or in part without the permission of Professor Aubrey Newman)
.

Webmaster's Note

(1) Lloyd P. Gartner, who died in March 2011, had been founder-chairman of the Jewish Historical Society of England's Israel Branch for well over thirty years.

 

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