Israeli Freemasonry

Leon Zeldis, FPS, 33°
PSGC, Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite for the State of Israel
Honorary Adjunct Grand Master

The first National Grand Lodge in Israel was constituted on 1933, even before the creation of the State, and brought together all the Lodges that had been working under Egyptian or French jurisdictions. The English-speaking lodges, however, refused to join the new Grand Lodge and continued working separately. Lack of recognition by the United Grand Lodge of England resulted in almost complete international isolation. There was need for the creation of a Grand Lodge, that would achieve unity within Israeli Freemasonry and recognition abroad. This ideal was realized in 1953, when, in an impressive ceremony conducted in Jerusalem by Brother the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the Grand Lodge of the State of Israel was consecrated and M.W. Bro. Shabetay Levy, Mayor of Haifa, was installed as its first Grand Master.izrael-01

From 30 Lodges at its foundation, the number of Lodges working under the Grand Lodge of the State of Israel has grown during the years, reaching some 70 active lodges at this time. The last to be consecrated, in January 1993, was the French-speaking “France” Lodge No. 77 of Jerusalem, consecrated in the presence of the Grand Master of the (regular) French National Lodge.

The historic origins of Freemasonry in the Holy Land date from the 13th of May, 1868, when M.W. Bro. Dr. Robert Morris, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky, directed a Secret Monitor ceremony in the Cave of Zedekiah, popularly known as King Solomon’s Quarries, deep under the walls of the old city of Jerusalem.

Dr. Morris worked unceasingly to erect the first regular Masonic Lodge, and in 1873, he finally succeeded in obtaining a charter from the Grand Lodge of Canada, Ontario, for the Royal Solomon Mother Lodge No. 293, working “at the city of Jerusalem or adjacent places.” This was the first regular Lodge in Israel. Most of its founding members were American settlers living in Jaffa, belonging to a Christian sect called the Church of the Messiah. In 1866, they had left Jonesport, Maine, for the Holy Land, with the avowed intention of founding an agricultural settlement. Dr. Robert Morris was supposed to be the Lodge’s first Master, but, it appears that he could not arrive, and Bro. Rolla Floyd, one of the leaders of the American group, called “The Palestine Emigration Society,” took his place. The Lodge had a difficult existence and after a few years, stopped reporting to the Grand Lodge of Canada. It was finally erased in 1907.izrael-02

The next Masonic Lodge to be formed in Israel was officially established in Jaffa. Around 1890, a group of Arab and Jewish Brethren petitioned the Misraim (Egypt) Rite, based in Paris, but active at the time in Egypt, and founded the Lodge “Le Port du Temple de Roi Salomon” (the Port of King Solomon’s Temple), working in French. Not long after its creation, the Lodge received a large influx of affiliate members, French engineers who had come to build the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway, the first in Israel. The arrival of the French engineers led some writers to conclude that they had founded the Jaffa Lodge, though this was not the case.

A colorful Masonic figure at the time was a Christian Arab called Iskander Awad, who Anglicized his name to Alexander Howard. Brother Howard was the local agent for the British travel firm, Thomas Cook. He also owed hotels in Jaffa and Jerusalem, and ran a stagecoach service between both towns. His own home in Jaffa was used as a Masonic Temple, and the ornate marble entrance stands to this day, though the place is now a furniture store. Howard styled himself Le Chevalier Howard, which has puzzled historians unaware of the Masonic source of his title, belonging to the 18th Degree of the A.A. Scottish Rite.

In 1906, realizing that the Misraim Rite was unrecognized by most Grand Lodges of the work, the Jaffa Brethren decided to change the Lodge’s affiliation to the Grand Orient of France, which was very active throughout the Middle East. They adopted a new name, Barkai (Dawn), and eventually became integrated into the Grand Lodge of the State of Israel. Lodge Barkai is the oldest in the country still in existence and, although it now works in Hebrew, rather than French, it preserves many features of the French rituals.izrael-03

Three other Lodges were constituted before World War I, when the country became a British Mandate. Under British rule, a number of Lodges were chartered by the Grand Lodges of Egypt, Scotland, and England, and the Grand Orient of France. Some of these Lodges are still in existence to this day, while others disappeared for diverse reasons.

A special case is that of the five German-speaking lodges founded in Israel in 1931 by the Grand Master of the symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany. With great vision, M.W. Bro. Otto Müffelmann realized that the rise of Hitler in Germany sounded the death knell for Freemasonry in his country. He traveled to Israel and, with the help of German Brethren who had emigrated there to escape the racial laws of the Nazis, founded Lodges in the three main cities: Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Haifa. Soon after, Freemasonry was indeed banned in Germany, the Grand Lodges disbanded, and many Brethren met their fate in the concentration camps. German-speaking Lodges in Israel (and also in Chile) kept alive the flame of German Freemasonry during those dark years and, after the end of the war, were instrumental in restoring regular Freemasonry to Germany.

Most Israeli Lodges work in Hebrew and the vast majority of their members are Jewish, although there are no statistical numbers on the religious affiliation of Israeli Masons, because no such question is ever asked of a candidate. Arabic-speaking Brethren, whether Christian, Muslim, or Druse (and even some Jews originally from Arab countries) work in five Lodges, in Acre, Haifa, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. An Arab lawyer, M.W. Bro. Jamil Shalhoub, was elected Grand Master for 1981 and reelected the following year.

Israel is a country of immigrants. The cosmopolitan origin of its population is reflected in the large number of Lodges operating in foreign languages. Apart from Israel’s two official languages (Hebrew and Arabic), there are Lodges working in six other languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Romanian, and Turkish.

These Lodges differ not only in language, but also in their rituals. Hebrew and Arabic-speaking Lodges work according to rituals approved by the Grand Lodge, based on the English rituals. Foreign-language Lodges use the rituals habitual in their countries of origin. Lodge Raanana, for instance, which was founded by immigrants from South Africa and Rhodesia, use the Netherlands ritual. Spanish-speaking Lodges use the Scottish Rite ritual, widely used in Latin America and Spain.

Freemasonry is one of the few institutions that actively promotes better understanding between the different ethnic and cultural segments of Israel society, particularly between Jewish and Arab Brethren, and also assists in the social integration of immigrants.

Three Volumes of the Sacred Law are opened side by side upon the altar in Grand Lodge: The Hebrew Bible (Tanach), The Christian Bible, and the Koran. Furthermore, there are three Grand Officers to bear these books. The official seal of the Grand Lodge encloses the symbols of the three great monotheistic religions: The Christian Cross, Jewish Star of David, and Muslim Crescent, all intertwined within the square and compasses. Frequently, joint meetings are held between lodges, so that sometimes three or more different languages are heard in the course of a single meeting.

Individual Lodges and the Grand Lodge itself perform numerous charitable activities, including donations of expensive medical equipment to hospitals, help to the blind, and food for the needy. The Order maintains a parents’ home in Nahariya, a town near the Lebanese border.

Grand Lodge meets in Tel-Aviv, but there are Masonic Temples in all important cities, from Nahariya in the north to Eilat, Israel’s southern port on the Red Sea. In Acre, the Masonic Temple is located in the Old City, in a building with the characteristic arches and vaults of medieval construction. In Jerusalem, King Solomon’s Quarries are used several times a year to conduct Masonic meetings, generally in the Mark Degree. The underground quarry could explain what is written in the Bible, that no sound of metallic tools was heard at the building site of the Temple. If the stones were dressed underground, no noise would have reached the Temple site.

And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building. (1 Kings 6:7)

In 1993, the Grand Lodge of the State of Israel celebrated its 40th anniversary. It maintains close fraternal ties with regular Grand Lodges throughout the world. Frequent visits by delegations and individual Brethren from abroad give testimony to the universality of our Order.izrael-04

Despite its small size, the Grand Lodge of the State of Israel can be proud of having been able to foster and develop a true fraternal spirit within its Lodges even under the most trying circumstances. We must endeavor to bring our message of enlightenment, toleration, and fraternal love to all, so helping build a better world for our children.

 

Appendix

Lodges founded before the Independence of the State of Israel in 1948:

Lodge No. City Founded Language
Carmel 1085 Haifa 4 May 1911 or near English, then Arabic, currently English
Jordan 1339 Jaffa 28 May 1925 Hebrew, later Arabic in Jordan
Holy City 1372 Jerusalem 12 January 1931 English
Reuben 1376 Haifa 14 September 1931 Hebrew
Mitzpah 1383 Jerusalem 19 January 1933 Hebrew
Sharon 1381 Tel Aviv 30 January 1935 English
Prophet Elijah 16 Haifa 1936 Hebrew
Aviv 1397 Tel Aviv 18 January 1940 English, later Hebrew
Menorah 19 Haifa 1944 Hebrew