Masons and Jews, Hatred and Hitler
What a wonderful gathering. Our thanks to our hosts at Metropolitan United Church and to the Grand Lodge who have brought us together. I thank my colleagues, all of whom work tirelessly for their particular faith community and for the benefit of all Toronto.
In many ways, the message of Masonry might be encapsulated by the words of Psalms: “הִנֵּ֣ה מַה־טּ֭וֹב וּמַה־נָּעִ֑ים שֶׁ֖בֶת אַחִ֣ים גַּם־יָֽחַד ~ Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for us to dwell together in unity!” Masonic Lodges bring together people of different backgrounds for fellowship and service to others.
From early days, Freemasons and Jews were linked. Masonry grew out of cathedral building guilds and linked their teachings to the the building of King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. Masons sought to construct a Temple of kindness and concern for others, knowing full-well that this spiritual Temple depends on comity and cooperation, kindness and compassion. הִנֵּ֣ה מַה־טּ֭וֹב וּמַה־נָּעִ֑ים שֶׁ֖בֶת אַחִ֣ים גַּם־יָֽחַד ~ Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for us to dwell together in unity!
On the Jewish calendar, tonight begins Holocaust Memorial Day, recollecting the horrors of the Nazi effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe, as well as the heroism of those who resisted the Nazis. When Jews speak of the destruction of the ancient Temple, we use the Hebrew word Hurban. One of the first terms for the mass murder of European Jewry was also Hurban. I want to remind us of the ideal of constructing a Temple devoted to kindness and the hatred directed toward Jews and Freemasons.
In the mid-eighteenth century, English Freemasonry was one of the first groups within the larger society to admit Jews as members. Other countries and lodges continued to reject Jews. This was part of the motivation for the creation of Jewish fraternal organizations, such as B'nai B’rith, founded in Berlin in 1885.
But the internal anti-semitism of some Masonic lodges was far outweighed by external forces. Rght-wing conservative political leaders in Europe linked Jews with Freemasons and identified both as urban, international and hostile to the existing aristocratic and clerical order. Antisemites and those opposed to Freemasonry argued that Masons operated as proxies for Jews. French monarchists, the Catholic Church, and the Russian racist forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion imagined that the Masonic belief in equality and social progress was a Jewish tool to control the world.
After World War I, German nationalists and antisemites claimed that Jews and Freemasons had conspired to provoke and prolong the War to destroy Europe and to create Jewish domination by establishing either liberal democracies or Soviet Bolshevism. They disseminated the belief that Jews sought world domination through Freemasonry.
In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler wrote: “To strengthen [their] political position, [the Jew] tried to tear down the racial and civil barriers .. [that previously] restrained him. [The Jew] fights with all the tenacity innate in him for religious tolerance—and in Freemasonry, which has succumbed to him completely, he has an excellent instrument with which to fight for his aims and put them across. The governing circles and the higher strata of the political and economic bourgeoisie are brought into his nets by the strings of Freemasonry, and never need to suspect what is happening.”
When the Nazis came to power, they forcibly closed down Masonic lodges and confiscated their assets, mounted anti-Masonic exhibitions throughout occupied Europe, charged that the Jews and Masons had provoked World War II, interred Masons in labour camps, and killed some of them. Some former Masons participated in or were associated with German resistance circles.
The Nazis had a program of extermination toward Jews. The Jews were to be utterly destroyed. Despite the Nazis, we survived and we thrive with creativity in Canada, throughout the world, and especially in Israel.
I raise these issues today, as Jews enter into the observance of Holocaust Memorial Day, because we are witnessing, in Europe and America, a changing tide of history. We can see the rise of nationalist ideologies in various countries that are directed against compassion for the vulnerable. They target international agreements and organizations. Listen carefully to the drumbeats. These movements draw upon some of the historic rhetoric that targeted Jews and Masons.
We dare not remain silent. Elie Wiesel, whose presence is deeply missed, once taught, “The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference.” We dare not look away.
We who believe “הִנֵּ֣ה מַה־טּ֭וֹב וּמַה־נָּעִ֑ים שֶׁ֖בֶת אַחִ֣ים גַּם־יָֽחַד ~ Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for us to dwell together in unity” must stand together on behalf of comity and cooperation, kindness and compassion, the good relations and good works that direct us toward a greater peace.