The James W. Husted-Fiat Lux Lodge, part of the Eighth Manhattan Masonic District in the Grand Lodge of New York, was founded in 1940, and there have been Jewish members in the group since that time. According to one of the group’s members, Shlomo Bar-Ayal, lodge master from 2019-’21, the masons “make good men better.”
While the Masons is not a Jewish organization, there are aspects of the fraternity that are appealing to its Jewish members. There have been Jewish Masons in New York since the early 18th century, and Jewish men were able to become Masons because they fulfilled the three prerequisites to becoming a Mason—a belief in a God, being male and believing in the immortality of the soul.
Some aspects of Masonry that are reminiscent of Judaism are its emphasis on chesed and tikkun olam. The Shriners, a distinct society within the world of Masonry, have created a network of 22 children’s hospitals in North America, which provide medical care for children regardless of families’ ability to pay; these hospitals are supported by charitable donations and typically raise between one and three million dollars every year.
The James W. Husted-Fiat Lux Lodge meets weekly, although during COVID the restrictions and regulations caused their meetings to move online. At their weekly meetings, the fraternity discusses business matters, and there is also an educational aspect, which is usually a form of inspiration or reinforcement of Mason ideology, which consists of self-improvement and promoting interpersonal relationships.
Pre-COVID, there was a part of every meeting that, to the Jewish members, is reminiscent of shul kiddushes, where the brothers would share a meal together. As restrictions continue to lift, the lodge hopes to reinstate this tradition, as well as other events.
The group has provided assistance to the elderly through their assisted living center in Utica, and they also support a medical research laboratory. Providing service to more than 500 people, they hope to “support, nurture and educate” while keeping in mind their principles of brotherly love.
Another element of Masonry that may be familiar and appealing to Jews is its emphasis on appropriate behavior (middot) both during lodge meetings and at other times. Masonic lodges work with their members to “try to improve one’s behavior, to make them a better man.” Bar-Ayal said the impact of Masonry is widespread, both through their large membership (there are approximately 2 million Masons in the United States) and their impact on, and support of, the Jewish community and world at large.
The name “Mason” comes from its historic roots. In the 16th century, Guilds of English stonemasons were hired to build cathedrals, city walls and churches and would sleep in lodges. As demand, and therefore revenues, decreased, these lodges began to accept stonemasons free of charge. Later, in the 17th century, with religious conflict between Anglicans and Puritans, people grew tired of arguing over religion, believing there to be a common ground for all. Masonry allowed people to come together, but did not allow them to discuss religion or politics.
For more information or to contact the lodge, visit https://1068-ny.ourlodgepage.com/