By Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory.
Some of the formulators of the ritual must have been fair Hebraists, since they utilised material found in rabbinic sources though they gave it a Masonic significance. An example is the practice of divesting a candidate of “all moneys and metallic substances”. The candidate is later informed that this particular aspect of his preparation for the initiation ceremony is to test his charitable instincts. When called upon to for a charitable donation he finds himself in the embarrassing situation of being unable to comply, but he assures the Lodge that he would if he could. Elsewhere I have written about the ethic of charity and why it is such an important aspect of the Masonic system of morality.
The idea of entering a Lodge without money reflects in the first instance the Biblical teaching that man enters the world naked and bare: “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb” (Job 1:21). This is the origin of calling nakedness one’s “birthday suit”.
Rabbinic law lists several “withouts” that apply to a person seeking admittance to the Temple: “A man may not enter the Temple mount with his staff or his shoe or his money bag or with the dust on his feet” (Mishnah Berakhot 9:5). The Masonic candidate who is divested of moneys and metallic substances is following a Jewish tradition that ensured that the sanctity of the holy place would not be compromised, though according to the Gospels (Mark 11, Matt. 21, Luke 19) Jesus found money-changers had moved from the surrounding streets and were actually operating inside the Temple precincts.
A further echo of the Mishnah teaching is the removal of the candidate’s shoe, which in turn derives from a Biblical source pre-dating the Temple – the Divine command to Moses to remove his shoes at the Burning Bush (Exodus 3), “for the place where you stand is holy ground”. On holy ground one does not need the protection which solid shoes provide; the Temple priests ministered without shoes; and to this day orthodox Jews do not wear leather footwear on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, which in a sense is holy ground in time.
Who told the redactors of the ritual what the Mishnah said? As far as we know, there were no rabbis amongst them, and probably not even Christian proselytes from Judaism. Some of the names in early speculative Freemasonry were clergy, but how good their Hebrew was we can only surmise. However, there were early attempts at translating the Mishnah into other languages (Latin, late 17th century; German, mid-18th century). The impressive Hebrew sections of some of the libraries were accessible to Christian Hebraists, some of whom were in reasonably regular correspondence with Jewish scholars. In England, Jacob Abendana, chief rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation for a few years from 1681, completed a Spanish translation of the Mishnah; his younger brother Isaac Abendana, who taught Hebrew at Cambridge, translated the Mishnah into English and Latin for the university. Isaac later moved to Oxford and taught Hebrew there. Mishnah material was thus available – in translation – as were parts of the Midrash, the rabbinic exegesis of both the legal and non-legal parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, and Christian scholars could consult these treasures without great difficulty.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.
Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book on the history, symbolism and teachings of Freemasonry, enlivened with personal reminiscences and humour.