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.Critics from the churches think Freemasonry is a rival religion. “Look,” they say, “their meeting places are called temples – they’re obviously setting themselves up as a system of worship”. The critics presumably have problems with our use of “temple” as a metaphor, though I have not noticed them attacking the fitness clubs that call themselves temples of the body or the beauty parlours that are called temples of beauty.
Masonic interest in the word “temple” is partly due to a Jewish scholar-artist, Judah Leon Templo (c. 1603-75). At a time when printed Bibles were becoming more widely available, and Speculative Freemasonry was philosophising about an ideal structure for the world and the human being, London society was talking about the Dutch rabbi who published an illustrated book in Spanish about the Jerusalem Temple with copper engravings made by himself. Translations appeared in Hebrew, French, Dutch and Latin, and he also produced detailed works on various parts of the Temple such as the Ark of the Covenant and the cherubim. He was possibly the first Jew to make models of the Temple and its predecessor, the Tabernacle, and in 1671, armed with a letter of introduction to Sir Christopher Wren, he took a Temple model with him to England where, it is said, he joined Freemasonry and designed the coat of arms of the Masonic Grand Lodge. Because of his concern for the Temple he became known as Templo (surnames were not yet compulsory for Jews). His Temple model may have influenced the design of the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam in the 1670s, and derivatively, the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, 1701.
Temple models attracted the crowds in London and helped to evoke Masonic interest in the Temple. Freemasons, seeking a shape for their meeting places, could not ignore the precedent of the Temple, which, over the centuries, had influenced the two main designs of houses of worship, Jewish, Christian and Islamic. The one form was rectangular, the other square or circular. The rectangular shape with its longitudinal direction was closer to the original Temple; the square or circular shape followed the octagonal mosque, the Dome of the Rock, which became a Templars’ church. Masonic buildings are found in both patterns, though the orientation differs from the original Temple in that the latter, the Holy of Holies was in the west whilst Masonry places the Master in the east.
Other features of the Temple which influenced Masonic buildings were the pillars at the entrance which are replicated internally in Lodge room furnishings, the designation of a solemn feature as an altar (now often called a pedestal, again to forestall criticism from church sources), and the restriction of certain parts of the room to installed Masters.
The Masonic use of the name “temple” was complicated by the fact that the same word is commonly used for a European Protestant church: in Hungarian a church is “templom”. Some synagogues also called themselves temples, especially in the Reform tradition. Where Jewish orthodoxy continued to pray for the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple, Jewish Reform said that the only temple it was interested in was the local place of worship.
Using “temple” allegorically as “a building regarded as the focus of an activity, interest or practice”, Freemasonry used the name akin to temples of the arts, culture, music or sculpture; “speculative” Enlightenment thinking had clubs, societies or Lodges which functioned as temples of philosophy.
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.