Address 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, at the Great Synagogue, Sydney, 20 March, 1983.
Many Jews are Masons, as are many Christians and members of other faiths. Masonic gatherings in some countries, and Israel is a fascinating example, bring together adherents of a range of religious traditions, united in peace, love and harmony in ways which we would all dearly love to see emulated in a wider context.
Yet from time to time Masonry is criticised – because it is too religious, or because it is not religious enough.
Those who accuse it of being too religious point the finger of criticism at the fact that our ritual and terminology frequently reflect Biblical phrases and events and our meetings include prayers and readings. Well, if it is a crime to insist that there is a God whose ethical dictates each creature must seek to obey, then we plead guilty.
For if there is no God, there are also no absolute standards of right and wrong, and good and evil become simply matters of opinion and no man, group or nation is safe any more.
Those who accuse Masonry of not being religious enough find it wrong that Masonic belief in God has no specific theological tenets: in other words, it is religious but not a religion. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry puts it quite clearly:
“Freemasons now, like Freemasons for eight centuries, do not believe that religion ever is or can be a monopoly owned by any church or even by any one of the organised world religions. They believe that religion belongs to man as man, and therefore to each man everywhere, belongs to him as does breathing or eating, or sleeping, that he is free to use it when or how he needs to… If a man desires to worship he is free to do so where he stands; if he is in want of prayer he can pray. If workmen wish to pray and worship there is nobody to forbid them: they have as much right to turn the Lodge into an altar as they have to sit or stand or speak” (1946 ed., vol. 3, p. 1212).
What is Masonry? – A fellowship in which each man is a brother. A philosophy which draws its symbolism from the builder’s craft and ponders on the principles upon which man can build a Utopia. And a faith – in the widest sense of the word – that echoes the Psalmist’s words, “Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1).
In Masonry, the agenda that is dealt with at a meeting is called the Lodge work. And a good Mason takes a pride in the manner in which he carries out his work, believing that an edifice that is put up shoddily is a danger in itself and reflects no credit on the builder.
The Mason realises, however, that how you do your work, the work ethic you espouse, is a question that applies far beyond the confines of the Lodge room. Indeed, today it is one of the major issues that ought to be properly thought through by every responsible citizen everywhere.
Have I a right to seek more pay or a shorter working week, unless there is evidence that I will use my working hours (however long or short they may be) fully, honestly, and with good grace?
In answer to that question there are certain things which as a Mason and a responsible citizen I must in conscience be able to say.
One: I cannot expect a reward unless I have earned it. In Masonic parlance, only when I have honestly earned my dues can I claim them without scruple or diffidence. Or as the ancient sages would have said, “Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work” is a condition precedent to the seventh day being “a Sabbath unto the Lord thy God”.
Two: I take a pride in my work. A passer-by asked workmen on a building site what they were doing. “I’m stone cutting,” said one. “I’m putting in time until a better job comes along,” said the second. The third thought a moment and said, “I’m building a cathedral!” Whatever my particular task may be, however lowly, without me there would be no cathedral. I’m proud of what I do.
Three: If I cheat by giving less than my best, it is not only my employer who suffers; it is not only the public who lose: I harm myself too. I compromise my character, I give my children a bad example, and my own self-respect will inevitably decline.
Yes, how I work is a matter of major moment.
There is an additional problem – not merely the ethic of work, but the ethic of leisure. What do 1 do with my spare time? It has been said that “leisure is gradually replacing work as the basis of culture” (Norman Lamm, “Faith and Doubt”, 1971, p. 187). One result is what might be called Sunday Neurosis – the problem of having a Sunday, a weekend, a holiday with no idea of what to do with it.
Norman Lamm has written that in Hebrew there are three terms for leisure, each with quite a different sense of significance. The first is sechok, or play. This is the use of leisure for pleasure which is nothing short of debilitating. It’s not that pleasure is wrong in itself, but pleasure as a means of killing time – that is a problem.
The second Hebrew term is shevitah, or rest. This denotes the use of leisure time in order to disengage from the punishing pace at which many people live their working lives. And in a mood of relaxation, shevitah allows a person to rediscover himself and other people and to see unsuspected things in both.
Nofesh is the third term. It denotes recreation – stretching one’s mind through intellectual and cultural pursuits, stimulating one’s heart through the exhilarating experience of finding an exciting cause and serving it with energy and enthusiasm.
Nofesh is the ideal way of using one’s leisure, says Norman Lamm (“Faith and Doubt”, pp. 195 etc). And just as Masonry endorses and exemplifies the highest kind of work ethic, so does it insist that a man use his leisure as usefully and enthusiastically as he possibly can.
To my wife and the wives of my brother Masons, let me said that for all that going to Lodge gives your husband relaxation and fellowship, it also helps to mould him as a person and a citizen. It provides him with a context in which to use leisure time to turn his mind to noble thoughts and his heart to high ideals. It daily advances him in the knowledge of how to work – for his own dignity, for the well-being of his family, and for the benefit of society at large.
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.