In 1956, in honour of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Barkai (L’Aurore) Freemasonry lodge in Jaffa (today based in Tel Aviv), the all-Jewish lodge published a complete roster of its past members. According to the Masonic editor, the group sought to publicize the names of their former Jewish, Christian, and Muslim members “in the name of a pleasant memory and out of the hope that perhaps days of real peace between the peoples might return and those...[former brothers] can return to us.”1 Using language like “one family,”2 “the best of the country,”3 and the “best of Jaffa from the three religions,”4 the literature of the Israeli Barkai lodge invokes an idyllic nonsectarian past.
Certainly, one of the important ramifications of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution in Palestine was an increasingly active civic sphere. A rising Palestinian-Ottoman modernizing class emerged, not only from the notables and bureaucrats of the Tanzimat era, but (importantly) from the effendiyya social strata of the white-collar middle class. Having received liberal educations and belonging to the free professions, these Palestinians were attuned to the advances of the West and determined to forward the interests of their homeland.5 Christians, Jews, and Muslims of this stratum studied in similar schools (where they acquired tools such as foreign languages, accounting, geography), sometimes belonged to the same clubs, and worked and lived in close proximity to one another. Members of all three religions took part in creating a new social network which aspired to transcend communal boundaries for the economic, cultural, and political betterment of Palestine and the Ottoman Empire.
In this article, part of a broader work on late Ottoman Palestine, I will analyze the Freemasons in Palestine, their contribution to a ‘bourgeois’ civil society and its contours in the Ottomanist public sphere. Contrary to the ‘separate spheres’ model that still dominates much of the historical literature on the region, I will show that Muslims, Christians and Jews in Palestine were deeply interdependent. These relationships gradually weakened, however, as the political climate changed and sectarian differences gained prominence.
While the Barkai lodge did – as it reminisced – include members of all three religions, and while it did succeed during the Young Turk period in mobilizing across communal lines, by 1913 inter-communal tensions and rivalry had penetrated Freemasonry in Palestine. This communal divide foreshadowed a coming similar separation within the broader Masonic world.
Philosophy, Progress and Politics in Freemasonry
Evolving out of medieval Europe as a guild for mason craftsmen employed in the cathedral boom, by the eighteenth century philosophical Freemasonry had taken shape in England (1717) and France (1720) and soon established itself throughout Europe. Not long after, European Freemasonry had spread from the European metropole to the various colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas.6 Freemasonry also spread to the Middle East,7 and between 1875 and 1908, Freemasonry was to prove itself one of the most influential social institutions in the Ottoman Empire.8 Despite the fact that they were considered outposts of European influence,9 secularism,10 and borderline revolutionary ideologies,11 Freemason lodges in the Middle East were extremely popular and influential. Incorporating a belief in a Supreme Being,12 secretive rituals,13 and modern Enlightenment ideals, Freemasonry offered its members a progressive philosophical and social outlook, an important economic and social network, ties to the West, as well as a potential arm for political organizing.14 All four of these elements proved central to the spread and impact of Freemasonry lodges in the last several decades of the Ottoman Empire.
At its most basic level, Freemasonry offered a world-view based on progressive humanism. In its founding constitution, the Grand Orient de France (GODF), the French Masonic order with arguably the greatest international impact,15 firmly rooted itself in such an outlook:
Freemasonry, which is essentially a philanthropic, philosophical and progressive institution, aims to search for the truth, study ethics and practice mutual support. It works for the material and moral improvement of humanity, towards intellectual and social perfection. (...)Its principles are mutual tolerance, the respect of others and of oneself, absolute freedom of conscience. Believing that metaphysical considerations are the exclusive concern of individual members, it refuses any dogmatic position (...).16
As such, there was a natural sympathy between Freemasonry and French revolutionary ideals, and it is no wonder that generations of nineteenth century reformers found themselves closely allied with Freemasonry ideals. As we learn from the work of Paul Dumont, Ottoman intellectuals in the mid-nineteenth century were impacted deeply by French revolutionary principles, intellectual pursuits, and social questions of the day.17 Dumont writes that most of the Ottoman Masonic lodges at the time discussed themes of the French Revolution: liberty, social justice, equality of citizens before the law, and brotherhood - all of which were timely in the Ottoman context.
Thus the Freemasonry lodges of the Ottoman Empire provided a fertile partnership for Young Ottomanist thinkers and reformers such as Namik Kemal,18 and Freemasonry as an institution played a significant role along with other secret societies (including what Zarcone calls “para-Masonic organizations”) in drawing up the 1876 Ottoman Constitution.19
At the same time, Freemasonry in Egypt provided an outlet for political and social organization in the era of British colonization, and Masons played a role in the ‘Urabi revolution.20 Anti-colonialist organizers such as the Islamic thinker Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, 21 Muhammad ‘Abduh, and the noted writer Ya’qub Sannu’ (of Abu Naddara fame) were prominent members of various Egyptian Masonic lodges. According to one source, al-Afghani actively sought out Freemasonry because of its political dimension as a liberation movement:
If the Freemason society does not interfere in cosmic politics, while it includes every free builder, and if the building tools it has are not used for demolishing the old buildings to erect the monuments of true liberty, brotherhood, and equality, and if it does not raze the edifices of injustice, arrogance and oppression, then may the hands of the free never carry a hammer and may their building never rise...The first thing that enticed me to work in the building of the free was a solemn, impressive slogan: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
-whose objective seemed to be the good of mankind, the demolition of the edifices and the erection of the monuments of absolute justice. Hence I took Freemasonry to mean a drive for work, self-respect and disdain for life in the cause of
Thierry Zarcone argues that, to the east, Freemasonry and para-Masonic organizations that merged Sufism, politics, and Masonry played a critical role in the 1905-1907 Iranian Constitutional Revolution.23 And, of course, most prominent was the role accorded to Freemasons in the Young Turk revolution of 1908, as well as the founding leadership of the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP).24 Four Salonikan lodges in particular played an instrumental role in supporting the revolution - Loge Macedonia Risorta (Grand Orient d’Italie), Veritas (Grand Orient de France), Labor et Lux (Grand Orient d’Italie), and Perseverencia (Grande Oriente Espa?ol).25
Furthermore, while it is difficult to quantify the contribution of Freemasonry lodges to the Young Turks before the revolution, a number of important Young Turks were active Masons, and hence the overlapping affinities of the two movements is clear.26
It has been suggested that CUP involvement with Freemasonry in Salonika was only instrumentally aimed at evading the Ottoman police (who were barred from penetrating European organizations),27 but there was clearly an overlap between the groups in political, philosophical and social aims. The slogan of the revolution (“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”) was the slogan of Freemasonry as well as the CUP, and the crossover was not incidental. A member of the then-defunct lodge L’?toile du Bosphore wrote from Constantinople that “all the Ottoman youth carry a ribbon on his [sic] chest with our slogan (Liberty-Equality-Fraternity) written in French, and the army in revolution in Macedonia plays the Marsellaise.”28 Just two months after the Young Turk revolution, the annual assembly of the Grand Orient de France in Paris included greetings and congratulations to “Brother Masons” within the CUP and throughout the Ottoman Empire, articulating their support for the confluence of Freemasonic and Young Turk ideals and goals.
This convention, in the face of the admirable revolutionary movement of the Young Turks, whose patient energy, ceaseless work, and marvellous heroism overcame all the forces of reaction and of cruelty, addresses its fraternal greeting and a cordial expression of its sympathy with the sister lodges of Turkey, take joy in their imposing work of enfranchisement and wish for the complete realization, in Turkey, of the Masonic ideals of justice, freedom, and fraternity.29
Immediately following the revolution, Freemasonry flourished in the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the Arab and Balkan provinces.30 Between 1909 and 1910, at least seven new Freemason lodges were established (or old ones revived from dormancy) in Istanbul alone; most of them had names that linked them to the new spirit of liberty and progress (Les vrais amis de l’Union et Progrès, La Veritas, La Patrie, La Renaissance, Shefak - also called L’Aurore).31 In Salonika the Freemason lodges multiplied so much so that Dumont has characterized the period as “proliferation that was likely to emerge, shortly, in a true Masonic colonization of the Ottoman Empire.”32 We can only assume that the Masonic and revolutionary principles of liberty, universalism and civic engagement played at least some role in the appeal of Masonry to large numbers of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in this period. Freemasonry’s philosophical orientation echoed the broader public enthusiasm for liberty and other liberal ideals that emerged in the post-revolution Ottoman Empire.
One surviving application for admission to a Beirut Masonic lodge premises its motivation precisely in this way: “the Freemasonry order is an order that has rendered great services to humanity throughout the centuries and always raised high the banner of equality, fraternity, and liberty. It is an order that seeks to bring together mankind and to better them. I would also like to be part of such an order, to take part in benevolence and the useful works of your order.”33
New members swore to abide by these principles as well as to promote mutual aid, public service, and Masonic loyalty, on pain of excommunication.34 Thus, all Freemasons, regardless of their motivations for joining, were held accountable and complicit in theory in upholding these Masonic principles. Of course, it is also likely that the close relationship between the Young Turks and the Freemasonry movement gave it a stamp of approval, as well as a certain cachet and political expediency, and that these socio-political power considerations played a role in Masonry’s popularity.35 Ideology and professed ideals alone do not account for what actually happens on the ground - to have a more accurate picture, one must examine the social consequences of participation in a Masonic lodge.
The Grand Orient Ottoman – Nationalizing and Mobilizing Freemasonry
Far from its origins as a closeted secret society pursued by the state and its secret police, during the Young Turk period Freemasonry became legitimate and institutionalized as part of the new socio-political order. One indication of the increasingly important role of the Freemasonry movement in the post-1908 Ottoman Empire was that in 1909, the long-defunct “Supreme Council” of the Scottish rite of Masonry within the Ottoman Empire was re-constituted. Also in 1909, the Young Turks sought to institutionalize, ‘nationalize’, and mobilize Freemasonry through the establishment of the Grand Orient Ottoman (or GOO, sometimes called the Grand Orient de la Turquie), an umbrella mother lodge that aimed to bring foreign-sponsored lodges under its control.36 In the summer of 1909, eight Constantinople-based lodges united to establish the GOO.37 In its first elections held in August, Ottoman Minister of the Interior Talat Pasha was elected Grand Master of the GOO,38 assisted by a multi-ethnic cast of Who’s Who in the capital. Among the GOO’s important innovations was its refusal to use the Masonic concept of “Grand Architect of the Universe,” feeling that such a quasi-deistic formulation would offend its Muslim constituents. Instead, the GOO asserted that the “Grand Architect” was an ideal to strive for, not an actual personage.
The GOO leadership sought to establish an autonomous Masonry in the spirit of political and national emancipation, as well as to form a core of constitutional liberals who would be able to stand up to the numerous reactionaries found throughout the empire.40 Under the aegis of the GOO, Ottoman lodges were established throughout the empire and existed side-by-side with foreign lodges.41 Paul Dumont has written that initially some lodges expressed reservations at the new Young Turk Masonic institutions, precisely because of their attempts to institutionalize Masonry within a specific political agenda. The GODF lodge Veritas in Salonika, for example, complained that the establishment of the GOO was “entirely premature”:
Among the reasons which push to me to place obstacles at the development of this new Masonic power, is that I noted, alas, that the lodges subjected to its influence completely neglect the regulations of the Masonic statutes and regulations with regard to the recruitment of the members and blindly are subjects to the instructions of parties which work with another collective aim.42
Within weeks, however, de Botton’s reservations had dissipated and he wrote to the GODF to ask them to do all that was “humanly and Masonically possible” to recognize the GOO.43
The GOO served as an important link between the new ruling party and the broader Masonic public. In its early efforts to co-opt foreign Masonic lodges throughout the empire, the founders of the GOO invited Ottoman Freemasons to a “national convention” in Constantinople in the fall of 1909. But despite ambitions to become the umbrella lodge for all Masons empire-wide, the founders of the GOO continued to belong to foreign lodges as well as to lodges racked by national schisms.44
Freemasonry as a Social Club
During this period, religious community played an important role in defining the contours of daily life - Muslim, Jewish and Christian children usually studied in separate schools,45 and inter-communal civic organizations were limited to professional guilds and bourgeois social groups, among them the Freemasons. As one of the few private forms of organization that existed in the Middle East in this period, Masonic lodges attracted a wide variety of members and supporters. Thus Freemason lodges could serve as rare ‘common meeting grounds’ for the spectrum of religious, ethnic and national communities.46 According to historian Jacob Landau, “...by the end of the [19th] century, there was hardly a city or town of importance without at least one lodge. Christians, Muslims and Jews mingled freely in these lodges (although certain lodges were preponderantly of one faith...) which were among the few meeting-places for members of different faiths, as well as for foreigners and natives.”47
Beyond serving as a ‘neutral’ meeting ground for various ethnicities and religions, Masonic lodges also served as vehicles for internal solidarity and social cohesion across various elite and middle-strata groups, including the traditional aristocracy,48 ruling administration,49 rising merchant classes,50 and lower-level employees and intellectuals. In Egypt, for example, Muslim Masons by-and-large hailed from similar rural notable backgrounds, had links with the military, were educated in the new school system, and were mostly concerned with efficient rule rather than democracy.51 Masonry provided the Syrian Christians of Egypt not only with an opportunity to push for a constitutional parliamentary regime, but also a means of preserving their ‘insider’ Ottoman status in the face of foreign domination.52
In this regard, it is important to note that to a large extent, Freemasonry in the colonies and beyond was another face of ‘humanistic colonialism’, which aimed to spread western ideas of progress, public health, secular education, justice, social laws, solidarity, freedom of opinion, press, and association, and economic and technological development. Among other things, colonial Freemasonry created a social and cultural elite and sought to assimilate the ‘native’ Freemasons to Francophone and European values and culture.53 Of course, this reception was a dynamic process, and we can assume that local Freemasons adapted Freemasonry to themselves as much as themselves to Freemasonry.
Since recruitment to Freemasonry lodges depended on the recommendation of two members, the organization often had the effect of re-affirming class54 and, in some areas, ethnic or religious distinctions.55 Furthermore, Masons were also active in other organizations, creating a linkage between Freemason lodges and other civil organizations. In this way Freemasonry helped shape the civic public sphere evolving in the Ottoman Empire.
As the site of the ancient temple of Solomon, Palestine was considered the birthplace of Freemasonry’s traditions and ideals. The first Freemason lodge in Palestine was established in 1873 in Jerusalem by Robert Morris, a visiting American Freemason, Henry Mondsley, an English engineer, and Charles Netter, a French Jew. Morris had set off for the Middle East to forge ties with local and potential Masons; when he arrived in Jerusalem he brought with him a charter for the Royal Solomon Mother Lodge (No. 293) from the Grand Lodge of Canada.56 According to local Masonic history, most of the members of the lodge were American Christians who had settled in Jaffa.57 Little is known of the lodge’s work, but in 1907 the lodge’s charter was finally formally revoked “on account of bad management,” and the lodge quietly disappeared.58 After the Jerusalem lodge, Le Port du Temple de Salomon was founded in August 1891 in Jaffa by a group of Arab and Jewish locals, working in French;59 soon thereafter the Frenchman Gustave Milo, along with other European engineers who had arrived to construct the Jaffa-Jerusalem railroad, joined the lodge.60 The lodge followed the Misraim (Egyptian) rite, one of the 154 rites in Freemasonry.61 Little is known of the lodge’s first decade and a half, other than a report that the members of Le Port du Temple de Salomon wanted to purchase land for a cooperative Freemason village. The endeavour was apparently racked by disputes and never came to fruition.62 According to one Mason historian,63 because the Misraim rite was not recognized by most other obediences in Freemasonry, Le Port du Temple de Salomon lodge decided to leave the Egyptian grand lodge and transfer its allegiance to the Grand Orient de France (GODF), a leading umbrella organization for Middle Eastern Freemasonry lodges.64 In April 1904, the lodge applied to the GODF, and by March 1906, the lodge was notified that it had completed all requirements for adoption by the GODF, and was renamed L’Aurore (Barkai in Hebrew; Shafaq in Arabic).65
Based on an internal correspondence between the lodge and the GODF, it seems that the Jaffa Freemasons hoped to benefit from European patronage, acting as both catalyst and safeguard. The lodge Venerable (President) wrote to the GODF: “The difficulties and obstacles all being almost surmounted we are sure that under the auspices of the GODF we will be able to work with more freedom and for a long time. We hope to catch up with ourselves over wasted time.”66 Eager to quickly fall in line under the GODF, Barkai asked for a charter, instructions, ritual, constitution, and several books of “catechism” for the first three grades.
From the outset, the lodge faced numerous obstacles in Palestine, mostly from the religious leaderships, and it seems they were physically pursued upon opening the new lodge headquarters. Several months after its founding, Barkai wrote to the GODF:
We will work assiduously to surmount all the difficulties that we encounter here. It is a country which will take a little time to be reformed; let us not be unaware that it is Palestine the Holy Land. We are bothered by the clergy that drove out us from our premises, and each day, of new congregations forming. The spirit of the natives is quickly captured by the spirit of the Church, by its men. It is the greatest cause of the delay of our establishment. We had to deploy a great force to hasten the opening and to be in time to send the balance of our account to you, for the appointment of our delegate to the convention.67
Although its existence was marred by difficulties, including “abuses and irregularities” by government functionaries in the aftermath of the Young Turk revolution,68 by the beginning of World War I, the Barkai lodge was the largest, most successful Freemason lodge in Palestine.69
A Study of the Effendiyya
In 1906, the dozen founding members of the Barkai lodge were exclusively Jewish and Christian: Alexander Fiani, Dr. Yosef Rosenfeld, Jacques Litwinsky, Hanna ‘Issa Samoury, David Yodilovitz, Yehuda Levi, Musa Khoury, Maurice Sch?nberg, Moise (Moshe) Goldberg, Marc Stein, Michel Hourwitz, and Moise (Moshe) Yachia.70 Within a few years, however, and due to the changed atmosphere in Palestine in the aftermath of the Young Turk Revolution, Barkai quickly became a centre for leading members of the political, intellectual and economic elite of all three religions. Importantly, there was significant Muslim participation in the lodge in the post-1908 period. Of the 157 known members and affiliates in the years 1906-1915, 70 were Muslim, 52 were Christian, and 34 were Jews.71
This composition is particularly significant when we consider that much of the anti-Masonic literature denounces Masonry as the purview of the ‘minority’ Jewish, Christian and foreign European communities. The high participation of Muslims in Palestine contradicts this charge, even as we note that Christians and Jews were over-represented in the lodge as compared to the population as a whole. In 1907, for example, Muslims comprised 75 percent of the population of the Jaffa region, Christians 19 percent, and Jews between 6 to 10 percent (depending on whether or not non-Ottomans are considered).72 By 1914, the Jewish proportion of the Jaffa-area population had risen to almost 25 percent, while the Muslim majority had declined to 56 percent and the number of Christians remained stable at 19 percent.
Concurrently, Freemasonry became more appealing for Palestine’s leading Muslim families. At the beginning of 1908, Barkai claimed only three Muslim members out of a total of 37; by the end of 1908, another 14 Muslims had joined the lodge along with six Jews and Christians, marking the first time that new Muslim enlistment in the lodge exceeded that of the other two communities. In the six years following, new Muslim recruits annually exceeded Christian and Jewish recruits; in most years the Muslim initiates exceeded new Jewish and Christian members combined.
At the same time, Barkai witnessed a dramatic decline in new Jewish membership. The peak for Jewish membership was in the first year of the lodge’s founding; after 1907, Barkai never admitted more than four Jewish members in any given year. Some of this declining interest was offset by the establishment of two new lodges based in Jerusalem, Temple of Solomon (established 1910), and Moriah (established 1913). In Temple of Solomon, Jews comprised 37 percent of the membership, while Muslims and Christians were 41 percent and 19 percent respectively. More markedly, the Moriah lodge, which existed from 1913 to 1914, was 60 percent Jewish, 29 percent Christian, and only three percent Muslim. While some of this can be accounted for by the dramatically different demographics of Jerusalem (where Jews were the majority),73 we will see below that the founding of the Moriah lodge was a political act rooted in a rupture with the Temple of Solomon lodge that pitted Europeans (and their protégés) against Ottomans and Zionists against anti-Zionists.
According to the membership logs, Christians and Jews were more likely to take leading roles within the lodges, and they were more likely to stick around for Masonic promotion. Of the officers of the three Palestinian Masonic lodges, 43 percent were Christian, 36 percent Jewish, and only 16 percent Muslim. That is to say, of the three groups, Muslims were much more likely to remain at the entry-level apprentice stage than Christians or Jews. Of course, this is in part accounted for by their comparatively recent exposure to Masonry, unlike their Christian and Jewish counterparts, some of whom had been among the founding members of the lodge.
Further demographic details provide a more vivid picture of just how deeply-rooted and localized Freemasonry was in Palestine. By birth, Freemasons in Palestine were overwhelmingly Ottoman (87-88 percent), and by-and-large Palestinian (60 percent). Of those born in Palestine, 82 percent were born in Jaffa or Jerusalem, with the rest coming from other towns such as Nablus, Gaza, Hebron, and Bethlehem. Only one Palestinian Freemason was born in a village. Thus, Palestine’s Freemasonry lodges were fairly indigenous lodges, much more so than anti-Masonic critics claimed. Only 11 percent of lodge members were European-born, most of them Jewish immigrants to Palestine (in some cases Ottomanized citizens), and a few of them European Christians employed locally.
That most of the lodge’s membership came from Palestinian families of the three religions (60 percent) tells us the manner in which Freemasonry lodges served as social networks for the growing middle class and various elites. To a certain extent, this sector was largely pre-selected and self-perpetuating. In order to be accepted into a lodge, a prospective candidate had to secure the sponsorship of two lodge members in good standing. These recommendations often came from relatives (older brothers, cousins, uncles, and sometimes fathers), business partners or acquaintances, and also geographically-based extended family networks (for example, strong ties existed among the several Christian families from Beirut in Jaffa, as well as among the North African (Maghrebi) Jewish families). Family ties were the single most important factor in joining - fully 32 percent of all Freemasons in Palestine had family members who were also member Masons – but educational and professional ties also proved significant. Among the Freemasons in Barkai lodge were at least six recent graduates of the American University in Beirut, in addition to many who had studied in various professional schools in Constantinople. Furthermore, nine employees of the Jaffa and Jerusalem branches of the Ottoman Imperial Bank were Freemasons.
Socially, the members of Palestine’s Freemasonry lodges, like Masons elsewhere, were largely of the newly mobile middle classes of the effendiyya in the liberal professions, the commercial and bureaucratic elite, as well as from the traditional notable families.74 Though coming from different religious communities, they shared similar modes of modern education, exposure ...