Rhode Island’s Jewish Freemasons have not all been assimilationists


In my article about Jews, Freemasonry and Rhode Island’s Redwood Lodge (12/25/2015), I never once used the word “assimilation.” Rather, I emphasized that Redwood Lodge’s Jewish founders and members sought to maintain a continuing identification and involvement with Jewish culture. The Voice, however, retitled my article “Jews and Freemasonry: a quest for assimilation.”


Myer Noot, the driving force behind the transformation of Providence’s Congregation of the Sons of Israel and David from an Orthodox into a Moderate Reform synagogue (today’s Temple Beth-El) in the 1870s, and the driving force behind the founding of the Masonic Redwood Lodge in 1878, didn’t want RI Jews to assimilate. He hoped a Reform synagogue would draw in more unaffiliated Jews and that Redwood Lodge would unite the state’s Jewish Freemasons.

Noot argued in favor of maintaining three exclusively Jewish fraternities in R.I., to which many of Redwood Lodge’s early Jewish members also belonged. In his 1885 address to the R.I. Veteran Citizens Historical Association, for example, he defended the practice of excluding non-Jews from these non-Masonic fraternities, stating: “The aims and objects are alike in all [of the three fraternities] and are strictly Jewish so far as not to admit any but Israelites, as the name would denote – Sons of Covenant. The inconsistency of admitting non-Israelites is self-evident to any fair-minded person.”

Those aren’t the actions or words of an assimilationist. Nor have the many other Jewish Freemasons in R.I. who have been active members of the state’s synagogues and Jewish organizations been assimilationists.

SHAI AFSAI lives in Providence. His “Freemasonry and Religious Accommodation in Rhode Island” appears in Volume 23 of Heredom: The Transactions of The Scottish Rite Research Society (2015), pp. 137-170.