PART THREE

Inside Information

13

The Rabbi's Tale

Despite the ban on speaking to outsiders, many Freemasons allowed me to interview them. Some were extraordinarily frank, some going so far, having secured my promise not to reveal their identities, as confiding the most secret workings of the Brotherhood. Some said very little at all. Most were prepared to give me candid answers to as many questions as they felt were not within the areas of secrecy. Only a few, however, had the courage to be quoted by name and, while remaining faithful to their masonic obligations of secrecy, spoke openly of the little-known aspects of Masonry which, properly speaking, are not covered by the oaths, however hysterical some grand officers might become in insisting that everything masonic is for Masons alone. Among these honourable men was an eminent Freemason of long standing and grand rank: the Rev Saul Amias, MBE, a London rabbi who was Assistant Grand Chaplain to the United Grand Lodge in 1973. I interviewed him at his home in Edgware in 1981.

'Before I joined Freemasonry there were members of my community in Edgware who were members, and we used to discuss it. A few of them were fighting to have the honour to introduce their minister to their own particular Lodge. I asked them to tell me about it. They said, "No, we can't tell you, but there's nothing bad about it. It's only good, it's only a movement to do good, and there are a lot of Jewish people in it as well as non-Jewish. There's nothing that you say a Jew shouldn't be." In fact, the late Chief Rabbi was a very foremost Mason, and it did not take away from his position as a Chief Rabbi.

'I'm not sorry that I came into the Work because apart from being a brother amongst Masons, if I have to see somebody - say in hospital - and he's a Freemason, I can talk to him and we talk about Freemasonry, take away his mind from his illness. But I don't ask. My first question isn't, "Are you a Freemason?", that would be silly. You're not supposed to do that.

'Anyhow, there's another thing that I want to say. People say Freemasons only help each other. If my brother, my blood brother, comes to me and asks me to advise him or help him, I drop everything, I go, because he's my brother. Or if there's a member of my congregation - although I'm retired they still come to see me - who says, "Look, I need help", I don't say, "Look, I'm retired, go somewhere else." I give help because I know him. Mr Cohen. I know him, so why should he go to strangers when he knows Mr Amias? And the same thing, if a man is a Mason, and another Mason comes to him, why shouldn't he help? It doesn't mean to say that I do not help non-Masons, or non-brothers of my family or non-members of my Synagogue.'

'There is, however, a widespread belief that Masons are helped to the detriment of non-Masons,' I said.

'This excites us very much! It's absolutely not a fact -not to the detriment. Look, I was looking only this morning - I got a letter from the Royal Benevolent Organization of the Freemasonry. There are about eighteen homes for old people, retired people, for Masons or their relatives, their dependants, their wives, or their widows. Right? Should we not help them? But I help other homes, non-Jewish and Jewish, for old people too. There's no saying I'll only help the masonic ones. No, not at all. But if people come to me through an organization which in this case is the organization of the Brotherhood of Freemasonry, why should I not help him? Or his widow, or whomever? There's a hospital of which I am chaplain, the Royal Masonic Hospital at Hammersmith. I go there very religiously each week. Now all those patients are Freemasons or dependent relatives, that is to say a wife or a son under twenty-one, or an unmarried daughter. So why should I not go? But it doesn't mean that I am not going this afternoon to the Edgware Hospital because I heard the wife of one of my people is there. Or tomorrow I will go to St Albans Hospital where I am a chaplain and to Napsbury Hospital where I'm a chaplain and to Hill End Mental Hospital. It's absolutely false to say otherwise.'

'Yes,' I said, 'it's absolutely false to say that Freemasonry sets out to help its members to the detriment of non-members, or that any Freemason swears in his oath to help any other Mason to the detriment of a non-Mason, but it does happen. Only this week a man senior in local government admitted to me that he doesn't see anything wrong with showing favour to his fellow Masons. He thinks this is what Freemasonry is about. If he is on a panel interviewing people for posts in the council, assuming there wasn't a great deal of difference in the ability of two applicants, he would choose the Mason every time.'

'Well, I think that's wrong,' replied Amias. 'I know it does happen. All things being equal, you are saying. But if he's not the best candidate and he chooses him as a Freemason then it's. . . un-moral, and it is against all the precepts of Freemasonry where we've got to help people, and we keep on stressing that we must practise outside the Lodge, not only with Freemasons, those things which we say and we do inside the Lodge. There is no question.

'It is true that people help their brother Masons. Let me put it this way: Freemasonry for some people, who are quiet, who don't take part in local affairs, don't go to church, don't go to Rotary, who don't belong to Toc H, or all the usual - or the tennis club, you know, people who are quiet, who perhaps haven't the opportunity - they work long hours and they haven't got the opportunity of any social work, and so on. For them Freemasonry is an avenue through which they walk to the path of helping ... of unselfish deeds - that means charity, that means helping, that means lending the car to somebody, taking them into hospital, or . . . helping it might be with money, it might be with a job, as you say. It might he. But people don't go and say, "I'm a Mason, can you help me?"

'I cannot ... I will not accept that Freemasons help only Freemasons to the detriment of others.'

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