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Some Sephardic Jews in Freemasonry
Leon Zeldis, FPS, 33°
Master, Montefiore Lodge #78 of Installed Masters
PSGC, Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite for the State of Israel
Honorary Adjunct Grand Master

Delivered at Installation as WM.

This being a Lodge that carries the name of a distinguished Jewish Mason, benefactor, tireless fighter for the rights of Jews in many countries, including our own, who also was the scion of a notable Sephardic family, I thought it appropriate to begin this third year of our Lodge with an account of the role played by Sephardic Jews in the early stages of Speculative Freemasonry.

First Mentions in England

In England, where the Jews had been expelled by King Edward I in the year 1290, some "secret" Jews entered the country surreptitiously, under the appearance of being Spanish or Portuguese Catholics. They attended mass in the embassies of Spain, Portugal and France, but observed Jewish traditions in their homes. These Jews were tolerated because of their financial and mercantile contacts with the rest of Europe, and by their assistance in extending the commercial interests of England throughout the world. Enjoying the more liberal environment prevailing in England and Holland, some Jews gradually revealed themselves as such. In 1655, the Sephardic Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel (also known as Manoel Días Soeiro, 1604-1657) from Amsterdam, submitted a petition to Oliver Cromwell to allow the official residence of Jews in England. No record has been found of the result of this démarche, but a small congregation of Sephardim was officially recognized by King Charles II in 1664, after the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy.1

Thus, the new Israelite congregation in England was composed almost exclusively of Sephardim. The first Jews who received nobility titles in England also were Sephardim: Solomon de Medina (c. 1650-1730) and Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885), who was knighted in 1837 and made a baronet in 1846.

It is not surprising, then, that the first known Jewish Mason, dating from 1716 (one year before the creation of the first Grand Lodge) was an English Sephardi: Francis Francia, also known as the "Jacobite Jew." He was tried and later exonerated from an accusation of high treason. In an English newspaper of 1877, recounting this incident, Francia is called a Mason.

In 1732, another Jew, Edward Rose, was initiated in a Lodge presided by Daniel Delvalle, 'eminent Jew snuff merchant' as characterized in a report in the Daily Post of 22 September 1732. Without doubt, Delvalle must have preceded Rose by several years, to have reached the high position of Master of the Lodge. Furthermore, Bro. Mathias Levy, in an article entitled 'Jews as Freemasons' published in The Jewish Chronicle in 1898, claims that the initiation took place 'in the presence of Jews and non-Jews.' These other Jews present must have been Masons themselves, initiated at an earlier date.

Other Sephardi Brethren appear in the records of the 18th century. The register of Brethren of 1725 includes Israel Segalas and Nicholas Abrahams. Earlier still, in 1721, appear the names of Nathan Blanch (perhaps his original name was Blanco) and John Hart, though it is not certain they were Jews.2

Several Jews are listed as Grand Stewards in Anderson's New Book of Constitutions (1738): Solomon Mendez in 1732, Meyer Shamberg, M.D. in 1735, Benjamin Da Costa in 1737 and Isaac Barrett, Joseph Harris, Samuel Lowman and Moses Mendez in 1737-1738. Most of them were Sephardim.

The first recorded Jewish officer of the Antients' Grand Lodge was David Lyon, Grand Tyler (1760-1763), later promoted to Grand Pursuivant (1764-1765). In the Moderns' Grand Lodge, the first was Moses Isaac Levi (alias Ximenes), appointed both Junior and Senior Grand Warden in 1785. That same year, John Paiba, who had held some office since 1779, was appointed Grand Sword Bearer.3

Two other English Jews are famous in Masonic history, because of having been arrested by the Inquisition in Lisbon and condemned as Masons (not because of being crypto-Jews!). They were later released and related their experiences. The first was John Coustos (1703-?), arrested in 1740, about whom numerous papers have been published.4 Some historians express doubts about his Judaism, but in his paper already quoted, Bro. Shaftesley bring up many indications pointing to the fact that "John Coustos, if he was not of Jewish origin, gave a very good imitation of it."5

The second case is that of Hyppolito da Costa (1774-1823), who, although a professed Christian himself, belonged to a renowned family of Sephardic Jews in Portugal, England and the West Indies. At the time, there were almost two dozen Da Costas or Mendez da Costas in the diamond trade. Da Costa, whose full name was Hyppolito Joseph da Costa Pereira Furtado de Mendoça was initiated in the Lodge of the Nine Muses in 1807 and joined the Lodge of Antiquity in 1808. He was a friend of the Dukes of Sussex and Leinster, and eventually reached the high office of Provincial Grand Master for Rutland. In 1898, AQC published a note about Ben Da Costa, a Past Master of Friars Lodge and Preceptor of the Israel Lodge of Instruction (#205), who was undoubtedly Jewish and claimed to be a relative of Hyppolito da Costa.6

On 23 December 1731, only 14 years after the foundation of the Premier Grand Lodge, Lodge #84 raised columns in London, at the Daniel Coffee House on Lombard Street. Among the Brethren listed were several Jews: Salomon Mendez, Abraham Ximenez, Jacob Alvarez, Abraham de Medina, Benjamin Adolphus and Isaac Baruch. That is to say, out of six, five were Sephardim. They constituted a fifth of the total membership of the Lodge, that numbered 29 Brethren.7

Sir Moses Montefiore
Sir Moses Montefiore Bt. F.R.S. (1784-1885)

Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885)

Montefiore was born in Livorno, Italy. He was an active Mason, having been initiated in Moira Lodge in 1812. His brother-in-law, Nathan Meyer Rothschild, had been initiated ten years earlier in the Emulation Lodge. Montefiore and Rothschild had married sisters, daughters of Levi Barent Cohen.

He was knighted in 1837 by Queen Victoria. That same year, Benjamin Disraeli was elected to Parliament as a Tory.

In August of 1840, together with the French Lawyer and high-ranking Masons Adolphe Cremieux (1796-1880), he led a delegation to Turkey and secured the release of the captives of the Damascus blood libel. He also persuaded the Sultan of Turkey to issue an edict forbidding the circulation of blood libels.

In 1863, supported by the British government, Sir Moses Montefiore petitioned the Sultan of Morocco, Muhammad IV, to guarantee the safety of Morocco's Jews. His efforts were successful.

A year later, in 1864, he intervened in order to gain the release of Rabbi Meir Leib ben Jehiel Michael Malbin, Chief Rabbi of Bucharest, who had been wrongly accused of disloyalty to the authorities.

His connection with the Land of Israel is well known, and his horse carriage, as well as his windmill can still be seen in Jerusalem.

Upon reaching the ripe age of 80 years, "gil hagvurah" in Hebrew tradition, English Jewish Masons founded in 1864 the Montefiore Lodge #1017 in London. Later, in 1888, a second Montefiore Lodge (#753) was founded in Glasgow and in 1996 our Lodge, Montefiore Lodge of Installed Masters #78, was consecrated in Tel Aviv.

Rabbi Leon Templo

Rabbi Jacob Jehudah Jacob Leon (1603-1675), known as Leon Templo, deserves special mention. In 1675, he brought to London models of the Jerusalem Temple and the Tabernacle, which he had previously exhibited in Amsterdam. Leon Templo was also an expert in heraldry. His work so impressed Laurence Dermott, the first Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Antients, that he took a design by Leon Templo as the basis for the coat of arms of the Antients. When the two Grand Lodges of England merged to form the present United Grand Lodge (1813), this design was incorporated in its coat of arms. The model of the Templo built by Leon Templo was again exhibited by Bro. M.P. de Castro, who claimed to be a relative of the builder.

An interesting historical question is the possible existence of a Masonic organization in Amsterdam in which Jews were allowed to join before the creation of the Premier Grand Lodge of London. There are two indications that point to that possibility.

Dermott, in the second edition of Ahiman Rezon — the Book of Constitutions of the Antients — published in 1764, called Templo "the famous and learned Hebrewist [sic], Architect and brother." Historians have generally dismissed the 'brother' appellation as either an error or a friendly sobriquet.8 However, we know that Leon came originally from Livorno. His daughter, Elisebah, was married to Jacob Yehuda Leon, also characterized as "from Livorno." A flourishing Jewish community lived in that Italian city that became a refuge for Sephardic Jews fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition, and who returned to practicing Judaism openly. The Jews of Livorno maintained close links with other Sephardic communities in North Africa, particularly Tunis.


Livorno was an important center of Masonic activity in Italy. To give an example, among 34 Lodges active in Italy between 1815 and 1860, no less than 19 were located in Livorno, that is, over 50% of all Italian Lodges.9 A document from the Lodge Les Amis de la Parfaite Union dated 3 May 1797 lists nine Jewish members from a total of 56.10

Livorno was also an important center for Jews, where they established the autonomous 'Hebrew Nation of Livorno' (La Nazione Ebrea di Livorno). Interestingly, admission to the Autonomy was subject to balloting(!). The presence of Jews in Livorno dates from the 16th century. Jewish bankers were already present in the Duchy of Tuscany when Cosimo I declared the city a free port in 1548. On June 10, 1593, duke Ferdinand I de Medici, issued La Livornina, letters patent addressed to "Levantines (i.e. Easterners), Spaniards, Portuguese, Germans and Italians," but in reality intended for the Jews of those countries, granting them full religious liberty, amnesty for crimes committed previously, and the opportunity for Marranos to return to Judaism unmolested and to receive Tuscan citizenship, subject to the approval of the heads of the community (the Massari). The community had a large degree of autonomy and were exempt from wearing the yellow Jewish badge.

The Medici rulers wanted to develop Livorno as their main port of trade. The Jewish community in Livorno grew rapidly, from a few hundred in the late 1500's to about 5000 in 1689. The city became an important entrepôt for trade between Atlantic and Northern ports and those of the Mediterranean and the Near East. In 1765, one third of Livorno's 150 commercial houses were Jewish-owned.11 In 1650, Issac Gabai established a printing press that rivaled that of Venice in the production of valuable Hebrew books. The community was so prosperous that, on the urging of Colbert, Chief Minister of Louis XIV of France, the king invited the Jews of Livorno to come and settle in Marseilles.12

Rabbi Hayim Joseph David Azulai, who lived in Livorno the last 30 years of his life, wrote a travel book in Hebrew, in which he recounts an incident that occurred to him in 1754 in Tunis, when the son of the Kadi (Moslem governor) of the city asked him, in the middle of the night, if he could kill a group of Jews from Livorno who belonged to "the sect of Franc Masons." In his answer, the Rabbi (who ordered not to touch them) confessed having heard of the Masons, but that they did not have a bad reputation, but were like "a comedy."13

Certainly, the date is much later than the period of Leon Templo, who had died in 1675, almost 80 years earlier. But we have here irrefutable evidence that an active group of Jewish Masons existed in Livorno, and we cannot dismiss out of hand the possibility that a proto-Masonic organization open to Jews existed in Livorno, Amsterdam and possibly other places at the end of the 17th century.

Another incident pointing to the presence of Jewish Masons in North Africa is mentioned by Bro. Shaftesley in his paper already quoted, taking it from Robert Freke Gould's History of Freemasonry: "in a minute of the Stewards' Lodge of March 1764, in connection with Laurence Dermott's great linguistic attainments, 'an Arabian Mason having petitioned for relief, the Grand Secretary [Dermott] conversed with him in the Hebrew language.' The use of Hebrew and not Arabic demonstrates that the "Arabian" must have been a Jewish Mason from North Africa.

The Campanal Enigma

The second indication in this respect is the case of Campanal (or Campanall) in Newport, Rhode Island. In the Winter, 1967 issue of The Royal Arch Mason (US), a letter was printed from Comp. Samuel W. Freedman of Wilmington, Delaware, entitled "Did Jews Introduce Masonry in America?". The letter says (in part) as follows:

"While touring New England this past summer, I stopped in Rhode Island where I visited the Touro Synagogue, which has been designated as a national shrine by the United States Government because it is the oldest synagogue on the American continent.14 In a historical pamphlet, recently put out by the Touro Synagogue Congregation, I ran across a note that is rather interesting. I am sending to you a photocopy of one of the pages in the pamphlet:

'The first documentary evidence of the presence of Jews in Newport dates from 1658. In that year the document reads: "Wee mett att ye House of Mordecai Campannall and after Synagog Wee gave Abm Moses the degrees of Maçonrie." This not only points to the early settlement of Jews in Rhode Island, but it is the basis for the theory — which has been questioned by some — that the craft of Masonry was first introduced into America through the early Jewish settlers in Rhode Island, who seemed to have worked the degrees after religious services which were held in private houses.'

Upon returning home a chain of thought started in my mind, wondering whether there isn't more of a basis to the speculative Masonry we practice than we think. The Jews who came to Newport were either Spanish or Portuguese, who first went to Brazil and Curaçao in South America from where they came to Newport."

In a further issue of The Royal Arch Mason,15 Bro. Norman G. McCullough adds new information on the subject:

"In the Book The History of Freemasonry and Concordant Orders (Stillson and Hugan, 1904), I find a most interesting explanation. Division VIII under 'First Glimpses in North America,' indicates that the second vestige of Masonry in this country, is described in Peterson's History of Rhode Island (1835, p. 101). The author informs us that:

'In the spring of 1657, Mordecai Campanall, Moses Packeckoe, Levi, and others, in all 15 families, arrived at Newport from Holland. They brought with them the three first degrees of Masonry, and worked them in the house of Campanall, and continued to do so, and their successors, to the year 1742.'

The statement was said to have been made on the authority of documents in the possession of N.H. Gould, Esq., at the time of the publication of the history. It came to the notice of Grand Master William S. Gardner, who was greatly astonished at the information, and immediately set about to investigate. He applied to Brother Gould, of Newport, Rhode Island, who was then an active member of the Supreme Council, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (Northern Jurisdiction). Gould replied that the statement was founded upon a dilapidated document found among the effects of a distant relative of his. It had been exposed to alternate humidity and heat and was so broken and brittle that it could not be daguerreotyped. All that could be made out was that in 1656 or 1658:

'Wee mett att ye House of Mordecai Campannall and after Synagog Wee gave Abm Moses the degrees of Maçonrie.'

Grand Master Gardiner was not satisfied with the evidence and declared that it was 'almost impossible to treat this story with the attention which the subject demands.'

In Rhode Island, Grand Master Doyle commented on Gould's letter:

'It would seem the only authority in his possession is a document showing that in 1656 or 1658 somebody met some other persons at some house in Newport, and 'gave Abm Moses the degrees of Maçonrie'. This may have occurred then and there, just as stated; but, if so, it is no authority for the statement that a Lodge of Masons existed then in Newport, or that there was any legal Masonic authority for the work done, or that any other person was ever legally made a Mason in Newport between 1658 and 1742.'

It is certain, however, that the tradition has long been perpetuated that Masons made their appearance in Rhode Island about that time. In Weeden's recently published Economic and Social History of New England, under the date 1658, the author says:

'The commerce of Newport was extending. The wealthy Jews, who contributed so much to it, afterward, appear now. It is said that 15 families came in from Holland this year, bringing with their goods and mercantile skill the first three degrees of Freemasonry.' "

Thus Bro. McCullough. Clearly, the Brethren who came to Rhode Island were Sephardic Jews. Campannall is a corruption of Campanal ("bell ringer" in Spanish), and Packeckoe is probably a corruption of Pacheco, a common Spanish name. Levi is also common among Sephardim. Bro. Sidney Kase, in his article "Freemasonry and the Jews"16 mentions that Campanal's original name was Campanelli. The Italian form suggests that he came originally from Italy, possibly from Livorno.

From another source, we learn that Abraham Campanal, from Newport, Rhode Island, evidently a descendant of Mordechai but who had been raised as a Christian, came to Curaçao in 1718 to be circumcised and return to Judaism. Unfortunately, he died after the operation, probably from infection, and this resulted in a prohibition for a certain period to circumcise Christians.17

All this is inconclusive, but it is certainly suggestive. A formal Lodge may not have existed in Rhode Island in the late 17th century, but Masons are known to have assembled in what is called a "moot" Lodge before receiving a warrant from a regular Grand Lodge (which in any case did not exist at that time). It appears to this author that, starting from the preconceived premise that no Masonry could have existed in Holland before the 18th century, historians have tended to dismiss the cases of Leon Templo and Campanal out of hand. Nevertheless, if we accept this possibility, new avenues of research are opened before us.

To end this relation, I shall mention that the first Jew initiated in America was also a Sephardi. In 1733, Moses Nunis (whose original name was probably Moisés Nuñez) was initiated in Georgia at the age of 34 years. He died in 1787 and was buried with a Masonic funeral.18

And finally, the first regular Masonic Lodge in Chile working in the national language, Spanish, was created at the initiative of a Sephardic Jew, Manuel de Lima y Sola, in the year 1853. He was also the man behind the creation of the Grand Lodge of Chile in 1862.

Notes and bibliography

1   Shaftesley, John F., "Jews in English Freemasonry in the 18th and 19th Centuries," Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (AQC), Vol. 92 (1979), pp. 25-63.
2   Shaftesley, op. cit.
3   Shaftesley, op. cit., p. 42.
4   See, inter alia, McLeod, W., "John Coustos: his Lodges and his Book," AQC, Vol. 92 (1979), pp. 113-147. Vatcher, S., "John Coustos and the Portuguese Inquisition," AQC, Vol. 81 (1968), pp. 9-87. The original documentation in Portuguese appears transcribed into Spanish in Ferrer Benimeli, Jose A., Masonería, Iglesia e Ilustración: un conflicto ideológico-político-religioso. Vol. I: Las Bases de un Conflicto (1700-1739), Madrid, 1975, pp. 301-326.
5   Shaftesley, op. cit., p. 27.
6   Shaftesley, ibidem.
7   Shaftesley, op. cit., p. 37.
8   For instance, Shane, Lewis A., "Jacob Judah Leon of Amsterdam (1602-1675) and his models of the Temple of Solomon and the Tabernacle," AQC, Vol. 96, p. 146.
9   Polo Friz, Luigi, "Logge in Italia dal 1816 al 1870," Massoneria Oggi, Year V, No. 4, August-September 1998, p. 27.
10   Stolper, Ed., "Contributo allo studio della massoneria italiana nell'era napoleonica," Rivista Massonica, September 1977.
11   Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem 1971, Vol. 10, p. 1572.
12   Heller, Marvin H., "Jedidiah ben Isaac Gabai and the first decade of Hebrew printing in Livorno," Los Muestros, Brussels, No. 33, December 1998.
13   Sefer Ma'agal Hashalem (Book of the Good Complete Circuit), reproduced by Mekitzei Nirdamin, Jerusalem, 5694 (1934), p. 64.
14   The Touro synagogue started on 1759 and concluded on 1763, was built by Isaac Abraham Touro, a Rabbi who had come from Amsterdam in 1760.
15   Reprinted in Haboneh Hahofshi (Journal of the Grand Lodge of Israel), Vol. 43, No. 1-2, April 1976, pp. 19-21.
16   The Philalethes, Vol. XLII, No. 4, August 1989, pp. 6-10, 23.
17   Arbell, Mordechai, "Return to Judaism, the Circumcisers (Mohalim) of Curaçao," Los Muestros, No. 28, September 1997, pp. 23-24.
18   Kase, Sidney, "Freemasonry and the Jews," The Philalethes, August 1989, p. 8.