By Nir Ortal
On April 2 in the spring of 2008, dozens of men from all corners of the globe, wearing festive ceremonial robes and serious expressions, marched towards a dark opening under the wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. Their footsteps echoed in the dark shadows of the huge cavern, the largest man-made cave in Israel, adding a further dimension to the mysterious atmosphere. One hundred and forty years after the first ceremony held by the members of the order at this ancient site and almost 40 years since the last such ritual was held, the Freemasons returned to Zedekiah’s Cave to consecrate the Grand Master of the Jerusalem Lodge.
Jerusalem contains a fair number of sites and figures that represent cornerstones in the Masonic universe. Although the order’s official documented lodges have existed only since the 18th century, the Freemasons consider King Solomon to be the founder of the order and its first Grand Master. Central among Solomon’s mythic qualifications for this role was the building of the first Temple in Jerusalem with the aid of Hiram of Tyre (the artisan, not the Phoenician king), with Hiram playing a major part in Masonic rites as well.
Among the artifacts that Hiram made for Solomon’s temple were two magnificent pillars known as Boaz and Jachin (I Kings 7). These two columns are paramount symbols in Masonic lore, and are featured in Masonic lodges alongside a third pillar, which symbolizes the lodge’s Grand Master. King Solomon’s temple serves as a general backdrop for the allegorical plays that are part of the ritual initiation that confers the three Masonic degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and finally Master Mason. In the Scottish rite – the one practiced in Israel – the Hebrew calendar is used, and the holiday of Tishrei is even celebrated to mark the inauguration of Solomon’s temple (Ibid. 8:2).
According to an ancient tradition, the stones for Solomon’s temple were quarried from Zedekiah’s Cave, also known since its rediscovery in the mid-19th century as King Solomon’s Quarries. This site, steeped in masonic history, was chosen by the Society of Freemasons to be the birth-place of Freemasonry in the Holy Land. On May 13, 1868, the first Secret Monitor ceremony was held in the cave to consecrate the first lodge of the Freemasons in the land of Israel.
The stones of Zedekiah’s cave have been used to build Jerusalem over the generations, notably in 1907 in the clock tower above the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. Most recently, the stones appear to have been used in the construction of the YMCA building on King David Street in Jerusalem, which was built about 80 years ago for the three monotheistic religions. The central tower of the building contains a “commemoration room,” whose walls were left empty, and on which an empty frame is carved – to be filled by the mind of the beholder. The building contractor, Baruch Katinka, was a Freemason and member of the Mizpah lodge in Jerusalem. In his memoirs, he recalls the lengths to which he went to obtain the appropriate stones for this room. He proposed to the architect Arthur Quinton Adamson that he “apply to the Antiquities Authority for permission to remove stones for that purpose from Solomon’s Quarry (Zedekiah’s Cave), which, tradition had it, had been used to build the temple. […] We found large, ancient stones, quarried and ready, which we were permitted to remove from the cave and use.” Katinka also describes the construction of the altar in the YMCA chapel:
I had to collect 12 unhewn stones and arrange them in the form of an altar without breaking or cutting them. I suggested to Adamson that we take a few workers and go to Beth El not far from Jerusalem, where the first altar was built, and that we should look for stones for our altar there. Who knows, we just might happen to find one of the actual stones used in an ancient altar. Adamson really liked the idea and we spent almost two days together in the fields of Beth El until we managed to collect 12 stones that suited our requirements.
Each Masonic lodge has an altar, one chiseled stone and one rough stone. Membership in the order, say the Freemasons, helps the members refine their own personal qualities, to change from a simple “unhewn stone” into a “hewn stone” suitable for the Temple, to become a better person.
Photo by Getty Images
Excerpt from Segula Jewish History magazine, in collaboration with Yad Ben Zvi. For the rest of the article and more pieces on Jewish history, please vist our website at segulamag.com