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What is Freemasonry?

There is no official definition of Freemasonry.  No one person can speak officially for all of Freemasonry, and no one tradition represents all of Freemasonry.  Broadly speaking, Masons around the world and in different traditions have certain origins, customs, teachings and rituals in common, but there is a great deal of variation from observance to observance.  Masonic writers have provided any number of definitions, but none of these is considered official or agreed upon by Masons everywhere.  Freemasonry embraces the basic idea of allowing each person to think things through for himself and to draw conclusions which will bring him the greatest personal satisfaction.  Even within the same tradition, it is ultimately up to each Mason to define what Freemasonry means to him.

Because there are so many different observances and traditions it is almost impossible to say anything definitively about all Freemasonry.  For example, some Masonic organizations admit both men and women.  Other Masonic organizations admit members who are atheists.  Still others only admit members who are Christians.  But none of these things is true for the Masonic observance under which Abravanel Lodge operates: we admit men only, we accept all religious traditions and beliefs, and we do not admit atheists.  This document will therefore primarily describe what is sometimes called “mainstream Masonry.”  Particularly it will describe Freemasonry within the context of the customs and practices of Lodges operating under the aegis of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, and most particularly it will reflect the viewpoint and traditions of Abravanel Lodge.

What are some ideas of what Freemasonry is?

One common historical definition is that Freemasonry is a “system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”  Some feel that Freemasonry is intended to help each Mason improve himself to be a better person.  Some refer to Freemasonry as a way of life or as an organization to “make good men better.”  For some, Freemasonry is mostly a way to spend time in fellowship with friends they might not otherwise make or see.  Others view Freemasonry as a way to provide charity and improve society.  These conceptions of the Craft are only a few among a great many possibilities.

Each Mason may use some, all or none of these definitions to decide what Masonry is for him personally.  In fact, Freemasonry can be any and all of these things, and more.  Additionally, different individual Lodges may have traditions or memberships that emphasize one or more of the various aspects of the Craft.

Most Masons would probably agree that Freemasonry is a fraternity that has existed for centuries, that attempts to bring in men of good character who want to improve themselves and help society become a better place for everyone.

Why do men join Freemasonry?

For many different reasons.  Many are interested in fellowship: the social setting of getting to know a variety of good men and sharing time with them.  Others want to learn more about Masonic philosophy and ideals, and how to improve themselves.  Many want to perform more charitable work in their communities.  Some are interested in the ritual work and philosophical aspects of Masonry.  Most want to do several of these things, in the context of an organization that has existed for centuries.

What are the goals and teachings of Freemasonry?

There is general acceptance that the goals of Freemasonry include making men into better people.  Freemasonry teaches basic values: honesty and fair dealings with everyone, charity and help for those in need, and controlling our passions.  Most of all, Freemasonry teaches us to remember that we are all the children of the same Creator – brothers and sisters with all humanity, regardless of race, color, religious or political beliefs, gender, physical or financial condition, or any other outward differences.

Aren’t the goals and teachings of Freemasonry so basic that we don’t need Freemasonry to promote them?

It often seems that everyone says they support these goals, but unfortunately many do not follow them.  This has been true in all times.  The teachings of Freemasonry are that it may sometimes be difficult, for example, to be honest and fair in every way with every person we meet.  But we must strive to meet this ideal.  Or there are those who need moral support, such as those who are ill and lonely; there are those needing financial help; and there are those needing assistance in accomplishing an important task.  Even though it might sometimes be easy to overlook such people, or might be difficult and burdensome for us to give these kinds of support, Freemasonry actively encourages us to try to provide it.

How does Freemasonry attempt to achieve its goals?

Masonic ritual in the three degrees teaches us lessons about how people should interact with one another.  Morality, charity, and tolerance toward all people are taught through the use of symbols and allegories.  Freemasonry also teaches men to be better by showing examples of Masons who practiced and continue to practice the precepts of helping other people, accepting all as brothers, and promoting democracy and freedom for all.  The fellowship of Freemasonry actively encourages Masons to strive to be better people and exemplify our Masonic ideals in their everyday lives.

Why are there so many Lodges in New York City? What’s the difference between them?

Many smaller towns and cities may have only one Masonic Lodge.  However, in New York City the number of Masons is so large that this would be impractical for a variety of reasons.  There are currently over 75 Lodges that meet at Masonic Hall on 23rd Street alone, and many other Lodges meet in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.

Because there are so many Lodges in New York City, this offers great choice in terms of focus, history, traditions and membership.  There are, for example, Lodges that perform Masonry in Italian, Spanish, Russian, German or other languages.  Some Lodges are comprised mostly of businessmen, or lawyers, or musicians, or municipal employees or any number of commonly shared interests.  Some Lodges are dining Lodges.  Some Lodges have a focus on charity.  Some Lodges primarily engage in making Masons and conferring the three degrees of Masonry.  Some Lodges are mostly interested in the social aspect of Masonry.

This diversity and richness of tradition in New York City makes it possible to find a Lodge (or multiple Lodges) that has a membership, a tradition and a focus that aligns with your own interests and priorities.

What is the history, membership and Tradition of Abravanel Lodge?

In 1930, a group of Masons who were members of La Fraternidad Lodge No. 387, conceived the idea of forming a new Lodge whose members would be predominantly Sephardic. This new Lodge, which would later become known as Abravanel Lodge No. 1116, was chartered on November 22, 1930. At the time, Abravanel was the only Masonic Lodge in the world composed of mostly Sephardic members. We are proud of our heritage, and our ritual practice and Lodge customs continue to reflect these origins. Like most old Lodges, over the intervening years Abravanel has gone through numerous evolutions and changes, and our membership now consists of men from many backgrounds.

In the present day, the active membership of Abravanel Lodge includes performers, artists, artisans, musicians, scholars, writers, teachers and philosophers of all kinds. We are a very inclusive Lodge, drawing members from the whole spectrum of religious and spiritual traditions. We also have broad diversity in national and ethnic heritages. Our membership includes brothers from 21 years of age all the way to over 80 years of age; although our active membership is for the most part between 25 and 55 years old. Abravanel Lodge has an exclusive and tightly-knit membership dedicated to the revitalization of traditional Masonic practices and the invigoration of our Craft for the modern day.

Abravanel Lodge has long been known for its devotion to Masonic ritual and the high quality of its degree ritual performances. We have a strong interest in the revival of 19th century Masonic ritual practice and related traditions, and a central aspect of our Masonic philosophy is a consideration of the historical, philosophical, symbolic and esoteric meanings that may be found in Masonic rituals, as well as the lessons these rituals teach.

In addition, Abravanel has a commitment to charity.  Each year, the Lodge chooses a “Lodge Charity” to support through fundraising, direct donation and volunteer work.

When and where does Abravanel Lodge meet?

The regularly scheduled official meetings (called “Stated Communications,” because they are stated in our By-Laws) of Abravanel Lodge are held on the first Wednesday of each month, except for July and August.  These Communications take place in the French-Doric Room on the 10th Floor of Masonic Hall, which is located at 71 West 23rd Street, just East of Sixth Avenue.

In addition to our Stated Communications, there are Special Communications for ritual; as well as various functions, meet-ups, bar crawls, get-togethers, educational sessions, charity dinners and other Masonic events sponsored by Abravanel Lodge, by other Lodges, or by various Masonic organizations and bodies in the New York City area.

How important is it to attend Lodge meetings?

There is no absolute requirement to attend Lodge meetings.  So long as the annual dues of the Lodge are paid, one may remain a member of the Lodge and a Mason “in good standing” irrespective of attendance.  We also have a principle in Masonry that says, in effect, that the exigencies of real life always must come first: No one is expected to prioritize attending a Lodge meeting over an important business obligation or an unavoidable personal commitment.  However, as with many things in life, when it comes to Masonry you get back what you put in.  Attendance at Lodge meetings and Lodge functions is strongly encouraged so that the members may receive the spiritual, material and interpersonal benefits of membership.  The Lodge only meets a few dozen times a year, which is not a burdensome commitment, and so we hope that members will prioritize attending Lodge meetings.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, there is a basic expectation that new members will want to be active participants in the life and works of the Lodge.  In consideration of the fact that attendance and participation are necessary for a new Mason to learn about Masonry, the timing of advancement through the three degrees of Masonry may be predicated upon attendance to a certain extent.  For the newly-initiated Mason, attendance at regular Lodge meetings as well as occasional educational sessions and Lodge visits are an important part of the Masonic education that is necessary to advance through the three degrees of Masonry.

How do I apply for initiation into Freemasonry and membership in Abravanel Lodge?

Generally speaking, our philosophy is that it’s a good idea for a prospective new member to attend several Lodge Dinners, get-togethers or other Lodge functions before applying to join the Lodge.  This is a good way for you and the Lodge brothers to get to know each other, for you to get some taste of what Masonic life is like at Abravanel Lodge, and to figure out whether it will be a good fit.  After all, you don’t want to join a Lodge of strangers!  Eventually, after a few months, if you have decided you would like to be made a Mason and join Abravanel Lodge it is the right time to talk about applying for membership.

The first step in applying for membership is to fill out a Petition for Advancement and Initiation, which you can get from your friend who is a member of the Lodge.  You must fill out the petition form completely, including all three references.  It must be filled out in your own customary handwriting – it may not be typed.  Make sure you remember to sign the petition.

Give the petition to your friend in the Lodge, together with your petition fee.  Your friend will sign the petition, becoming your “sponsor” into Masonry and Abravanel Lodge, and he will present it to the Secretary of the Lodge.  Once the Secretary has received your petition and payment, he will present it at a Lodge meeting.  Your petition is deemed “officially received by the Lodge” only after it is presented to the Lodge during an official Lodge meeting.  The Secretary may not present your petition without the petition fee.

At some time following the Lodge meeting where your petition is presented, brothers of Abravanel Lodge will investigate you and your petition by meeting with you for some discussions, questions and answers on both sides.  In Freemasonry, we have any number of traditions that date back hundreds of years, and this is one of them.  Historically this investigation would have been a way of securing the safety of the Lodge by ensuring that potential members were who and what they claimed to be, and had a sincere interest in joining the Craft.  In the modern day, the investigation serves as a way for the Lodge and the potential new member to get to know each other and make sure that it is a good fit.

At a meeting following the investigation, the investigating committee will make its recommendation and the Lodge will ballot on your petition.  If the ballot is successful, you officially become a Candidate for Initiation; you will be invited to the next available initiation date and invested with certain details as to the initiation, including date, time, dress, and other instructions.  On the extremely rare occasion where a petition may be rejected, the petition fee is refunded in full.

What are the qualifications required to petition a Masonic Lodge?

The basic qualifications to be initiated a Mason in the Grand Lodge of the State of New York are few:  The person must be a man; he must be at least 21 years old; he must have and express a belief in a Supreme Being, howsoever he may define it; he must have and express a belief in the immortality of the soul, again, howsoever he may define it; and he must be of good moral character.

How much does it cost to join Abravanel Lodge?

The fees and costs of membership rise slightly with each year.  Currently the petition fee is $500.  This fee may be paid in cash or with a check payable to Abravanel Lodge No. 1116 F&AM.

The petition fee must accompany the candidate’s Petition for Initiation & Advancement, or the petition is not complete and may not be presented to the Lodge.  The initiation fee must be paid to the Lodge Secretary prior to initiation, or the initiation cannot proceed.  Most candidates bring their initiation fee with them to Lodge on the day of their initiation, but it is permitted to pay the initiation fee prior to the day of initiation.

Under the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, which is the document that governs the Masonic activities of Abravanel Lodge, no Lodge may make a Mason upon credit.  All fees must be paid prior to petitioning and initiation.

What are the yearly dues of Abravanel Lodge?

Currently, dues schedule is as follows:

For those with less than 25 years of membership in Abravanel Lodge, annual dues are $180 + Grand Lodge per capita tax + a suggested donation of $10 to the Grand Lodge Brotherhood Fund.

For those with 25 or more years of membership in Abravanel Lodge, annual dues are $130 + Grand Lodge per capita tax + a suggested donation of $10 to the Grand Lodge Brotherhood Fund.

The dues go up a little bit each year to keep pace with the rate of inflation and the increase in the regular costs and expenses of the Lodge.  This may seem like a lot of money, but it still comes out to be less than a dollar a day!  It is also possible to pay a year’s dues in several installments.  It’s important to remember that practically every dollar of your dues payments comes back to you in the form of benefits and programming when you attend Lodge meetings and functions.

How important are Lodge dues? What happens if I don’t pay?

Timely payment of Lodge dues is a meaningful obligation of membership in a Masonic Lodge.  It takes money to run a Masonic Lodge and do the Work of Masonry for the benefit of the Craft and our fellow men.  Members who fail to pay their Lodge dues on time are limited in their ability to exercise some of the rights and privileges of a Mason, and nonpaying members are eventually stricken from the rolls of the Lodge and lose all ability to practice Masonry until such time as their arrears are fully paid and they are reinstated.  These things have all been true since the earliest days of the Craft.

The reality of economics means that Lodge dues will increase in the future, and will continue to increase over time.  In order to maintain Abravanel Lodge in sound financial condition, the Lodge must keep pace with the rate of inflation and the growth in the regular costs and expenses of the Lodge.  Sound finances are required for our fraternal and charitable works.  Of course, economic reality also means that brothers of the Lodge occasionally experience setbacks – and on these occasions, relief of Lodge dues and even financial assistance are often available upon request.

Before petitioning any Masonic Lodge, each petitioner must consider the costs of membership and assure both himself and the Lodge of his ongoing ability and willingness to fulfill these obligations.  Any gentleman for whom the Lodge’s dues and fees might represent a financial hardship most likely has more important priorities at the present time than joining a Masonic Lodge – in which case it is better to postpone petitioning.  When circumstances improve, the Lodge will still be there to receive him.

How soon do I get to join Abravanel Lodge after I submit my petition?

This will depend to a certain extent on when you submit your petition.  Becoming a Mason and officially joining the membership of a Masonic Lodge is accomplished through an initiation ritual.  This ritual takes a number of hours to perform, and requires a fair amount of planning and rehearsal.  In addition, there are a number of other rituals and Masonic events involving a similar amount of planning and time which the Lodge performs each year.  The timing of your initiation will therefore depend upon when you petition the Lodge, how many other Candidates are “in line” before you, and when the next Initiation rituals are scheduled.  Regardless, it is typical for there to be several months between receipt of the petition and Initiation.  This is not such a bad thing, however.  Abravanel Lodge convenes any number of open events, get-togethers, dinners and Masonic-themed events over the course of a year that you can attend.  This is the best way for you to get to know the brothers and character of Abravanel Lodge, and it’s the best way for the brothers of the Lodge to get to know you.  This is the best way to begin a life in the Craft, and it is worth the wait to start your journey on the right foot.

What happens in Masonic Lodge meetings?

At some meetings we perform the Masonic ritual, also sometimes called “Degrees.”  These are comprised of certain specified words and actions, lectures and ritual dramas, and are designed to teach the moral lessons of Freemasonry.  At other Lodge meetings we have speakers and discussions to promote Masonic education and the development of the Lodge members to be better people.  And, of course, we also conduct the business of the Lodge.

What happens in Masonic Degree rituals?

The Candidate (the person who will become a new member or advance to the next step in his Masonic progress) is conducted by Lodge members during the Degree where he is the central character in the ritual.  During the progress of the Degree the Candidate is expected to observe and listen to everything going on around him, so he can learn some of the moral and character-building lessons of Freemasonry.  There are so many layers of meaning in the Degree rituals, that most Masons discuss, watch and participate in the Masonic Degree rituals for many years, learning more each time they see them performed.  Indeed, making Masons and performing the Degree rituals is the most fundamental activity we do as Masons.

Where can I find more information in Freemasonry and Abravanel Lodge?

If you have a friend or acquaintance who gave you this information, he is always a great place to start.  He will be happy to answer any questions you might have, and can always put you in touch with other members of Abravanel Lodge who might have more of the information you seek.  In addition, you may contact the Master of Abravanel Lodge by email at

We discourage anyone who hasn’t taken all three degrees of Masonry from doing too much “reading ahead” in the numerous books and articles on the subject.  This is for a number of reasons, not least because much of what is out there is meaningfully incorrect.  But also because “spoilers” can have the effect of lessening the impact of the degree rituals and the progressive learning of the lessons of the Craft.

Is Freemasonry a secret society?

This is not an easy question to answer, because there are many definitions of “secret society” and there are many traditions and permutations of Freemasonry. As a broad generality one might say that Freemasonry is “quasi-occult” or “partly hidden,” but mostly open and unobscured.

Certainly there are many definitions of “secret society” which apply to Freemasonry. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that secret societies are “oath-bound societies often devoted to brotherhood, moral discipline, and mutual assistance.”  The American Heritage Dictionary says a secret society is “an organization, such as a lodge, that requires its members to conceal certain activities, such as its rites of initiation, from outsiders.” These definitions would certainly apply to Freemasonry to some extent. It is true that there are things about the Craft we like to keep to ourselves – for example, parts of our ritual, our modes of recognition and the private business of the Lodge.  In certain parts of the world, Freemasons and Masonic Lodges may even conceal their membership from the general public. Some of these things are a continuation of our traditional observances, some may be for safety, and some are no different than the customs of any group that keeps its private business private.

At the same time, there are plenty of definitions of “secret society” which do not apply to Freemasonry. For example, the Compact Oxford English Dictionary says a secret society is “an organization whose members are sworn to secrecy about its activities.” And one cannot escape the common association of “secret society” with the popular notion of an immensely powerful network consisting of hidden members at the highest levels of government and society, having global reach and secretly acting on behalf of its self- serving financial and political agendas. Indeed, many of the large and notorious criminal organizations might be described as “secret societies.” These have nothing in common with Freemasonry. Equally inapplicable to Freemasonry is the popular notion of an immensely powerful network (etc.) that is covertly acting behind the scenes on behalf of all mankind, perhaps hiding certain secret knowledge, safeguarding some powerful magic object or protecting the world against some great danger. These things all make for good books and movies, but they don’t reflect the realities of Freemasonry.

What we can say about Freemasonry is that our purposes, ideals and principles may be learned by anyone who inquires. There are numerous books on these subjects available to the public. All printed Masonic information, with the exception of our esoteric work, may be freely discussed in public. In the United States, we wear lapel pins and Masonic jewelry, march in parades as Masons with our distinctive aprons, advertise the time and place of our meetings, maintain web sites and a presence on social networking sites, and openly sponsor charities. Yes, we have some secrets, but probably fewer than most other fraternities, corporations or even families.

On the subject of secrecy, it is worth pointing out that much of what is presumed to be “secret” about Freemasonry has been published in various “Masonic exposures” going back at least 300 years and continuing to the present day. Those who approach the Craft thinking they are going to learn some hidden secret, great truth or occult knowledge may ultimately come away disappointed. The beauty if our gentle Craft is that Freemasonry is not a secret, but rather a mystery that continually reveals more and more of itself to the curious and contemplative mind. This is a mystery that has no single, universal answer, and a man may spend a lifetime of investigation finding his own answers. The mystery isthe secret of Freemasonry.

Is Freemasonry a religion?

Religion has been broadly defined as “an organized approach to human spirituality which usually encompasses a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices, often with a supernatural or transcendent quality, that give meaning to the practitioner’s experiences of life through reference to a higher power, God or gods, or ultimate truth.” This does have many commonalities with Freemasonry. However, when one speaks of “religion” in common language, it is usually meant to refer to a certain organized, and most often codified approach. Freemasonry is not a religion in the same sense that Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Unitarian Universalism, Wicca and others are religions, nor is Freemasonry a substitute for these religions.

Because of the nature of the teachings of Freemasonry, we do ask our candidates to acknowledge a belief and trust in a Supreme Being, howsoever each man may define this for himself. Without this belief, our ceremonies would lack a certain meaning. But we do not require that members belong to a particular church or a particular religion, or even to any organized religion at all. An atheist cannot become a Mason in our tradition simply because he cannot express a belief in a Supreme Being. Our Order seeks only to unite men for the purpose of brotherhood – not to promote a specific religion, and certainly not to replace any religion.

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