Between Judaism and Freemasonry

The Dual Interpretation of David Rosenberg’s Kabbalistic Lithograph, Aperçu de l’Origine du Culte Hébraïque (1841)

Peter Lanchidi

The article addresses a highly detailed and complex lithograph with the title Aperçu d­e ­l’Origine du Culte Hébraïque (“Survey of the Origin of the Hebrew Worship”), which was designed and executed in Paris in 1841 by a Hungarian rabbi, David Rosenberg. The iconographic programme of the elaborate print, also conceived by the rabbi, is based on the Kabbalistic understanding of the system of the universe and Judaism, and is presented in an explicatory booklet to the lithograph.

However, in a separate publication Rabbi Rosenberg offered a different interpretation: a Masonic reading of the tableau, in which the symbolic numbers of Kabbalah and the various scenes in the lithograph were associated with the symbols, degrees, office-bearers, and ceremonies of Freemasonry, including the physical arrangement of the Masonic lodge and its furnishing. Thereby the rabbi wished to prove that Freemasonry originated with the Hebrews. The true protagonist in both readings is the divine order, embodied in the universal harmony and the laws of nature, which manifested itself in Judaism, the source of Freemasonry.

The article explains the Kabbalistic meaning of the lithograph and its application to Freemasonry. Rosenberg’s endeavour will be analysed within the wider Masonic historical context. The probable reasons behind the reinterpretation of the lithograph from a Judaic into a Masonic work will be explored, including Rosenberg’s possible personal motives. It will be argued that the rabbi used Kabbalah as a tool to gain higher recognition within the Masonic lodge.

David Rosenberg, Kabbalah, Freemasonry, Art, Iconography, Jewish-Christian Relations