Dr. Michael Shire, Chief Academic Officer and Dean of the Graduate School of Education, Hebrew College, Newton, MA

Benjamin Franklin, The Rabbi and the Freemasons

Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography was first published in French in 1791 incorporating a method of moral improvement that he attempted on a daily basis during his life. So how did this method of moral improvement turn up in Eastern Europe in 1808 amongst the Orthodox Jewish community translated into Hebrew? What was the purpose of Rabbi Lefin in making Franklin’s method popular as an alternative to charismatic religion and why did he never reveal his source? How was it accepted as an authentic traditional Jewish practice known as “mussar” (Heb.-discernment) and became a tool in the emergence of Ashkenazi Jews into the European Enlightenment and their admission into civil society. A strange and unlikely story involving a Polish prince, his powerful wife and the worldwide connection of Friends known as Freemasons. There is even a final twist in the tale!

Dr. Michael Shire (Mshire@hebrewcollege.edu) is the Chief Academic Officer and Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Hebrew College in Newton, MA.