Societies for mutual benefit. If it be true that "the origin of the friendly society is probably in all countries the burial club" ("Encyc. Brit." ix. 780), Jewish organizations of that nature may be traced back nearly two thousand years. Fraternities for the burial of the dead are mentioned in the Talmud (M. Ḳ. 27b). The ḥebra ḳaddisha, or burial society, was known in its present form early in the fifteenth century, and numerous associations resembling it more or less closely have existed ever since. But the modern fraternal organization with its insurance or endowment features belongs with few exceptions to the second half of the nineteenth century. The history of such Jewish fraternities, whether ancient or modern, still remains to be written (Steinschneider, "Allg. Einleitung in die Jüd. Lit. der Mittelalters," in "J. Q. R." xv. 314, 315). There are many thousands of Jewish societies scattered among communities in all parts of the world; but the present article is restricted to the larger "orders," which flourish mostly in the United States. These orders not only offer pecuniary benefits and cheap insurance, but also serve as social centers, and have afforded the machinery for national Jewish organization throughout the United States. Besides the B'nai B'rith (see Jew. Encyc. iii. 275) the most important are:

  • Ahavas Israel, Independent Order: Founded 1890; 124 lodges; 121,499 members (1902).
  • American Israelites, Independent Order: Founded 1894; 3,000 male and 2,500 female members (1899). Headquarters in New York.
  • American Star, Order: Founded 1884; 5,500 members in 1899. (Defunct?)
  • B'nai B'rith, Improved Order: Founded 1887; 40 lodges and 1,500 members (1901).
  • B'rith Abraham, Order: Founded 1859; 288 lodges; 42,000 members of both sexes. Headquarters in New York.
  • B'rith Abraham, Independent Order: Founded 1887 (an offshoot of the preceding); 302 lodges; 56,949 members. Headquarters in New York.
  • Free Sons of Benjamin, Independent Order: Founded 1879; 192 lodges; 14,088 male, 1,361 female, members (1901). Headquarters in New York.
  • Free Sons of Israel, Independent Order: Founded 1849; 103 lodges; about 11,000 members. Headquarters in New York. There are also an "Improved Order" and a "Junior Order" of the same name.
  • Free Sons of Judah, Independent Order: 119 lodges; 6,447 members (1901).
  • Kesher Shel Barzel, Order: Founded 1860 (offshoot of Order B'rith Abraham); dissolved 1903.
  • Progressive Order of the West: 1,082 members (1901).
  • Sons of Abraham, Independent Order: Founded 1892; 2,400 members (1899). Headquarters in New York.
  • United Israelites, Independent Order: Founded in Philadelphia 1886; reported to have had 200 lodges in 1894.
  • Western Star, Independent Order: An offshoot of Order American Star; about 5,000 members, chiefly in Chicago and other parts of the West.

England is probably the only other country which has Jewish fraternal organizations of this kind. "The Jewish Year Book" for 1901-02 records, besides four Jewish "courts" of the Ancient Order of Foresters and seven Jewish "beacons" of the Order of Ancient Maccabeans, the following fraternities:

  • Ancient Order of Mount Sinai: Six lodges.
  • Grand Order of Israel: Fourteen lodges.
  • Hebrew Order of Druids: Seven lodges.
  • Order Achei Berith: Sixteen lodges.

There are, besides, numerous lodges of Freemasons and other nominally non-Jewish fraternal societies which are composed wholly or mostly of Jews. Many Jews have attained high rank in such bodies,as, for instance, Max Selanick, who is at present (1903) the highest official of the Knights of Pythias in the state of New York. See Freemasonry.

  • Stevens, Cyclopedia of Fraternities, pp. 206, 210, New York, 1899;
  • Morais, The Jews of Philadelphia, pp. 184-187, Philadelphia, 1894;
  • American Jewish Year Book, 1900-01, 1901-02, 1902-03;
  • Levi, Proper Function of Jewish Fraternal Organizations, in Jewish Comment, April 12, 1901.
A. P. Wi.
Images of pages