Banks of the Order of the Eastern Star in New Jersey are torn by dissension over a religious issue, because the fifty-ninth annual session of the Grand Chapter, held at Atlantic City, refused to adopt a recommendation sought by spokesmen for the society’s 10,000 or more Jewish members in this state. The recommendation would have made optional a certain part of the ritual that now is mandatory. This part calls for recognition of the Christian symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.
Refusal of the state body to heed their requests keeps the Jewish members in the position of professing something contrary to their religious teachings and beliefs, spokesmen for the Jewish members contend. As a result, there is agitation for a withdrawal of the many predominantly Jewish chapters from the State Grand Chapter, with a view toward affiliating with the New York Grand Chapter which it is understood makes the disputed section of the ritual optional.
The recommendation to change the ritual was made at last year’s convention in Trenton, it is understood and was tabled for further consideration. It was studied by a Grand Lodge committee and re-introduced at Atlantic City last week, Mrs. Elizabeth Little-field of Irvington, retiring grand matron, being its sponsor this time.
Mrs. Littlefield is not Jewish but favored the recommendation on behalf of the Jewish members. According to reports the recommendation also had the sanction of the retiring grand patron, grand attorney and other Grand Chapter officers. Nevertheless, it was decisively voted down. When asked about the matter, Mrs. Littlefield like other officers refused to comment.
The convention at Atlantic City closed Thursday but several men and women leaders in the order are still apparently trying to smooth over the ill-feeling aroused by the session at which the recommendation was turned down.
In some quarters the statement is made privately that the session was stormy and that several members of non-Jewish chapters sharply assailed the Jewish groups and invited them to quit the order if they were not satisfied with present conditions.
It is said more than three hundred Jewish delegates and perhaps as many non-voting sympathizers with them, marched out of the convention hall when the recommendation was defeated. Subsequently according to reports one Jewish woman appointed to a position of high honor in the councils of the new administration declined to serve.
It is likely that leaders among the Jewish members will issue a call for a general meeting of representatives of Jewish chapter. Such a meeting, which probably would be held at some central point, would decide whether the disaffected chapters should be advised to surrender charters in the New Jersey Grand Chapter as a prelude to possible affiliation with the New York body.
Though the question is of vital importance to the order, none of the officials or other members is willing to be quoted in connection with any phase of the controversy. The Eastern Star, a secret society, maintains the attitude that what takes place within the order should not be divulged.
Mrs. Rose Meyerhoff of Palisades Park, who as the new grand matron is head of the order in this state, was emphatic in her refusal to discuss the situation. She remarked curtly:
“I have absolutely nothing to say about the matter. The subject is of no concern to the public and I don’t want to have anything about it put in the papers. If anything at all is said about the matter, if is entirely without authority.”
The situation is complicated by the fact that the New Jersey Grand Chapter is supreme in its jurisdiction and owes allegiance to no national body. Unlike many state groups it is not affiliated with the General Grand Chapter and so no appeal to a higher authority is possible for dissenters from the policies of the New Jersey body.
Most of the members of the Eastern Star are women but many men belong to it. Though popularly considered a women’s branch of Masonry, the Eastern Star has no connection with the Masonic fraternity in this state. Its own eligibility rule require of women members a relationship to a Mason and for its men members the Masonic qualification exists.
The name Eastern Star refers to the Star of Bethlehem symbol of Christendom, the five “points” of the star being Ads, Ruth Esther, Martha (wife of Lazarus) and Electa. The question at issue now seems whether the order with this name and background is definitely Christian.
As far as can be ascertained the ritual of the order in New Jersey always has contained the reference to the Star of Bethlehem and Jewish women in subscribing to it hitherto have made a mental reservation on this point. The informant went on to say that this part of the ritual does not apply to all members of the order, but only to those who hold office.
Probably that is why it is the predominantly Jewish chapters that are agitated over the situation, since they are staffed almost entirely by Jews, whereas most of the officers of the other chapters are Christians. Never theless, it is felt that on this issue all the Jewish members regardless of the alignment of the individual chapter, will (Continued on Page 8)
The Jewish chapters are among the strongest and most active in the state. One, Golden Link, of this city, is the largest in New Jersey, with a membership of more than 1,000. Rainbow Chapter, also of this city, has more than 500 members.
Other Jewish chapters in Essex County are Divinity and Triluminar of this city, Edgemont of Montclair and Felicity of East Orange. Additional chapters mainly of the Jewish faith are to be found in Elizabeth, Atlantic City, Asbury Park, Jersey City, Hoboken, Paterson and other populous centers.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.