MACCABEANS, ORDER OF ANCIENT, a friendly benefit society in Britain whose members are Zionists. Founded in 1896 by Ephraim Ish-Kishor and registered under the Friendly Societies' Act, the Order of Ancient Maccabeans still exists. Its aims are those of all British friendly societies, namely, to assist members in distress, provide free medical aid, etc. Its special character is laid down in its rules concerning membership: all persons "of the Jewish faith who declare themselves adherents to the Zionist Movement" can become members. From its inception the order was a firm supporter of Zionism, contributed to its various funds, and became a champion of practical Zionist work in Ereẓ Israel. In 1914 a Maccabean Land Company was founded to enable its shareholders to acquire land in Ereẓ Israel. The organization of the order displays masonic features. A grand beacon and high degree council supervise its work; branches are called beacons, of which there are 25 (there once were beacons in Palestine as well); the principal officers are called grand commander, grand treasurer, and grand secretary. Members are called upon to obey the decisions of their order and are forbidden to inform nonmembers of the order's activities.
The revised statutes of the Zionist Organization passed by the Tenth Zionist Congress (1911) permitted the establishment of so-called Sonderverbaende (separate unions), in addition to the existing territorial organizations, on the condition that every Sonderverband numbered at least 3,000 shekel-buying members and that it professed special views on Zionist work. The Order of Ancient Maccabeans applied for this status, and though its claim was opposed by the English Zionist Federation, the order prevailed. In 1912 the Zionist Executive decided in favor of the order's status as Sonderverband on the condition that a Joint Zionist Council be formed, comprising representatives of both the order and the federation. In the 1930s, however, the order lost its special status. Prominent members of the order were Herbert *Bentwich, who served as grand commander; Chaim *Weizmann, who represented the order at Congresses; and Selig *Brodetsky, who served as grand commander. In 2004 its president was Sir Ian Gainsford. Its papers from the 1890s to 1964 are held at the Parkes Library, Southampton University.