The Russian-born Zionist Aaron David Gordon (1856-1922) was the spiritual leader of the Palestinian Jewish labor movement. He taught that work is the basis of human civilization.
Aaron Gordon was born in the village of Troyano, Podolia (region in present-day Ukraine). Because of Gordon's poor health, he was taught the traditional Jewish subjects by a private tutor. Later he studied at the towns of Golovnievsk and Obodovka, where he lived at the house of his relatives and met his cousin and future wife, Feigel Tartakov. For a year he studied in Vilna, after which he went back to his parents. Again Gordon had a private teacher for Jewish studies, but at the same time he devoted himself to the study of modern languages (Russian, German, French, and Hebrew), which gave him the equivalent of a high school education.
After Gordon was rejected because of his health by the Russian army, he married and for 23 years, almost until his emigration to Palestine, he lived in the village of Mohilna. Despite the fact that he was employed at the office of his wealthy relative Baron Ginzburg, he found it distasteful to support his family by the favors of his cousin, especially since no creative work was involved in his position.
At the age of 48, after Gordon's parents had died and his son and daughter were independent, he arrived as a pioneer to Palestine. He sought work as a laborer but the farmers would not employ him, and he refused to consider an office position which was offered to him by the Jewish national authorities. Finally he started to work in the citrus orchards at Petach Tikvah, and as a result of the poor conditions under which he lived he took sick. Friends took care of him. Because he did not like to accept favors, he repaid all expenses to his benefactors after his recovery.
At the end of 1907 Gordon's wife and daughter joined him in Palestine. His son remained in Russia, where he died during World War I. A few months after her arrival in Palestine, Gordon's wife died. Gordon did not like to attach himself permanently to one place or group. He moved from place to place and, finally, in 1912, settled as an agriculture worker in Degania, where he died 10 years later.
In his doctrine of love for, and return to, nature, Gordon was a follower of Jean Jacques Rousseau and Leo Tolstoy. But he disagreed with Tolstoy's belief that to give up the urban life was a sacrifice. Gordon considered that the Jew who left the Jewish Pale in Russia was not sacrificing anything but was taking part in building his individual freedom and that of his national community—the Jewish people.
Gordon also claimed, because of the many roads to Jewish redemption, that there was a need for an integration of ideas. As a result of this, he found a synthesis between the two major spiritual opponents of his generation, Ahad Haam's spiritual nationalism and M. Y. Berdichevsky's material individualism. The result was Gordon's doctrine of the "religion of work," which dictated the return of the Jew to nature and manual labor in order to renew his source of life. These ideas formed the basis of his Labor Zionism and became a cornerstone of the Palestinian non-Marxist labor movement.
Further Reading on Aaron David Gordon
A full-length study of Gordon is Herbert H. Rose, The Life and Thought of A. D. Gordon: Pioneer, Philosopher, and Prophet of Modern Israel (1964). See also Joseph Aaronovitch and Samuel Dayan, A. D. Gordon (1930).