Aaron David Gordon (Hebrew: אהרן דוד גורדון; 9 June 1856 – 22 February 1922), more commonly known as A. D. Gordon, was a Labour Zionist thinker and the spiritual force behind practical Zionism and Labor Zionism. He founded Hapoel Hatzair, a movement that set the tone for the Zionist movement for many years to come. Influenced by Leo Tolstoy and others, it is said that in effect he made a religion of labor.
In 1905 he founded and led Hapoel Hatzair ("The Young Worker"), a non-Marxist, Zionist movement, as opposed to the Poale Zion movement which was more Marxist in orientation and associated with Ber Borochov and Nahum Syrkin.
Gordon believed that all of Jewish suffering could be traced to the parasitic state of Jews in the Diaspora, who were unable to participate in creative labor. To remedy this, he sought to promote physical labor and agriculture as a means of uplifting Jews spiritually. It was the experience of labor, he believed, that linked the individual to the hidden aspects of nature and being, which, in turn were the source of vision, poetry, and the spiritual life. Furthermore, he also believed that working the land was a sacred task, not only for the individual but for the entire Jewish people. Agriculture would unite the people with the land and justify its continued existence there. In his own words: "The Land of Israel is acquired through labor, not through fire and not through blood." Return to the soil would transform the Jewish people and allow its rejuvenation, according to his philosophy. A.D. Gordon elaborated on these themes, writing:
The Jewish people has been completely cut off from nature and imprisoned within city walls for two thousand years. We have been accustomed to every form of life, except a life of labor- of labor done at our behalf and for its own sake. It will require the greatest effort of will for such a people to become normal again. We lack the principal ingredient for national life. We lack the habit of labor… for it is labor which binds a people to its soil and to its national culture, which in its turn is an outgrowth of the people's toil and the people's labor. ... We, the Jews, were the first in history to say: "For all the nations shall go each in the name of its God" and "Nations shall not lift up sword against nation" - and then we proceed to cease being a nation ourselves.
As we now come to re-establish our path among the ways of living nations of the earth, we must make sure that we find the right path. We must create a new people, a human people whose attitude toward other peoples is informed with the sense of human brotherhood and whose attitude toward nature and all within it is inspired by noble urges of life-loving creativity. All the forces of our history, all the pain that has accumulated in our national soul, seem to impel us in that direction... we are engaged in a creative endeavor the like of which is itself not to be found in the whole history of mankind: the rebirth and rehabilitation of a people that has been uprooted and scattered to the winds... (A.D. Gordon, "Our Tasks Ahead" 1920)
Gordon perceived nature as an organic unity. He preferred organic bonds in society, like those of family, community and nation, over "mechanical" bonds, like those of state, party and class. Jews were cut off from their nation, living in Diaspora, they were cut off from direct contact with nature; they were cut off from the experience of sanctity, and the existential bond with the infinite. Gordon wrote:
[W]e are a parasitic people. We have no roots in the soil, there is no ground beneath our feet. And we are parasites not only in an economic sense, but in spirit, in thought, in poetry, in literature, and in our virtues, our ideals, our higher human aspirations. Every alien movement sweeps us along, every wind in the world carries us. We in ourselves are almost non-existent, so of course we are nothing in the eyes of other people either
More than just a theoretician, he insisted on putting this philosophy into practice, and refused to take any clerical position that was offered to him. He was an elderly intellectual of no great physical strength and with no experience doing manual labor, but he took up the hoe and worked in the fields, always focusing on the aesthetics of his work. He served as a model of the pioneering spirit, descending to the people and remaining with them no matter what the consequences were. He experienced the problems faced by the working class, suffering from malaria, poverty, and unemployment. But he did have admirers and followers who turned to him for advice and help.
Gordon had always been a principled individual—even as a young man he refused to allow his parents to pay the customary bribe so that he would be exempted from military service, arguing that if he did not serve, someone else would have to serve instead of him. In the end, he spent six months in the army, but was released when it was discovered that he was not in good enough physical shape. He later refused to accept payment for his articles or the classes he taught, citing the Mishnah that states "Do not turn the Torah into a source of income." At the same time, he did not lapse into dogmatism either. When Rachel Bluwstein (1890–1931), known as 'Rachel the Poetess', asked his opinion about whether she should go overseas to study, an idea that was anathema to most of the Zionist leadership, he encouraged her to do so. Gordon's moods alternated between enormous frustration and great hope for the future. He believed that an idealistic new generation of creative Jews would emerge in the Land of Israel, with a high sense of morals, a deep spiritual commitment, and a commitment to their fellow human beings. Toward the end of his life, however, he preferred to isolate himself in nature. From a letter he wrote to Rachel the Poetess, it seems that he grew more and more frustrated with people's petty squabbles and selfish interests.
Although formerly an Orthodox Jew, Gordon rejected religion later in his life. Students of his writings have found that Gordon was greatly influenced by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, as well as by the Hassidic movement and Kabbalah. Many have also found parallels between his ideas and those of his contemporary, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the spiritual father of Religious Zionism.
Central to Gordon's philosophy is the idea that the cosmos is a unity. This notion in which man and nature are one and all men are organic parts of the cosmos is reflected throughout his thought, including political issues, the role of women in the modern world, and Jewish attitude to the Arabs. He believed the central test for the reborn Jewish nation would be the attitude of the Jews to the Arabs. The Biblical principle regarding "the stranger that sojourns in thy midst" guided his thought on this matter. In his statutes for labor settlements, which he drew up in 1922, Gordon included a clause that said that land should be assigned to Arabs wherever new settlements were founded, to ensure their welfare. He believed that this principle of good neighborliness should be undertaken for moral reasons rather than tactical advantage, and that it would eventually lead to a spirit of universal human solidarity. A summary of his thinking on Jewish-Arab relations can be found in his work Mibachutz, where he wrote:
"Our relations to the Arabs must rest on cosmic foundations. Our attitude toward them must be one of humanity, of moral courage which remains on the highest plane, even if the behavior of the other side is not all that is desired. Indeed their hostility is all the more a reason for our humanity."
See Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._D._Gordon
And years again passed by and brought new disappointments. The beautiful dream vanished as a dream. Real life taught me the bitter reality. There is no lack of art, but there is a lack of bread and freedom. The unfettered mind of man has invented clever machines, and the machines and factories have turned man into an unthinking slave. The machine has estranged him from the beautiful world of Nature, it has torn him from his family and driven him from his home. It demands from the labourer neither thought nor understanding, but his flesh and blood. It has even robbed him of his last consolation, the pleasure of creation, for in the factory he never creates a complete article and often does not see how it looks when finished. He has only one task: to hurry after the machine with maddening speed, to drive it ever onward, and to be always on the guard that it does not tear his fingers away. The factory poisons the workman with its foul air, it petrifies his soul by its cold precision, it shortens his days by its cruel haste. The healthy type of workman of a former age, who thought over his work with love and with care, who gave to mankind objects of art, is now no more. Hence in modern manufacture there is no individual taste, because the workman has been robbed of it. The iron devil hammers away and whizzes along with maddening speed, and the workman who flits around it like one confused is animated by only one thought: when will the factory whistle give the signal that he may hasten away as quickly as possible from this inferno and its ministering demons? This is how life is lived in God’s beautiful world. The greatest and healthiest portion of humanity is crushed and crippled in body and soul.
And naturally the Jews suffer more than everybody else. Not because they comprise mostly artisans and labourers, but because the unfortunate Jew must suffer more than the unfortunate non-Jew, inasmuch as he is everywhere an unbidden guest, without a home of his own, and must pay for the hospitality he receives with the lives of the best of his children. He has a bill payable at a very distant date: when all men will become human. . . . But until that golden age, he will perish not merely as a people but even as a man.
And then I had a new dream. In the land of Israel, the land whither my grandfather went to die, and whence my good and pious mother obtained a handful of earth for her grave, our fellow-Jews are beginning once again to show a revival. The erst barren hills are covered again with plantations, the valleys are decked again with flowers; a new and healthy life is again awakening, a new life without any smoky chimneys above and grimy labourers below. The labourer is free — he creates only such things in which his intelligence and individual taste can find expression, things which assume ever new and more beautiful forms. The women are famous for the carpets, lace and embroideries which they make. The Palestinian faience, majolica, glass, carvings, and the beautiful copper and silver work enjoy a renown throughout the world. They have a specifically Jewish Palestinian style, which reflects the beauty of the Biblical age and the fantasy of the Orient.
Our workman in Palestine has become an ideal for his comrade in civilized Europe. He knows nothing of barrack-like dwellings, without light or air, in which the European workmen with their families pine away. He has his bright cottage in a green garden, and his secure employment in the cooperative society to which he belongs. He is not embittered by an eternal and fruitless hatred against a manufacturer and his assistants. He is his own master and comrade in the workshop, in which all work together like brothers. His family life is not afflicted by constant cheese-paring and by gnawing care for the morrow. He is insured against accidents and old age by his society. The education of his children is attended to by its schools, and the intellectual recreation of the workmen is provided for by the Beth Haam, where they hear lectures and concerts and witness dramatic performances. The ideal of the workman is work, knowledge and art. He represents the renaissance of his people, and offers a new ideal to all nations, as his ancestors once did in Palestine.
Among these workmen there is also a small number of aristocrats—not blue-blooded or purse-proud aristocrats, but the chosen ones of God, blessed with a God-like genius for art. They do not sell their gifts for empty honours or filthy lucre, and do not look down upon the people as creatures of a lower order. They are real children of their people which has brought them up and endowed them with a portion of its generous soul. They live for their people, help it in the fight for existence, and enrich its mind with ever new ideals.
There are a number of great artists among them. The Jews had always a gift for art, but in their dispersion they had maimed souls, and their talents could not develop naturally. The Jewish boy who studied among strangers had to suppress his inborn feelings and instincts and lose his own individual self. His creations always reflected alien sentiments, and thus we had more virtuosi than creative artists. But in the Jew who spends his best years, the time of schooling, in Palestine, in the land where every little stone tells him long-forgotten legends and where every hill awakens the memory of the former freedom of his people, where as an artist he draws the real Jewish types beneath the blue skies of his own land—in that Jew there awakens the slumbering spirit of the Jewish prophet of old.
The new generation of Jewish artists have brought modern technique to the aid of the ancient Jewish spirit, they have introduced a new note into the artistic world, and opened up a new epoch in Jewish history. All this has been accomplished by the school founded there, in which work and amity are united.
The Bezalel Institute, Written By: Prof. Boris Schatz