A.D. Gordon: The Religion of Labor

Zionist thinker who advocated a return to nature.

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Returning to Nature

Gordon's thought also had universal elements. He believed in the organic unity of the cosmos, of nature, and of all people. But human beings have "degraded and profaned the nature of the universe" by regarding nature as a commodity to be exploited. According to Gordon, capitalist exploitation also corrupts social relations, engendering indifference to human suffering and deprivation. The solution--the regeneration of universal nature--must therefore be achieved through the regeneration of individual human nature. But the required reorientation of human beings must itself be achieved by the immersion of human beings in nature. In his essay "Human-Nation" Gordon wrote:

"Man in his own narrow confines of life is like the worm burrowing within a bitter herb, ignorant of a better and greater world beyond his little restricted domain. A human being must broaden his horizons to include the larger life, the infinite world around him, the world with which he must maintain relations."

How is this "immersion" to be achieved? The answer relates to the apparent contradiction between the universal and the particular in Gordon's thought. For the Jews' immersion in nature and their reconnection to the oneness of the cosmos was to be achieved through manual labor in the Land of Israel.

The Conquest of Labor

In "People and Labor," Gordon wrote that, "the Jewish people has been completely cut off from nature and imprisoned within city walls these two thousand years...We lack the habit of labor--not labor performed out of external compulsion, but labor to which one is attached in a natural and organic way. This kind of labor binds a people to its soil and to its national culture."

The "conquest of labor" was a central plank in the platform of all varieties of socialist Zionism, as a means toward the creation of an economically self-sufficient, egalitarian Jewish society. But instead of socialism, Gordon was influenced by the romantic attitude to the land associated with Tolstoy and the Russian Narodnik movement. As such, his focus was not primarily economic, but spiritual. Gordon believed that Diaspora existence had crippled the Jewish people, cutting it off from its essential source of sustenance, and forcing it to survive through the dried up resources of history and religion. The revival of the Jewish people demanded the reestablishment of the bond between the Jews and their land. Employing vivid biological metaphors, Gordon wrote in "Our Tasks Ahead":

"We come to our Homeland in order to be planted in our natural soil from which we have been uprooted, to strike our roots deep into its life-giving substances, and to stretch out our branches in the sustaining and creating air and sunlight of the Homeland...Here, in Palestine, is the force attracting all the scattered cells of the people to unite into one living national organism."

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Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.