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Palestine Marks Centenary of Yehuda Leib Gordon

The entire Hebrew press of Palestine is devoting special articles to the centenary of the birth of Yehuda Leib Gordon. All the Hebrew papers here are publishing Chaim Bialik’s lamentation over the death of Gordon, which is not included in his collected works.

Gordon was born in Vilna in 1831 and died in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) in 1892. Graduating in 1853 from the rabbinical seminary of Vilna, Gordon later became a teacher of Hebrew in the government schools, in which profession he was engaged for about twenty years. During this time the struggle between the younger Jewish generation, or “Maskilim”, and the older, or the conservatives, was raging. Gordon satirized the conservatives in articles in different Hebrew and Russian periodicals, and the older generation in its turn accused him of heresy.

In 1872 Gordon came to St. Petersburg where he became secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia, and secretary of the Jewish Kehillah. His communal work caused Gordon great trouble, owing to a quarrel between the Chasidim and Misnagdim about the nomination of a rabbi for St. Petersburg, as a result of which the Chasidim denounced him to the government as a political criminal, and in 1879. when an attempt was made on the life of Czar Alexander II, Gordon was accused of having participated in the affair and he, his wife and children were thrown into prison where they remained forty days.

Later they were exiled to a small town in the province of Olonetz. The innocence of Gordon was however quickly proved and he was allowed to return to St. Petersburg, though he lost his position. Together with Zederbaum he then became co-editor of “Ha-Meliz”, which post he occupied until 1888. The title of “Honorary Citizen” was conferred on him by the Russian government for the services he had rendered through his propagation of science among the Jews.

Gordon was the leading Hebrew poet of his time and was also an unrivalled prose writer and satirist. He employed his satirical talent not only in attacking Jewish fanaticism, but also in defending the Jews against their enemies. He was regarded as an assimilationist in his day, but later on Jewish nationalists began to regard him as the forerunner of Zionism, because of his dissatisfaction with the ghetto.

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