RABBI ELIEZER GORDON (1841-1910)
CHIEF RABBI & ROSH YESHIVA OF TELZ - LITHUANIA
Rabbi Eliezer Gordon was born in 1841 in the Lithuanian village of Chernian, near Vilna. His father, Avrohom Shmuel Gordon, was a student of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin. As a youngster, he studied in the Zaretza Yeshiva in Vilna. From there, he transferred to the Yeshiva of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter in Kovno. Among the yeshiva's outstanding students at the time were Rabbi Yitzchok Blazer, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, Rabbi Naftali Amsterdam, Rabbi Yerucham Perlman and Rabbi Yaakov Joseph. Rabbi Salanter realized that Rabbi Gordon had great potential and appointed him a lecturer in his yeshiva at a young age. After his father-in-law's death, Rabbi Gordon succeeded the latter as Rabbi of Kovno - but he only stayed for three months. On Tuesday March 24th 1874, Rabbi Gordon took over the position of Chief Rabbi at Kelm, where he remained for nine years and founded a Yeshiva. From there, he headed to Slabodka, where he served as Rabbi for about six months. He finally relocated to Telz in 1884, to serve as Rabbi.
Telz: In 1875, Rabbis Meir Atlas, Zvi Yaakov Oppenheim and Shlomo Zalman Abel had founded the Telz Yeshiva. As Rabbi of the town, Rabbi Gordon was also appointed head of the fledgling institution. He instituted numerous innovative ideas in the yeshiva which have since become accepted as standard practice in many contemporary yeshivas. Hitherto, yeshivas grouped all their students into one general class. Rabbi Gordon, however, divided the yeshiva into various classes commensurate with a student's age and intellectual level. Rabbi Gordon also promoted a new approach to curriculum in the yeshiva, based primarily on logic and the understanding of the Talmud. While other yeshivas primarily analyzed the later commentaries on the Talmud, such as the Pnei Yehoshua, Maharsha and Maharam Schiff, Rabbi Gordon directed students to probe the earlier works of the Rishonim, such as Ramban, Rashba and Ritva. Nonetheless, he also included the works of certain Acharonim into the curriculum, such as the Ketzos Hachoshen, Nesivos Hamishpat and Rabbi Akiva Eiger's works. A student of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, Rabbi Gordon advocated the study of ethics in the yeshiva. Rabbi Gordon appointed a special teacher of ethics to supervise the students spiritual development and to shape their characters according to the approach of Rabbi Salanter. The Yeshiva's first mussar mashgiach was Rabbi Ben Zion Kranitz, a student of Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm. In 1897 Rabbi Gordon engaged a new mussar mashgiach - the dynamic Rabbi Leib Chasman, who instituted a very strict mussar regime in the yeshiva. Rabbi Gordon also felt that important to the success of the yeshiva was employing the highest standard of teachers. Under Rabbi Gordon's leadership, the yeshiva hired Rabbi Shimon Shkop, Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch and Rabbi Chaim Rabinowitz ("Reb Chaim Telzer"). Rabbi Gordon himself delivered the highest-level class.
As the son of one who studied under Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, and himself a student of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, Rabbi Gordon became a close friend and confidant of Rabbi Shmuel Salant and they corresponded regularly regarding the Rabbi Meir Baal Haneis Salant fund in Jerusalem.
His Death: In 1908, a fire broke out in Telz, destroying all of the wooden homes in the town, including the yeshiva. In 1910, Rabbi Gordon, who was nearly 70, traveled to Berlin and London along with his wife and younger friend Rabbi Aharon Walkin - the "Teshuvos Zekan Aharon" of Pinsk - to raise funds for rebuilding the homes and the yeshiva. It was winter, and Rabbi Gordon's doctors warned him that England's weather was dangerous to his heath, especially since he had suffered a heart attack a few years earlier. Nonetheless, Rabbi Gordon could not be deterred. While in London, Rabbi Gordon suffered a fatal heart attack. His funeral attracted one of the largest crowds London had ever seen; 50,000 mourners at its height. Dayan Shmuel Yitzchok Hillman of Glasgow and several leading European Rabbis, who happened to be in London at the time, such as Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein of Slabodka, Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky the Ridvaz of Slutzk, and Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim the Aderet, delivered tearful eulogies in Yiddish. Eulogies were also delivered in English by Dayan Moses Hyamson of the London Beth Din and Dr Moses Gaster, Haham of the Spanish and Portuguese community. Rabbi Gordon was buried in the Edmonton Federation Cemetery.
May the memory of Rabbi Eliezer Gordon be a blessing.