Rabbi Gordon was born in 1841 in the village of Chernyany (or Čarniany), Belarus, 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, later transferring to the Yeshiva of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter at the Kovno kollel yeshiva in Kovno. Concurrent outstanding fellow students included Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, Rabbi Naftali Amsterdam, Rabbi Yerucham Perlman and Rabbi Jacob Joseph.
Rabbi Salanter realized that Rabbi Gordon had great potential and appointed him as a maggid shiur in the 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, 24 March (6th Nissan) 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.
In 1883 Rabbi Gordon became the Rav of Telz; in 1884 he was also appointed head of the fledgling institution.
Rabbi Gordon 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 shiur (class). Rabbi Gordon, however, divided the yeshiva into different shiurim 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.
- As a student of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, Rabbi Gordon favored the study of musar (ethical) literature in the yeshiva, however not as mandatory study for all students. Rabbi Gordon appointed a special teacher of ethics (mashgiach) to supervise the students spiritual development and to shape their characters. The yeshiva's first musar mashgiach was Rabbi Ben Zion Kranitz, a student of Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv of Kelm. Rabbi Kranitz was very mild mannered, and did not force his students to accept the musar movement approach. In 1897, however, Rabbi Gordon engaged a new musar mashgiach - the dynamic Rabbi Leib Chasman, who instituted a very strict musar regime in the yeshiva. Many of the students opposed this approach, which caused so much dissent among the student body that he eventually left 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 tried, unsuccessfully to hire Rabbi Yitzchok Yaakov Rabinowitz ("Reb Itzele Ponovezher") to teach at the yeshiva. Rabbi Gordon himself delivered the highest-level shiur.
As Rav, he instituted some rules, including that Matzah bakeries must close by 11 p.m. Publicly he said it was for Kashrus, that the workers not exceed the 18 minutes from adding water, but privately he conceded that it was to prevent exploitation of workers.
His son-in-law Rav Zalman Sorotzkin helped in his monitoring of honest weights and measures.
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 health, especially since he had suffered a heart attack a few years earlier. Nonetheless, Rabbi Gordon could not be deterred.
Dayan Shmuel Yitzchok Hillman of Glasgow and several leading European Rabbis (who were 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.
His sefer Teshuvos Rabbi Eliezer was published posthumously (Pietrokov, 5673/1913).
- "Rav Eliezer Gordon zt"l, Rosh Yeshivas Telshe, On His 100th Yahrtzeit, Today, 4 Adar". February 18, 2010.
- "Rabbi Eliezer Gordon (1841-1910)".
- Shaul Stampfer. "Telz, Yeshiva of". YIVOencyclopedia.org.
- "Edmonton Federation Cemetery: London".
- Avrohom Birnbaum (July 20, 2011). "70 years since".
- "In honor of his yahrtzeit, 4 Adar, 5670". chareidi.org.