Aryeh Kaplan

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For the comic-book writer, see Arie Kaplan.

Aryeh Moshe Eliyahu Kaplan[1] (Hebrew: אריה משה אליהו קפלן‎; 23 October 1934 – 28 January 1983)[2] was a noted American Orthodox rabbi and author known for his "intimate knowledge of both physics and kabbalah".[3] He was lauded as an original thinker and prolific writer, from studies of the Torah, Talmud and mysticism to introductory pamphlets on Jewish beliefs and philosophy aimed at non-religious and newly religious Jews.[4] His works are often regarded as a significant factor in the growth of the baal teshuva movement.[5]


Kaplan was born in the Bronx, New York City, to the Sefardi Recanati family of Salonika, Greece. He studied at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and the Mir yeshiva in Brooklyn. Kaplan received semicha from some of Israel's foremost rabbinic authorities, including Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel. He earned his bachelor's degree in physics - with highest honors - at the University of Louisville in 1961[6] and a master's degree in physics at the University of Maryland in 1963. He was listed in the 17th edition (1979) of "Who's Who in the East" in the United States.[7]

His major influence was Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld (1922–1978), who single-handedly introduced the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov to American shores beginning in the 1950s, inspiring many students at Brooklyn yeshivas, especially Torah Vodaas. Working together, Kaplan and Rosenfeld translated and annotated Rabbi Nachman's Tikkun (based on the Tikkun HaKlali). At Rosenfeld's suggestion, Kaplan also produced the first-ever English translation of Sichot HaRan ("Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom"), which Rosenfeld edited. He also translated and annotated Until the Mashiach: The Life of Rabbi Nachman, a day-to-day account of Rebbe Nachman's life, for the newly established Breslov Research Institute founded by Rosenfeld's son-in-law, Chaim Kramer. Kaplan's later writings further explored Hasidut, Kabbalah and Jewish meditation. (Kaplan himself utilized the meditative form of Kabbalah on a daily basis.[8]) From 1976 onward, Kaplan's major activity was the translation into English of the recently translated (Ladino into Hebrew, 1967) anthology, Me'am Lo'ez. He also completed The Living Torah, a new translation of the Five Books of Moses and the Haftarot, shortly before his death.

Kaplan was described by Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, his original sponsor, as never fearing to speak his mind. "He saw harmony between science and Judaism, where many others saw otherwise. He put forward creative and original ideas and hypotheses, all the time anchoring them in classical works of rabbinic literature." His works reflect his physicist training—concise, systematic, and detail-oriented.[4] His works continue to attract a wide readership, and are studied by both novices and the newly religious, as well as by scholars where the extensive footnotes provide a unique resource.

He died suddenly of a heart attack on January 28, 1983, at the age of 48.[9] He was buried on the Mount of Olives, in Jerusalem, Israel, off Aweiss street, in the part known as "Agudas Achim Anshei America" "Chelek Alef" (Portion 1).


Kaplan produced works on topics as varied as prayer, Jewish marriage and meditation; his writing was also remarkable in that it seamlessly incorporated ideas from across the spectrum of Rabbinic literature, including Kabbalah and Hasidut. His introductory and background material contain much scholarly and original research. In researching his books, Kaplan once remarked: "I use my physics background to analyze and systematize data, very much as a physicist would deal with physical reality."[7] This ability enabled him to undertake monumental projects, producing over 60 books.[4] His works have been translated into Czech, French, Hungarian, Modern Hebrew, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

  • "Torah Anthology," a 45-volume translation of Me'am Lo'ez from Ladino (Judæo-Spanish) into English. Rabbi Kaplan was the primary translator.
  • "Tefillin: God, Man and Tefillin"; "Love Means Reaching Out"; "Maimonides' Principles"; "The Fundamentals of Jewish Faith"; "The Waters of Eden: The Mystery of the Mikvah"; "Jerusalem: Eye of the Universe" — a series of highly popular and influential booklets on aspects of Jewish philosophy which span the entire spectrum of Jewish thought, as well as various religious practices. Published by the Orthodox Union/NCSY[7] or as an anthology by Artscroll, 1991, ISBN 1-57819-468-7.
  • Five booklets of the Young Israel Intercollegiate Hashkafa Series — "Belief in God"; "Free Will and the Purpose of Creation"; "The Jew"; "Love and the Commandments"; and "The Structure of Jewish Law" launched his writing career. He was also a frequent contributor to The Jewish Observer. (These articles have been published as a collection: Artscroll, 1986, ISBN 0-89906-173-7)
  • "If You Were God," his final work, published posthumously in 1983. Moving beyond superficiality the slender book encourages the reader to ponder topics concerning the nature of being and divine providence.[12]

He wrote three well-known books on Jewish meditation. These works revive and reconstruct ancient Jewish practices and vocabulary relating to meditation. He also wrote and translated several works related to Hasidic Judaism in general and to the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in particular.

Academic papers[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's gravesite". Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  2. ^ Kaplan, Aryeh (1983). The Aryeh Kaplan Reader: The gift he left behind: Collected essays on Jewish themes from the noted writer and thinker. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah Publications, Ltd. p. 13. ISBN 0-89906-173-7. 
  3. ^ Kahn, Rabbi Ari (2005-01-27). "Age of the Universe". Retrieved 2010-04-19. 
  4. ^ a b c "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan: Words to live by". New York Jewish Week. 21 September 2010. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  5. ^ "A Tribute To Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan". 1983. Retrieved 2010-04-19. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c "Great Leaders of our People: Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1934-1983)". Retrieved 2010-04-19. 
  8. ^ "Collectible: Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Interview". History Preservation Project. Archived from the original on 18 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-19. 
  9. ^ "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, 48, Dies; Wrote Books on Jewish Topics". The New York Times. 1983-02-02. Retrieved 2010-04-17. 
  10. ^ See for example R. Kaplan's note concerning "Azazel" (Lev 16:8).
  11. ^ "Recommended Reading List—6. Philosophy". Ohr Somayach Interactive. 1998. 
  12. ^

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