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 an 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][8]

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.[9]) 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.[10] 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).


Rabbi Kaplan held rabbinic positions in many states. Below is a timeline:


In his earlier years, Rabbi Kaplan went by his secular name, Leonard (Len). His mother, Fannie Kaplan, died on December 31, 1947 when he was 13, leading him to grow up as a "street kid" in the Bronx, as he was expelled from public school after acting out. His family only had a small connection to Jewish practice, but he was encouraged to say Kaddish for his mother. On his first day at the minyan, Henoch Rosenberg, a 14-year Klausenburger chossid, realized that Len was out of place, as he was not wearing tefillin or opening a siddur and befriended him. The Rosenbergs learned the reason Len didn't use the siddur was because he couldn't read Hebrew and so decided to teach him how to read it.[11]

He ended up studying in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and eventually went to the Mir, in Jerusalem, where he received semicha (rabbinical ordination) from Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel.


In the late 1950s, Kaplan went to Louisville Kentucky, where he taught at Eliahu Academy and studied at University of Louisville, where he joined Sigma Pi Sigma, the Woodcock Society, and Phi Kappa Phi and eventually completed his Bachelor's degree in Physics in 1961.[6] While in Louisville, he met Tobie Goldstein, who he married on June 13, 1960 and had nine children with.[10]


After completing his Bachelor's degree, Kaplan moved to Hyattsville, Maryland, where he was in charge of magnetohydronamics research at the Fluid Mechanics Division of the National Bureau of Standards. During this time, he received a cooperative graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation[12] and US Air Force for his graduate work at the University of Maryland. [13] [14]


On February 19, 1965, Kaplan moved to Mason City, Iowa, where he became the Rabbi of Adas Israel. [15] [16]


On August 7, 1966, Kaplan became the Rabbi at B'nai Sholom, in Blountville, Tennessee, a position he held through 1967. [17] [18]


In 1967, Kaplan became the Rabbi at Adath Israel (now known as Adath Shalom), a Conservative synagogue in Dover, New Jersey. He kept this position through 1969.


Kaplan then moved to Albany, New York, where he became the Rabbi at Ohav Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Albany, New York. [19]

During this time, he also functioned as the president of the AJCC (Albany Jewish Community Center) and the Hillel Counselor to the B'nai B'rith Hillel Counselorship at University at Albany, SUNY [20] [21] [8] [22]


Kaplan then moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he lived until the end of his life. While there, he had many positions, many of which involved writing and editing religious publications:[8]

  • Chaplain at Hunter and Baruch colleges (New York), from 1971 to 1972,
  • Associate editor of Intercom, and Orthodox Jewish Scientists, from 1972 to 1973,
  • Editor of Jewish Life and publisher of Union Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America from 1973 to 1974, and
  • Director of publishing at the NCSY from 1974 to 1975


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] This ability enabled him to undertake monumental projects, producing over 60 books.[4] 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.[25]

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 2014-11-11. 
  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 2014-11-11. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan: Words to live by". New York Jewish Week. 21 September 2010. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  5. ^ "A Tribute To Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan". 1983. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  6. ^ a b "File:Aryeh Kaplan BS.JPG". University of Louisville. 
  7. ^ a b c "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan". June 14, 2006. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  8. ^ a b c "Who's Who in the East, 17th edition". 1979. ISBN 978-0837906171. 
  9. ^ "Collectible: Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Interview". History Preservation Project. Archived from the original on 18 April 2010. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  10. ^ a b "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, 48, Dies; Wrote Books on Jewish Topics". The New York Times. 1983-02-02. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  11. ^ Embracing a Street Kid, Seltzer, Nachman (June 21, 2010). One Small Deed Can Change the World. Shaar Press. p. 252-255. ISBN 9781422609897. 
  12. ^ National Science Foundation (1963). The Thirteenth Annual Report of the National Science Foundation (Report). p. 322. Retrieved 2014-11-11. "Kaplan, Leonard M., Hyattsville, Physics"
  13. ^ "They came from Maryland". "Mason City Globe Gazette" (Mason City, Iowa). April 3, 1965. p. 8. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  14. ^ "Physicist Is Rabbi For Area". "Kingsport Times" ("Kingsport, Tennessee"). July 22, 1966. p. 13. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  15. ^ "Rabbi arrives in Mason City". "Mason City Globe Gazette" (Mason City, Iowa). February 20, 1965. p. 26. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  16. ^ "Weekend worship in Mason City's churches". "Mason City Globe Gazette" ("Mason City, Iowa"). November 20, 1965. p. 5. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  17. ^ "B'nai Sholom To Have Installation, Reception". "Kingsport Times" ("Kingsport, Tennessee"). August 7, 1966. p. 21. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  18. ^ "CONGREGATION B'NAI SHOLOM RECORDS". East Tennessee State University, Archives of Appalachia. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  19. ^ Baruch Frydman-Kohl. "H-net Discussion Networks - Aryeh Kaplan". "Humanities & Social Sciences Online". Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  20. ^ "Project to Rediscover Jewish Values Launched by Students at State University of N.Y.". "Jewish Telegraphic Agency" ("Albany, New York"). July 7, 1970. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  21. ^ "Albany State U Administration Refuses to Close School for Passover; Students Vow Boycott". "Jewish Telegraphic Agency" ("Albany, New York"). April 17, 1970. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  22. ^ "File:Aryeh Kaplan's Citation of Service from the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundations.jpg". B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation. June 2, 1971. 
  23. ^ See for example R. Kaplan's note concerning "Azazel" (Lev 16:8).
  24. ^ "Recommended Reading List—6. Philosophy". Ohr Somayach Interactive. 1998. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  25. ^ "If You Were God?". Mesorah. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 

External links[edit]