Aryeh Kaplan

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Aryeh Kaplan
Pinchas Stolper, “Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”l: An Appreciation,” Ten Da’at, vol. 1, no. 2 (Spring 1987): 8-9
Leonard Martin Kaplan

October 23, 1934
Bronx, NY
DiedJanuary 28, 1983(1983-01-28) (aged 48)
Brooklyn, NY
Alma materUniversity of Louisville, University of Maryland
ProfessionRabbi, Writer, Physicist
Jewish leader
ProfessionRabbi, Writer, Physicist
SynagogueAdas Israel, B'nai Sholom, Adath Israel, Ohav Shalom
Yahrtzeit14 Shevat (next occurs on January 24, 2024)
BuriedMount of Olives, Israel
ResidenceBrooklyn, NY
SemikhahRabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem

Aryeh Moshe Eliyahu Kaplan (Hebrew: אריה משה אליהו קפלן; October 23, 1934 – January 28, 1983)[1][2] was an American Orthodox rabbi, author, and translator best known for his Living Torah edition of the Torah and extensive Kabbalistic commentaries. He became well-known as a prolific writer and was lauded as an original thinker. His wide-ranging literary output, inclusive of introductory pamphlets on Jewish beliefs, and philosophy written at the request of NCSY are often regarded as significant factors in the growth of the baal teshuva movement.[3][4][5]

Early life[edit]

Aryeh Kaplan was born in the Bronx, New York City, to Samuel[6] and Fannie[7] (née Lackman) Kaplan[8][9] of the Sefardi Recanati family from Salonika, Greece.[2] His mother died on December 31, 1947, when he was 13, and his two younger sisters, Sandra and Barbara, were sent to a foster home. Kaplan was expelled from public school after acting out, leading him to grow up as a "street kid" in the Bronx.[10]

Kaplan did not grow up religious, and was known as "Len". His family had only a slight 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-old Klausenburger Hosid, realized that Len was out of place—he was not wearing tefillin or opening a siddur—and befriended him. Henoch Rosenberg and his siblings taught Kaplan Hebrew, and within a few days, Kaplan was learning Chumash.[10]

When he was 15, Kaplan enrolled at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, and at age 18 (from January 1953 until June 1953) was among "a small cadre of talmidim" selected to help Rabbi Simcha Wasserman open Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon, a new yeshiva in Los Angeles.[11]

In January 1956, Kaplan went to Israel to study at the Mir in Jerusalem. That year, he received semikhah (ordination) from some of Israel's foremost poseks, including Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog and Eliezer Yehuda Finkel.[12]

Secular career[edit]

Upon returning from Israel in August of 1956, Kaplan became a Hebrew teacher first in Richmond, Virginia and then in the Bronx, before moving to Louisville, Kentucky.[13] In Louisville, he taught at Eliahu Academy [14] and beginning in the 1957 fall semester 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 on June 11, 1961.[15] While in Louisville, he met Tobie Goldstein, whom he married on June 13, 1961, and with whom he had nine children.[9][16]

Kaplan is mentioned in Igros Moshe: he asked of and received a response from Moshe Feinstein regarding the matter of permitting/enabling a youth minyan to which parents would drive children on Shabbos.[17]

Kaplan then moved to Hyattsville, Maryland, in 1961 to study physics at the University of Maryland and begin his first professional position as a research scientist at the National Bureau of Standards's Fluid Mechanics Division, where he was in charge of magnetohydrodynamics research. Kaplan earned his M.S. degree in physics from University of Maryland in 1963.[9] After graduating, Kaplan remained at University of Maryland as a National Science Foundation fellow[18] through the fall semester of 1964.[19][20][9]

Rabbinic career[edit]

In 1965, Kaplan switched careers and began practicing as a rabbi. In Encounters, Kaplan wrote that when asked why he switched from his scientific career to the rabbinate, he said "God had a mission for me".[21] His career here divides between pulpit roles initially, and other roles thereafter when based in Brooklyn, New York.

Pulpit roles[edit]


In 1971 Kaplan moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he lived until the end of his life (1983) .[9] Kaplan did not hold any positions there as a pulpit rabbi, but had many other roles which involved, chiefly, writing and editing religious publications:[9]

In the 1970s, Kaplan served in the unofficial capacity of the spiritual advisor for NCSY's Brooklyn region. He would converse with teenagers and answer their questions, whether in his home or at drawn-out NCSY conventions where "Aryeh Kaplan was the last adult standing."[3]

He would also deliver lectures at his home in Kensington, which many locals would regularly attend.[3]

He also served as the rabbinic consultant for the play "Yentl", after the director met him on the Staten Island Ferry. When asked about his association with a play containing nudity and a woman dressed as a man, Kaplan was quoted to have said "It is an abomination, but so what?"[32]


Kaplan was involved with NCSY as an author, speaker, and spiritual mentor.

Pinchas Stolper's wrote in his introduction to The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology how he "discovered" Kaplan:[2]

I first encountered this extraordinary individual when by chance I spotted his article on "Immortality in the Soul" in "Intercom," the journal of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, and was taken by his unusual ability to explain a difficult topic - one usually reserved for advanced scholars, a topic almost untouched previously in English - with such simplicity that it could be understood by any intelligent reader. It was clear to me that his special talent could fill a significant void in English Judaica. I always counted as one of my greatest z'chusim (a spiritual merit granted by God) to have had the privilege of "discovering" Rabbi Kaplan. And once we met, we became lifelong friends. When I invited Rabbi Kaplan to write on the concept of Tefillin for the Orthodox Union's National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), he completed the 96-page manuscript of God, Man and Tefillin with sources and footnotes from the Talmud, Midrash and Zohar - in less than 2 weeks. The book - masterful, comprehensive, inspiring yet simple - set a pattern which was to characterize all of his succeeding works.

Literary output[edit]

Kaplan produced works on topics as varied as prayer, Jewish marriage and meditation. His writing incorporated ideas from across the spectrum of Rabbinic literature, Kabbalah,[33] and Hasidut, all without ignoring science.[34][35][36] The concise and detail-orientated character of his works have been described as reflective of his physicist training.[37] 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."[38]

From 1976 onward, Kaplan worked to translate Me'am Lo'ez (Torah Anthology), which was originally written in Ladino and in time edited for Hebrew (1967). Kaplan was described as working with his typewriter, "the Me’am Loez in Ladino on one side of him and the Hebrew version on the other side, and he'd look from one to the other and back again, comparing and contrasting and typing away furiously the entire time."[3] Shortly before his death, he completed The Living Torah, an original translation of the Five Books of Moses and the Haftarot.

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."[citation needed]


Monument of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

Kaplan died at his home of a heart attack on January 28, 1983, at the age of 48.[16] He was buried in Jerusalem's Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery.[39]


Kaplan's Living Torah was posthumously followed by a work written by others for the rest of the Bible, The Living Nach (published in 3 volumes in the 1990s).

His works continue to be read, and his extensive references are used as a resource.[40]

His works have been translated into Czech, French, Hungarian, Modern Hebrew, Portuguese, Russian, German and Spanish.

In 2021, NCSY republished Kaplan's works.[41]

The Aryeh Kaplan Academy day school in Louisville, Kentucky, is named in honor of Kaplan.[42]


Religious works[edit]

  • The Living Torah, Rabbi Kaplan's best-known work, is a translation into English of the Torah, and one of the first to be structured around the parshiyot (the traditional division of the Torah text). It includes maps and diagrams, and incorporated research on realia, flora, fauna, and geography (here, drawing on sources as varied as Josephus, Dio Cassius, Philostratus and Herodotus). The work features frequent footnotes, which also indicate differences in interpretation amongst the commentators, classic and modern.[43] Rabbi Kaplan called this book his 10th child, since it took him exactly nine months to complete.[3] (Moznaim, 1981, ISBN 0-940118-35-1)
  • "The Handbook of Jewish Thought," produced early in his career, is a wide-ranging treatment of Judaism's fundamental beliefs[44] in two volumes, the first of which was published in Kaplan's lifetime.[45] A chapter titled "Creation,"[46] in which Rabbi Kaplan "presents evolution as part of the basic tenets of Judaism,"[47] was omitted from publication.[48]
  • "Torah Anthology," a 45-volume translation of Me'am Lo'ez from Ladino (Judæo-Spanish) into English. Rabbi Kaplan was the primary translator.
  • "Made in Heaven: A Jewish Wedding Guide" (Moznaim, ISBN 978-0940118119)
  • "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 and various religious practices. Published by the Orthodox Union/NCSY[38] 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)
  • "The Real Messiah? A Jewish Response to Missionaries" at the Wayback Machine (archived May 29, 2008).
  • Sichot HaRan ("Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom"), edited by Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld who had requested Kaplan translate this.[49] Kaplan also translated and annotated Until the Mashiach: The Life of Rabbi Nachman, a day-to-day account of Rebbe Nachman's life, for the Breslov Research Institute. In conjunction with Rosenfeld, Kaplan translated and annotated Rabbi Nachman's Tikkun (based on the Tikkun HaKlali).
  • Kaplan translated and annotated classic works on Jewish mysticismSefer Yetzirah, Bahir, and Derekh Hashem — as well as produced much original work on the subject in English. His Moreh Ohr, a Hebrew-language work, discusses the purpose of Creation, tzimtzum and free will from a kabbalistic point of view.
  • "If You Were God," his final work, was published posthumously in 1983. It encourages the reader to ponder topics concerning the nature of being and Divine providence.[50]

Release dates[edit]

Title Release Date
The Living Torah June 1, 1981
The Handbook of Jewish Thought [Volume 1] 1979
The Handbook of Jewish Thought – Volume 2 1992
Torah Anthology (Me'am Lo'ez Series) June 1, 1984
Made in Heaven: A Jewish Wedding Guide June 1, 1983
Tefillin 1975
Love Means Reaching Out 1977
The Real Messiah? A Jewish Response to Missionaries June 1, 1973
If You Were God 1983
Meditation and Kabbalah Jan 15, 1986
Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide 1985
Meditation and the Bible June 1, 1978
Innerspace: Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation and Prophecy June 1, 1991
Waters of Eden: The Mystery of the Mikvah 1976
Sabbath: Day of Eternity 1976
The Aryeh Kaplan Reader: The Gift He Left Behind : Collected Essays on Jewish Themes from the Noted Writer and Thinker June 1, 1986
Tzitzith: A Thread of Light 1993
Jerusalem, Eye of the Universe 1976
The Infinite Light 1981
Until the Mashiach: The Life of Rabbi Nachman May 6, 1985
The Light Beyond: Adventures in Hassidic Thought June 1, 1981
A Call to the Infinite Dec 1, 1986
Faces and Facets Jan 1, 1993
Rabbi Nachman's Stories Apr 1, 1985
Encounters Jun 1, 1990
Maimonides' Principles 1984
Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation March 15, 2004
The Bahir September 1, 1990
Chasidic Masters 1991

Academic papers[edit]

While a graduate student at the University of Maryland, Rabbi Kaplan published two academic papers:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's gravesite". Archived from the original on 2015-01-09. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  2. ^ a b c 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. ISBN 0-89906-173-7.
  3. ^ a b c d e Kobre, Eytan (January 25, 2022). "A Living Torah". Mishpacha (896). Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  4. ^ "A Tribute To Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan". 1983. Archived from the original on 2011-02-04. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  5. ^ "AN APPRECIATION OF RABBI ARYEH KAPLAN + VIDEO". 13 May 2014. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  6. ^ Shmuel, on monument
  7. ^ Feiga, on monument
  8. ^ Sixteenth Census of the United States, United States census, 1940; Assembly District 5, Bronx, New York City, Bronx, NY; roll T627 2476, page 10B, line 47. Retrieved on 2015-05-20.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Who's Who in the East, 17th edition. Marquis Who'sWho. 1979. ISBN 978-0837906171.
  10. ^ a b Embracing a Street Kid, Seltzer, Nachman (June 21, 2010). One Small Deed Can Change the World. Shaar Press. pp. 252–255. ISBN 9781422609897.
  11. ^ "Rav Mendel Weinbach" (PDF). p. 13. In 1952, Rabbi Simcha Wasserman .. to found a yeshivah in Los Angeles.. asked Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr .. Torah vodaath, to give him a small cadre of talmidim. .. Nisson Wolpin, Meier Weinberg, and Aryeh Kaplan
  12. ^ "File:Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's Semicha from Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel.jpg". Mir Yeshiva (Jerusalem). June 28, 1956.
  13. ^ a b "Rabbi starts service in Mason City". Mason City Globe Gazette. Mason City, Iowa. February 27, 1965. p. 4. Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  14. ^ See this article for the school's history
  15. ^ "File:Aryeh Kaplan BS.JPG". University of Louisville. 23 August 2012.
  16. ^ a b "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, 48, Dies; Wrote Books on Jewish Topics". The New York Times. 1983-02-02. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  17. ^ Answer: definitely not, but R'Moshe suggests speaking to youngsters, one at a time/in private, so that those few who walk can have positive influence on the rest.
  18. ^ National Science Foundation (1963). The Thirteenth Annual Report of the National Science Foundation (PDF) (Report). p. 322. Retrieved 2014-11-11. Kaplan, Leonard M., Hyattsville, Physics
  19. ^ "They came from Maryland". Mason City Globe Gazette. Mason City, Iowa. April 3, 1965. p. 8. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  20. ^ "Physicist Is Rabbi For Area". Kingsport Times. Kingsport, Tennessee. July 22, 1966. p. 13. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  21. ^ Kaplan, Aryeh (1990). Encounters. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Moznaim. ISBN 9780940118577.
  22. ^ "Rabbi arrives in Mason City". Mason City Globe Gazette. Mason City, Iowa. February 20, 1965. p. 26. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  23. ^ "Weekend worship in Mason City's churches". Mason City Globe Gazette. Mason City, Iowa. November 20, 1965. p. 5. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  24. ^ "Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities - Bristol/Johnson City/Kingsport, Tennessee". Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
  25. ^ "B'nai Sholom To Have Installation, Reception". Kingsport Times. Kingsport, Tennessee. August 7, 1966. p. 21. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  26. ^ "CONGREGATION B'NAI SHOLOM RECORDS". East Tennessee State University, Archives of Appalachia. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  27. ^ Baruch Frydman-Kohl. "H-net Discussion Networks - Aryeh Kaplan". Humanities & Social Sciences Online. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  28. ^ "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.
  29. ^ "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.
  30. ^ "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.
  31. ^ "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Dead at 48". February 2, 1983.
  32. ^ Hadda, Janet (2003-03-24). Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 191. ISBN 978-0299186944.
  33. ^ Ari Z. Zivotofsky (Fall 2016). "What's the Truth About . . . the Age to Study Kabbalah". Jewish Action (OU). One of America's greatest experts on kabbalah was Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1934-1983). And while he lived past age forty, it was not by much. He clearly had begun studying kabbalah before the age of forty.
  34. ^ "The Age of the Universe: A Torah-True Perspective by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan" (PDF).
  35. ^ "as long as we keep a firm grounding in our seforim ha-kadoshim and our sacred texts, there are really no conflicts."
  36. ^ Kahn, Rabbi Ari (2005-01-27). "Age of the Universe". Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  37. ^ "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan: Words to live by". New York Jewish Week. 21 September 2010. Archived from the original on 2014-10-28. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  38. ^ a b "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan". June 14, 2006. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  39. ^ "כרטיס נפטר:הרב אריה משה אליהו קפלן". Retrieved 2022-09-21.
  40. ^ "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan - Words to live by". Jewish Week. September 21, 2010.
  41. ^ "The Legacy of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt"l".
  42. ^ "Changing Places: Scouting a variety of out-of-town relocation options at OU Jewish Communities Fair offers a lesson in choosing" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-09-06.
  43. ^ See for example R. Kaplan's note Archived 2012-06-12 at the Wayback Machine concerning "Azazel" (Lev 16:8) and his note Archived 2015-02-15 at the Wayback Machine concerning the 4th plague עָרוֹב. (Ex. 8:17)
  44. ^ "Recommended Reading List—6. Philosophy". Ohr Somayach Interactive. 1998. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  45. ^ This initial volume was retroactively referred to as Volume 1 following the posthumous publication of Volume 2.
  46. ^ Made available online by Brill, Alan.
  47. ^ Brill, Alan in Aryeh Kaplan on Evolution- A Missing Chapter of The Handbook of Jewish Thought (October 2019). In this chapter, annotated by an editor to be of questionable propriety, Rabbi Kaplan argues that "there is overwhelming evidence from astronomy, geology, radioactive dating, and fossils, that this initial creation took place billions of years ago" (first page, 15:5 [see source for citation's endnotes, omitted from above quotation]). He acknowledges that there are those who would reject the scientific evidence, but asserts that it's an "inconceivable" argument that God would mislead mankind in presenting a creation older than its true age (ibid.).
  48. ^ The second volume, posthumously published, references Kaplan's "1967-1969 manuscript that consisted of 40 chapters," 13 of which were "published in 1979 as the Handbook of Jewish Thought;" and that of the remaining chapters (which were clearly "set aside with the thought of eventually preparing them for publication"), only 25 are printed in Volume 2. This "indicates that 2 chapters of the original 40 were suppressed" (Brill, Alan in Aryeh Kaplan on Evolution- A Missing Chapter of The Handbook of Jewish Thought).
  49. ^ Gelbach, Sharon (November 14, 2018). "Like His Own Children". Mishpacha (735). Retrieved January 31, 2021.
  50. ^ "If You Were God?". Mesorah. Archived from the original on 2014-11-11. Retrieved 2014-11-11.

External links[edit]