|Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1934-1983) was a
noted American Orthodox rabbi and author with a background in both
physics and Judaism. He was lauded as an original thinker and prolific
writer, from studies of the Torah, Talmud and Kabbalah to introductory
pamphlets on Jewish beliefs and philosophy aimed at non-religious and
newly religious Jews. His works are often regarded as a significant
factor in the growth of the baal teshuva movement.
Rabbi Kaplan was born in the Bronx, New York City, to the Sefardi
Recanati family of Salonika, Greece. He studied at the Torah Voda'as
and Mir yeshivas in Brooklyn.
His major influence was Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld (1922-1978), who was
singlehandedly responsible for the revival of Breslov Hasidut among
students at Brooklyn yeshivas, especially Torah Voda'as. Working
together, Kaplan and Rosenfeld translated Rebbe Nachman's Tikkun
Rabbi Kaplan received semicha from some of Israel's foremost rabbinic
authorities, including Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Finkel. After his
rabbinic ordination, he earned a master's degree in physics. As a
graduate student, Kaplan was described in a scientific "Who's Who" as
a promising young American physicist.
From 1976 onward, his major activity was the translation into English
of the recently translated (Ladino into Hebrew, 1967) anthology, Me'am
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." Kaplan's works continue to
attract a wide readership, and are read and studied by both novices
and the newly religious, as well as by scholars who appreciate his
His works have been translated into Czech, French, Hungarian, Modern
Hebrew, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
He died suddenly of a heart attack on January 28, 1983, at the age of
Rabbi Kaplan produced works on topics as varied as prayer, Jewish
marriage and meditation. 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."
This ability enabled him to undertake monumental projects, producing
close to 50 books. His introductory and background material contain
much scholarly and original research.
- "The Living Torah", Rabbi Kaplan's best-known
work, is a widely used, scholarly (and user friendly) translation
into English of the Torah. It is noteworthy for its detailed index,
thorough cross-references, extensive footnotes with maps and
diagrams, and research on realia, flora, fauna, and geography. The
footnotes also indicate differences in interpretation between the
classic commentators. It was one of the first translations
structured around the parshiyot, the traditional division of the
Torah text. (Moznaim, 1981, ISBN 0-940118-35-1)
- "Handbook of Jewish Thought," an encyclopedic and
systematic treatment of Judaism's fundamental beliefs which Rabbi
Kaplan produced early in his career. Because of the work's
structure and detail, the references, with the index, can serve as a
research resource across almost all of rabbinic literature. (Moznaim,
Vol. 1, 1979, ISBN 0-940118-49-1; Vol. 2, 1992, ISBN 0-940118-79-3)
- "Torah Anthology," the English translation of the
45-volume 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 or as an anthology by Artscroll, 1991, ISBN
- 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
- Rabbi Kaplan's writings used the (Orthodox) form
"G-d" rather than spelling out the name "God."
Rabbi Kaplan also translated and annotated classic
works on Jewish mysticism — "Sefer 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.
He also wrote three books on Jewish meditation and wrote and
translated works related to Hasidic Judaism and the teachings of Rabbi
Nachman of Breslov.