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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.

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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 HaKlali.

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.[citation needed]

From 1976 onward, his major activity was the translation into English of the recently translated (Ladino into Hebrew, 1967) anthology, Me'am Lo'ez.

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 extensive footnotes.

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 48.[2].


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."[3] This ability enabled him to undertake monumental projects, producing close to 50 books.[4] 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.[5] 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 (Judo-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)
  • "The Real Messiah? A Jewish Response to Missionaries"
  • 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.

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