Aryeh Kaplan

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 known for his knowledge of physics and Kabbalah.[3][4] He was lauded as an original thinker and prolific writer and is most well known for his translations of the Torah, writings on Kabbalah, and introductory pamphlets on Jewish beliefs and philosophy.[5] His works are often regarded as a significant factor in the growth of the baal teshuva movement.[6][7]


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 February 5, 2023)
BuriedMount of Olives, Israel
ResidenceBrooklyn, NY
SemichaRabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem

Early lifeEdit

Aryeh Kaplan was born in the Bronx, New York City to Samuel[8] and Fannie[9] (Lackman) Kaplan[10][11] of the Sefardi Recanati family from Salonika, Greece.[2] His mother, Fannie Kaplan, 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.

Kaplan did not grow up religious and was known as "Len". 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 Chassid, realized that Len was out of place, as 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.[12]

When he was 15, Kaplan enrolled at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, and at age 18 was among "a small cadre of talmidim" selected to help Rabbi Simcha Wasserman open Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon, a new yeshiva in Los Angeles.[13]

Kaplan then studied at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem in Israel, where he received semikhah from some of Israel's foremost rabbinic authorities, including Yoreh Yoreh from Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog and Yadin Yadin from Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel in 1956.[14]

Prior to Kaplan's Mir rabbinical ordination he asked of and received a response (Igros Moshe) regarding the matter of permitting/enabling a youth minyan to which parents would drive children.[15]

Secular careerEdit

Upon returning from Israel in the late 1950s, Kaplan taught in Richmond, Virginia, and the Bronx before moving to Louisville, Kentucky.[16] In Louisville, 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.[17] While in Louisville, he met Tobie Goldstein, whom he married on June 13, 1961, and with whom he had nine children.[11][18]

Kaplan then moved to Hyattsville, Maryland, 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.[11] After graduating, Kaplan remained at University of Maryland as a National Science Foundation fellow[19] through the fall semester of 1964.[20][21][11]

Rabbinic careerEdit

In 1965, Kaplan switched careers and began practicing as a rabbi. According to a February 1965 article, "Because of his teaching and study since ordination, this is Rabbi Kaplan's first pulpit."[16]

Adas Israel (1965–1966)Edit

On February 19, 1965, Kaplan moved to Mason City, Iowa, where he became the Rabbi of Adas Israel.[22][23]

B'nai Sholom (1966–1967)Edit

On August 7, 1966, Kaplan became the Rabbi at B'nai Sholom, a Conservative synagogue[24] in Blountville, Tennessee. He held the position through 1967.[25][26]

Adath Israel (1967–1969)Edit

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.[11]

Ohav Shalom (1969–1971)Edit

Kaplan then moved to Albany, New York, where he became the Rabbi at Ohav Shalom, a Conservative synagogue.[27] 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.[11][28][29][30]

Brooklyn (1971–1983)Edit

In 1971 Kaplan moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he lived until the end of his life.[11] Kaplan didn't hold any rabbinic positions in Brooklyn, but had many other positions which involved writing and editing religious publications:[11]

  • 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 Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America's Jewish Life magazine from 1973 to 1974,[31] and
  • Director of publishing at the NCSY from 1974 to 1975

He also served as the rabbinic consultant for the play "Yentl"[32]

Kaplan's books on Judaism and meditation were written between 1976 and 1982.


Gravesite of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

Kaplan died at his home of a heart attack on January 28, 1983, at the age of 48.[18] He was buried in the Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery, in Jerusalem, off Aweiss street, in the part known as "Agudas Achim Anshei America", "Chelek Alef" (Portion 1). His monument says that he was successful at doing Kiruv.


The Aryeh Kaplan Academy day school in Louisville, Kentucky, is named in honor of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.[33]


Kaplan produced works on topics as varied as prayer, Jewish marriage and meditation. His writing was remarkably unique in that it incorporated ideas from across the spectrum of Rabbinic literature, including Kabbalah and Hasidut, without ignoring science.[34][35] 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."[36] This ability enabled him to undertake large projects, producing close to 50 books.[5] His works have been translated into Czech, French, Hungarian, Modern Hebrew, Portuguese, Russian, German and Spanish.

Mentor influenceEdit

Kaplan's 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.[37] 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.[38]) Kaplan wrote three well-known books on Jewish meditation. These books seek to 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.

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.[5] His works continue to attract a wide readership, and are studied by both novices and the newly religious, as well as by scholars, where his extensive footnotes provide a unique resource.[39]

Religious worksEdit

  • The Living Torah, Rabbi Kaplan's best-known work, is a widely used, scholarly[39] 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 (here, drawing on sources as varied as Josephus, Dio Cassius, Philostratus and Herodotus). The footnotes also indicate differences in interpretation amongst the commentators, classic and modern.[40] 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)
  • "The Handbook of Jewish Thought," produced early in his career, is an encyclopedic and systematic treatment of Judaism's fundamental beliefs[41] in two volumes, the first of which was published in Kaplan's lifetime.[42] 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. A chapter titled "Creation,"[43] in which Rabbi Kaplan "presents evolution as part of the basic tenets of Judaism,"[44] was omitted from publication.[45]
  • "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 which span the entire spectrum of Jewish thought, as well as various religious practices. Published by the Orthodox Union/NCSY[36] 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).
  • "If You Were God," his final work, was published posthumously in 1983. Moving beyond superficiality, the slender book encourages the reader to ponder topics concerning the nature of being and Divine providence.[46]
  • 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.

Release datesEdit

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

Academic papersEdit

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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's gravesite". Archived from the original on 2015-01-09. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  2. ^ a b 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. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Kahn, Rabbi Ari (2005-01-27). "Age of the Universe". Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  5. ^ a b c "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan: Words to live by". New York Jewish Week. 21 September 2010. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  6. ^ "A Tribute To Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan". 1983. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  7. ^ "AN APPRECIATION OF RABBI ARYEH KAPLAN + VIDEO". Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  8. ^ Shmuel, on monument
  9. ^ Feiga, on monument
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Who's Who in the East, 17th edition. 1979. ISBN 978-0837906171.
  12. ^ Embracing a Street Kid, Seltzer, Nachman (June 21, 2010). One Small Deed Can Change the World. Shaar Press. pp. 252–255. ISBN 9781422609897.
  13. ^ "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
  14. ^ "File:Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's Semicha from Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel.jpg". Mir Yeshiva (Jerusalem). June 28, 1956.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ a b "Rabbi starts service in Mason City". Mason City Globe Gazette. Mason City, Iowa. February 27, 1965. p. 4. Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  17. ^ "File:Aryeh Kaplan BS.JPG". University of Louisville.
  18. ^ a b "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, 48, Dies; Wrote Books on Jewish Topics". The New York Times. 1983-02-02. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ "They came from Maryland". Mason City Globe Gazette. Mason City, Iowa. April 3, 1965. p. 8. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  21. ^ "Physicist Is Rabbi For Area". Kingsport Times. Kingsport, Tennessee. July 22, 1966. p. 13. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  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. ^ "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.
  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. ^ a b "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan". June 14, 2006. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  37. ^ Gelbach, Sharon (November 14, 2018). "Like His Own Children". Mishpacha (735). Retrieved December 19, 2018.[permanent dead link]
  38. ^ "Collectible: Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Interview". History Preservation Project. Archived from the original on 18 April 2010. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  39. ^ a b "Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan - Words to live by". Jewish Week. September 21, 2010.
  40. ^ See for example R. Kaplan's note concerning "Azazel" (Lev 16:8) and his note concerning the 4th plague עָרוֹב. (Ex. 8:17)
  41. ^ "Recommended Reading List—6. Philosophy". Ohr Somayach Interactive. 1998. Retrieved 2014-11-11.
  42. ^ This initial volume was retroactively referred to as Volume 1 following the posthumous publication of Volume 2.
  43. ^ Made available online by Brill, Alan.
  44. ^ 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.).
  45. ^ 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).
  46. ^ "If You Were God?". Mesorah. Archived from the original on 2014-11-11. Retrieved 2014-11-11.

External linksEdit