Aryeh Kaplan

Aryeh Moshe Eliyahu Kaplan was an American Orthodox rabbi, author, and translator known for his knowledge of physics and kabbalah. 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. His works are often regarded as a significant factor in the growth of the baal teshuva movement.

Early life

Aryeh Kaplan was born in the Bronx, New York City to Samuel and Fannie Kaplan of the Sefardi Recanati family from Salonika, Greece. 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.
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 a yeshiva in Los Angeles.
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.
Prior to Kaplan's Mir rabbinical ordination he asked of and received a response regarding the matter of permitting/enabling a youth minyan to which parents would drive children.

Secular career

Upon returning from Israel in the late 1950s, Kaplan taught in Richmond, Virginia and the Bronx before moving to Louisville, Kentucky. 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. While in Louisville, he met Tobie Goldstein, whom he married on June 13, 1961 and with whom he had nine children.
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. After graduating, Kaplan remained at University of Maryland as a National Science Foundation fellow through the fall semester of 1964.

Rabbinic career

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."

Adas Israel (1965–1966)

On February 19, 1965, Kaplan moved to Mason City, Iowa, where he became the Rabbi of .

B'nai Sholom (1966–1967)

On August 7, 1966, Kaplan became the Rabbi at , a Conservative synagogue in Blountville, Tennessee. He held the position through 1967.

Adath Israel (1967–1969)

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

Ohav Shalom (1969–1971)

Kaplan then moved to Albany, New York, where he became the Rabbi at , a Conservative synagogue. During this time, he also functioned as the president of the AJCC and the Hillel Counselor to the B'nai B'rith Hillel Counselorship at University at Albany, SUNY.

Brooklyn (1971–1983)

In 1971 Kaplan moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he lived until the end of his life. Kaplan didn't hold any rabbinic positions in Brooklyn, but had many other positions which involved writing and editing religious publications:
He also served as the rabbinic consultant for the play "Yentl"
Kaplan's books on Judaism and meditation were written between 1976 and 1982.


Kaplan died at his home of a heart attack on January 28, 1983, at the age of 48. 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". 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.

Mentor influence

Kaplan's major influence was Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld, 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. At Rosenfeld's suggestion, Kaplan also produced the first-ever English translation of Sichot HaRan, 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 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 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. 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.

Religious works

Academic papers

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