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Aryeh Kaplan

KAPLAN, ARYEH (1934–1982), U.S. scholar and author. Kaplan was a teacher of Judaism who had profound influence on the Teshuvah movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. He was a foremost figure in the Jewish meditation movement, a thinker and writer whose translations, commentaries, and essays inspired thousands of young Jews to a deeper connection with the Jewish religious tradition.

Born in the Bronx, Kaplan came from a family whose origins were in Salonika, Greece. He was educated in the Torah Voda'ath and Mir yeshivot in Brooklyn. Subsequently, he was ordained by Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel of the Mir Yeshivah in Jerusalem. Trained as a scientist (he was for a time the assistant of world-renowned physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer), he chose instead to devote his life to the teaching of Judaism.

Kaplan's writing career began in the early 1970s with booklets of the Young Israel Intercollegiate Hashkafa Series. Other booklets dealing with the fundaments of Jewish observance were published by the Orthodox Union, and its youth wing, National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY). He also wrote anti-missionary works, which were combined into the volume The Real Messiah (1976).

Kaplan was a pioneer in the study and teaching of Breslov Ḥasidism. On the initiative of Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld, who was the leading English-speaking Breslover teacher in the U.S., he made the first reliable translation into English of Rebbe Nachman's writings.

He translated into English and wrote notes and introductions to classic works on the great classics of Jewish Mysticism, the Bahir ("Book of Illumination," 1989) and Sefer Yeẓirah (1997), which he elucidates in terms of traditional Kabbalistic doctrine, providing details of esoteric practice not ordinarily discussed in printed form. He also wrote three works on Jewish meditation.

In his works Meditation and the Bible (1989) and Jewish Meditation (1995) he considers meditation in relation to current Jewish practices through the prism of biblical texts and kabbalistic commentaries upon them.

His capacity for work was extraordinary as reflected in his more than 50 published books. His works ranged over a wide variety of subjects including Ḥasidism, Kabbalah, and Aggadah.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.