In memory of Ari Grashin a"h and his remarkable parents David and Debbie Grashin by Rabbi Yosef Wosk

The Legacy of
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt”l

Kaplan Image

The Legacy of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt”l

In a sense, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was a meteor, a dazzling light that illuminated the darkened skies of post-Holocaust Torah learning, but burned out far too soon. With his scientific background, Rabbi Kaplan might have pointed out the inaccuracy of this comparison; more likely, his modesty and unassuming demeanor would have led him to deflect this much-deserved praise. And that, in a nutshell, is the life story of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

Few, if any, have had a greater impact on the Jewish spiritual awakening often called “the teshuva movement.” While other religious leaders sent out emissaries and still others opened yeshivot, Rabbi Kaplan directly and personally impacted an almost unfathomable number of Jews, primarily through NCSY, but also through his prolific writing.

Rabbi Kaplan’s writings are straightforward and clear, yet profound, with Kabbalistic doctrine always just beneath the surface. His Jewish education did not begin until after his thirteenth birthday, when he was already recognized as a prodigy in the sciences. Rabbi Kaplan attended many NCSY events, often as the keynote speaker, yet he was always accessible, approachable and available to speak to participants and staff.

Rabbi Kaplan eventually coupled his profound understanding of Torah with his scientific background in order to answer the questions that haunted others. Where some saw difficult, contradictory trees and lost sight of the forest of Jewish philosophy, Rabbi  Kaplan saw the underlying principles that brought clarity and revelation. In clear, contemporary language, his writings help restore our view of the forest by illustrating how the trees complement one another, how each tree is planted and sustained by the same God. He used scientific tools and his own analytical skills to organize and categorize overwhelmingly vast Jewish sources, creating an invaluable two-volume Torah encyclopedia, The Handbook of Jewish Thought. Even after his tragic, untimely death from a heart attack at the age of 48 in 1983, his written works have accompanied many a ba’al teshuva through the maze of Jewish learning, providing clear, succinct, yet sophisticated explanations and answers. 

(Adapted from an article written by Rabbi Ari Kahn, lecturer and author)

NCSY’s Reissuing of the Kaplan Library:

Rabbi Kaplan’s writings were initially commissioned by NCSY in the 1970’s. His writings quickly became the standard for all Jews searching for meaning in their lives. However, over the years, many volumes of his work have gone out of print, and some needed important updates and edits. Rabbi Kaplan reintroduced the eternal ideas of Judaism to the public, so NCSY embarked on this ambitious project to reintroduce the public to Rabbi Kaplan.

The person first responsible for introducing these seminal works to the world was Mr. Joe Tannenbaum, of blessed memory, who sponsored the first book and many of the other books in the Kaplan library. Continuing his legacy, The Tannenbaum Foundation graciously sponsored a large part of the cost in order for NCSY to republish a new and improved version of Rabbi Kaplan’s library.

NCSY has now completed the project by reissuing the entire Kaplan library with new introductions, redesigned covers and updated content, so a new generation can be introduced to the majesty of Jewish ideas and the beauty of Rabbi Kaplan’s prose. Together with Artscroll Publications, the redesign and re-printing effort is creating the ability to place these timeless works into the hands of Jews throughout the world.

Rabbi Kaplan’s incredible legacy continues to directly or indirectly impact and educate all those seeking a deeper understanding of Judaism for themselves or their students. In this sense, we may say that Rabbi Kaplan continues to attend every NCSY event—and the events of countless other organizations across the spectrum of Jewish communal life. It is hard to imagine what the Jewish world would look like today without the legacy of enlightenment, light and warmth Rabbi Kaplan left behind—a meteoric trail of Jewish wisdom.

In this vein, on Thursday evening, December 30th, NCSY will launch the NCSY Aryeh Kaplan Library at the annual Yarchei Kallah celebrating the life and legacy of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. Following a short presentation, teens will divide into one of ten breakout sessions that each correspond to a different volume in the collection.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s Republished Works:

In this volume published by the OU and NCSY in conjunction with Artscroll, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan asks hard questions about Judaism and its commandments, and he gives compelling answers that have broadened the horizons of countless people.

The Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Library of Jewish Thought
 (1) Joseph Tanenbaum Library Series
(2) Rabbi Yosef Wosk in memory of Ari Grashin z"l
Jerusalem The Eye Of The Universe:
With thanks to David and Miri Rosenwasser & Jim and Terri Rosenwasser in memory of Jerold Rosenwasser z"l

What is the significance of Jerusalem? Why is it the most important place on earth? What is its uniqueness? Why is it the only city mentioned in our prayers? What is the source of its holiness?  Why can the Temple be located only on this one spot?  What is the mystery of its origin?  How are Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel connected with it?  Why is its status so significant to its friends and enemies?  This deep and revealing book contains the answers to these questions and many more.

Tzitzith:A Thread Of Light:
With thanks to Bitton Family in memory of Mordechai Zev ben Masood and Tamar Bitton

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan delves deeply into the mystery of the commandment of tzitzith to reveal the link between tzitzith and the ability of man to overcome sin and reach towards God.  This rewarding book provides insights into the connection between passion, clothes, self-control and the story of the serpent.  Tzitzith is the symbol of the God-instilled ability to choose freely and be the master of our lives.  This book covers every aspect of this important commandment from the practical to the mystical.

With thanks to Jim and Terri Rosenwasser & David and Miri Rosenwasser in memory of Jerold Rosenwasser z"l

An explanation of the mitzvah of tefillin. Includes photos of tefillin being made and how they should be worn.

Reaching Out:

From a Torah view every Jew has a distinct obligation to look out for the spiritual benefit of his brethren. There is a commandment in the Torah, “You must correct your neighbor.” This commandment gives us a definite obligation to speak up when we see other jews going astray. There is the concept that “All Israel are responsible, one for the other.” This book points out our obligations as set forth by the greatest Torah authorities. Each section speaks of a different aspect of this problem, and is followed by a number of readings presenting a translation of these ideas in the original. Every one of us must find a way to respond to the unspoken cry for help that is in the hearts, if not on the lips of our estranged brothers and sisters.

Waters of Eden: The Mystery of The Mikvah:
With thanks to Mikvah USA in memory of Mrs. Selena Weinreb

It has been called the secret of Jewish survival—a mystical connection to the Garden of Eden.  What is the mikvah’s fundamental connection to birth, marriage, conversion and death? How does a mikvah purify? How can a proper understanding of the mitzvah of immersing in a mikvah bring happiness, freshness and fulfillment to your life? Waters of Eden is the first attempt to explore the ancient Jewish practice of spiritual purification and immersion, lucidly and attractively in contemporary English.

Sabbath: Day of Eternity
With thanks to Bitton Family in memory of Mordechai Zev ben Masood and Tamar Bitton

Why is the Sabbath the only religious observance mentioned in the Ten Commandments?  Why does the Talmud call the Sabbath “a taste of the World to Come?”  Why is the Sabbath gaining adherents in an age of rapidly expanding technology?  How can we explain the mysterious hold of the Sabbath over the Jew?  What is the connection between the Sabbath, belief in God, affirmation of God as the Creator of all things, the Exodus from Egypt, and the coming of the Messiah?  Sabbath:Day of Eternity, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, answers these and many more questions about the day that is the heart of Jewish existence, offering explanations, philosophy and a concise guide to Sabbath observance.

Maimonides' Principles

This popular edition of the 13 Principles of Jewish Faith represents a summarized version of the original work which appears in Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishna.  In presenting these fundamentals, Rabbi Kaplanopens the doors of the storehouse of Torah living and learning and provides a keener understanding of the basic principles of Jewish responsibility to both the schooled and the unschooled alike.

The Real Messiah
With thanks to The Lerman Family

Missionaries are spending untold sums in an effort to convert young Jews.  What is the Jewish response?  Why do Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah?  What is a “messiah”?  What will he accomplish?  What does the Bible really say?  What does a “savior” and “being saved” really mean?  Why do we believe that missionary claims are built on mistranslations, misquotes, inaccuracies and Biblical passages taken out of context? In this penetrating analysis, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan uses actual missionary materials to refute missionary claims, and offers the traditional Jewish view of Christianity.

If You Were God

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan had the unique ability to gaze behind the Godly curtain and reveal Torah truths which until now were reserved for scholars and rabbis. In this profound and moving book, he has again taken us beyond simple and superficial concepts. Here he delves deeply into the mysteries of the soul, the world and its purpose. In  non-technical language, he opens our eyes, excites our minds, engages our imagination and reaches deep into our hearts with a message that must compel us to think, act and react. This is an important book which takes us beyond the world of the superficial and mundane to a new world, a world in which the light of God will bring new meaning and purpose to our lives.

The Infinite Light

Searching for meaning is ultimately striving for God. This book was conceived as an atlas to aid the searching Jew in mapping his personal journey in the quest for the ultimate meaning of human existence, the knowledge of God.  Rabbi Kaplan draws from the entire spectrum of our tradition to present an understanding of God, His Torah and of man’s duty to observe the truths embodied in it.