Medieval scholars such as Maimonides and Gersonides were famous for both their Torah scholarship as well as their scientific knowledge. While not as famous, there are also modern examples of those who excelled in both areas. For instance Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, z”l (1934 – 1983), had a scientific background (he held a graduate degree in physics) that enabled him to channel the special energies that he possessed to re-invigorate the Jewish people.
Rabbi Kaplan was born into a family steeped in Jewish tradition. His ancestors hailed from the Sephardi Jewish community of Salonika (Greece), but he was educated in the Ashkenazi yeshivot in New York. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, most of his life was focused on making Torah Judaism accessible to all Jews.
Rabbi Kaplan is probably best known for The Living Torah (1981), his contemporary translation of the Chumash (the Five Books of Moses) and the Haftarot, considered one of the most user-friendly English translations of the Torah. However, he was a very prolific author, touching on a remarkable range of topics in the many books and articles that he authored. His titles include: “Tefillin: God, Man and Tefillin”; “Love Means Reaching Out”; “Maimonides’ Principles”; “The Fundamentals of Jewish Faith,” and “The Real Messiah? A Jewish Response to Missionaries.” In addition to his original writings, Rabbi Kaplan translated the Me’am Lo’ez into the 45-volume Torah Anthology.
Additionally, Rabbi Kaplan delved into the world of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). He translated important mystical works and presented (in writing) the kabbalistic point of view on concepts such as the purpose of Creation and free will.
Another area about which Rabbi Kaplan wrote was Jewish meditation, an art which he himself practiced regularly.
His life was cut short when, on 14 Shevat, 5743, Rabbi Kaplan passed away at age 48.
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