The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) is a nonprofit, non-denominational association established to disseminate works of Jewish content in English, founded on June 3, 1888, as a membership organization and publisher. Two earlier attempts to establish an “American Jewish Publication Society” failed: the first founded by Isaac Leeser in Philadelphia in 1845 and discontinued in 1851; the second founded by a New York group and lasting from 1873 to 1875. The third such body, The Jewish Publication Society of America, succeeded and has been in continuous operation since 1888. The organizational meeting was called in Philadelphia, then still considered the cultural capital of the United States, by Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf and Dr. Solomon Solis-Cohen. In the 1990s, the Society dropped “of America” from its name, and broadened its original mission statement to encompass secular as well as religious works, for non-Jewish as well as Jewish readers throughout the world.
The Society functions through a board of trustees, whose membership reflects geographic, professional, and religious diversity. The first president was Morris Newburger; his successors have included leaders in business, law, education, and medicine. The editorial committee, consisting of scholars and learned laypeople and originally known as the publication committee, advises the professional staff and board of trustees on acquisitions. Committee chairs have included Mayer Sulzberger, Cyrus Adler, Jacob R. Marcus, Gerson D. Cohen, Yosef Yerushalmi, and Chaim Potok. From 1919 to 1950, the Society also operated a Hebrew-English press, established through the gifts of Jacob H. Schiff.
The Society’s first book was Lady Kate Magnus’s Outline of Jewish History (1890). In 1891 it began publication of Graetz’s six volume History of the Jews (1891–98). Among the many authors on the Society’s list are Solomon Schechter, Louis Ginzberg (Legends of the Jews, 7 vols., 1909–38), S.M. Dubnow, Leo Baeck, Cecil Roth, Jacob R. Marcus, Louis Finkelstein, S.W. Baron, Martin Buber, Mordecai Kaplan, S.Y. Agnon, Joseph Soloveitchik, Yehudah Amichai, and Avivah Zornberg.
JPS has published works covering every aspect of Jewish life. During its first few decades when it was the only North American publisher of Jewish books in English, the Society’s list spanned the full spectrum of Jewish literature: history, Bible, rabbinics, textual commentary, biography and memoir, belles-lettres, politics and social science, folklore, intellectual history, contemporary thought, and children’s books. After other presses – organizational, commercial, academic, and Jewish – began publishing Judaica in English beginning in the 1920s and expanding after World War II, the Society began to focus its publishing program. In recent times, it has moved away from scholarly monographs, belles-lettres, and overly commercial books, concentrating on Bible and commentary, classic texts in translation, reference and resources for adult Jewish learners and lay readers, and children’s books for middle readers.
The Society has also published a number of series: the Schiff Classics (9 titles, 16 volumes); histories of Jewish communities (8 volumes); critical Bible commentaries (9 volumes, ongoing); and a series of biographies for young people. The American Jewish Yearbook (AJYB) was initiated by JPS in 1899, and was later published jointly by the Society and the American Jewish Committee from 1908 to 1995, after which AJC continued as sole publisher. Occasionally the Society publishes works jointly with other institutions and publishers. The annual number of volumes has varied between two and eighteen; in recent years, its annual list has averaged twelve new publications per year.
Among the Society’s major undertakings have been two translations of the Hebrew Bible in English. The first translation, adapted from the Protestant Revised Standard Version in light of Jewish interpretive tradition, appeared in 1917 as The Holy Scriptures; a Hebrew–English edition appeared in 1955. That same year the Society began a second translation, this time based on the Hebrew Masoretic text rather than on earlier English translations, with the twin goals of incorporating the latest scientific research in philology, Comparative Semitics, and archaeology; and of making the Bible more comprehensible to modern readers. First appearing in three separate volumes – Torah (1962), Prophets (1978), and Writings (1982), the final one-volume JPS TANAKH was published in 1985. A Hebrew-English edition was published in 1999.
The Society’s first editor was Henrietta Szold, although she was never accorded the formal title. From 1892 to 1916, she served as secretary of the publication committee, and also performed the functions of editor, proofreader, sometime translator, and production manager. Later editors have included Isaac Husik (1924–39); Solomon Grayzel (1939–66); Chaim Potok (1966–74); and Ellen Frankel from 1981.
AJYB (1899– ), report of JPS; Jewish Publication Society of America, 25th Anniversary (1913); J. Bloch, Of Making Many Books (1953); Grayzel, in: JPS, Bookmark, 10 no. 4 (1963), 4–7; J. Sarna, JPS: The Americanization of Jewish Culture, 1888–1988.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.