Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Importance of English Books

In honor of April 23, which the United Nations has declared English Language Day, Jewish Treats presents a history of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS), the oldest not-for-profit, non-denominational Jewish publisher in North America.

The "JPS" that is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, is actually the third organization of that name in America. The first was founded in 1845, but in 1851, its building, with all of its stock, burned down. The second was established in 1873, but only lasted until 1875.

The modern JPS was established in 1888, at the behest of Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf, the new rabbi of Philadelphia's Congregation Keneseth Israel. He called a meeting of 100 rabbis and presented to them the great need of the American Jewish community for Jewish books in English. The Jewish Publication Society of America was thus re-established with a start-up budget of $5,000 from Jacob Schiff, $5,000 from Meyer Guggenheim, and money raised through the offer of a subscription service. At its helm, as editor-in-chief, was Henrietta Szold. Its first publication was Outlines of Jewish History by Lady Katie Magnus.

The foremost project of the JPS was an English translation of the Bible. It was completed in 1917, and copies were distributed to Jewish soldiers heading to battle in the Great War. In 1965, it was re-issued with a more modern translation. In 1985, the JPS Tanakh was published as a three volume set: Torah (Five Books of Moses), N'viim (Prophets) and K'tuvim (Writings).

In 2012, JPS reached a collaborative publishing arrangement with the University of Nebraska Press.

Since its founding, Jewish Publication Society books have received numerous awards. It has worked with such well-known writers and scholars as Chaim Potok and Marcus Jastrow and was responsible for such well-known publications as The Jewish Catalogue, The American Jewish Yearbook and The Legend of the Jews.




This Treat was originally posted on April 23, 2018.

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