The JPS Story

“If we don’t produce knowledgeable Jews, we are not fulfilling our mission, and we are not going to have Jews around in future generations to help guarantee all the other causes that ensure the physical safety of the Jewish people. JPS makes certain that Jews don’t only have Jewish hearts, they also have Jewish heads.”

— Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

jacobschiffThe Jewish Publication Society (JPS) is about the great books of Judaism. For the past 125 years JPS has been the preeminent publisher of Jewish books to the English-reading world. As the oldest not-for-profit, non-denominational Jewish publisher in North America, JPS publishes works of the highest level of scholarship, written in a popular manner. Indeed, “accessible scholarship” remains JPS’s unique niche. And our authors, donors, and readers represent the entire spectrum of the Jewish community.

meyerguggenheimSince 1888, our mission, in the words of our founders, is to “promote Jewish literacy and self-understanding” through the publication of books of enduring worth. This mission is carried out first and foremost through the publication of the JPS TANAKH, the most widely read English translation of the Hebrew Bible for the last 100 years. Our esteemed Bible commentaries, translations of Rabbinic works, and acclaimed books on Jewish history and thought likewise perpetuate our mission to bring to life the classic texts of Judaism for this generation and the next.

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The Early Years

Our Jewish forebears came to America bringing few possessions. But they brought with them an ardent desire that their descendants would carry on the traditions of Jewish learning, so that the “People of the Book” would continue to bear that title with distinction. The visionaries among them recognized that in order to make this happen, Jewish books would have to take root in American soil in the language of their new land. And so 100 leading Jewish intellectuals in America met in Philadelphia to found JPS. The group reflected theological pluralism and geographical diversity. Distinguished philanthropists Jacob Schiff and Meyer Guggenheim each donated $5,000 to get the Society started. A remarkable woman, Henrietta Szold, was our first editor. She held this position for 23 years before she founded Hadassah. Decades later, noted novelist Chaim Potok was appointed to that position and remained actively involved in JPS for 35 years.

The first JPS book published, Outlines of Jewish History, was written by an Englishwoman, Lady Katie Magnus, and included an additional American section written by Henrietta Szold and Cyrus Adler.

henriettaszoldJPS completed two translations of the entire Hebrew Bible, working on these two projects for a total of 53 years. Its current translation, the JPS TANAKH, has sold over a million copies to generations of Jews, Christians, and students of Scripture throughout the world.

Jewish soldiers carried JPS Bibles into battle, and rabbis bring copies to comfort the ill and the bereaved. During World War I and World War II, JPS printed and distributed to Jewish soldiers almost three million prayerbooks from all denominations as well as abridged editions of its Bible.

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JPS Mitzvah Programs

Through our mitzvah program JPS has provided Bibles to hospitals, prisons, and remote Jewish communities in places like Ghana, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. We have donated books to communities whose Jewish libraries and schools have been destroyed by hurricanes, fires, and other major disasters. JPS produced the Audio Bible in partnership with the Jewish Braille Institute, for the visually impaired and for others to enjoy the 60 hours of readings by 13 narrators, including actors Theodore Bikel and Tovah Feldshuh.

JPS Authors and Awards

JPS authors include world-renowned writers of yesterday and today, including: S.Y. Agnon, Martin Buber, Louis Ginzberg, Yitz Greenberg, David Hartman, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, I. L. Peretz, Chaim Potok, Nachum Sarna, Solomon Schechter, Lawrence Schiffman, Gershom Scholem, Joseph Soloveitchik, Elie Wiesel, and Avivah Zornberg.

The Jewish Catalog, one of JPS’s modern classics, is credited with helping to launch the havurah movement and with changing the face of modern Judaism. It was published in 1973 and its three volumes sold over 500,000 copies. JPS classics, such as Legends of the Jews, have remained in print for almost 100 years—a claim few publishers can make.

JPS has won National Jewish Book Awards in every category of scholarship and literature, 21 in the past 20 years and 14 more have been named Finalists. Among children’s books, JPS has won 14 awards including the American Library Association’s Notable Book of the Year Award and the Association of Librarians’ Book of the Year Award.

readingbible JPS Today

In 2012, JPS entered into a long-term publishing partnership with the University of Nebraska Press, which now handles our production and distribution. This business arrangement insures that our publishing program will remain vital while freeing up JPS to do what it does best: concentrate on manuscript development. Four ongoing major projects typify the perpetuation of our mission to publish enduring works destined to be classics: The Commentators’ Bible: The Rubin JPS Miqra’ot Gedolot (five volumes), Folktales of the Jews (five volumes), Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture (three volumes), and The JPS Bible Commentary: Psalms (five volumes).

booksThe JPS story continues with the publication of new commentaries from leading Bible scholars such as Adele Berlin, Marc Brettler, Alan Cooper, Michael Fishbane, Edward Greenstein, and Ben Sommer; with the works of prominent rabbis like David Ellenson, Arthur Green, Reuven Hammer, Jeffrey Salkin, and David Silber; and with rising stars from Israel such as Ruth Calderon and Micah Goodman.

The JPS story also begins a new chapter, as we work toward an exciting 21st century JPS E-TANAKH, a digital edition that will incorporate commentaries from our partners in the Reform, Conservative, and modern Orthodox Jewish world.

“In a time when the very notion of the word is under attack; when a Twitter, Facebook, and text message-dominated universe of discourse threatens to reduce ideas to monosyllables, JPS is one of the foremost guardians of the Jewish word. Whether those words exist on paper or the screen, the ideas imbedded in them are sacred. JPS reminds us that every manifestation of Torah “implants within us eternal life.”

— Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin

JPS & World War II

From JPS, The Americanization of Jewish Culture 1888-1988, Jonathan D. Sarna

Secret Mission Behind Enemy Lines
“Late in the war, the US military asked the Society’s press to undertake a secret mission, not revealed by [JPS President] Jacob Solis-Cohen until after hostilities ceased. The Press agreed to set type in Greek, Russian, Servian, Croatian, and Rumanian for pamphlets ‘to be dropped from airplanes behind enemy lines.’ Although seriously understaffed at the time, it successfully completed this assignment, as well as its other military work, for employees worked sixty and seventy hours a week.”

From JPS Annual Meeting, Fall 1941
“There was never a time in our American life that work of this press was more vital and necessary than it is today. Almost everywhere Jewish books are being destroyed. Almost nowhere outside the US are they being printed…The burden is solely ours to carry: Jewish culture and civilization are shifting rapidly to these shores.” (Jacob Rader Marcus)

More About Our History

Learn more about our rich history through these articles and videos.

January 23, 2014
Jewish Publication Society Opens a New Chapter, Jewish Exponent

June 3, 2013
This day in Jewish history / A publisher of classic Jewish books is established

January 28, 2013
Video of The JPS Torah at Fifty Celebration.

December 19, 2012
A Jewish Publisher and a University Press Make Their Marriage Work 

September 26, 2012
The JPS Torah at Fifty – Article by Leonard Greenspoon

January 16, 2011
An Interview with Carol Hupping, Managing Editor