January 16, 2011
Carol Hupping, of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) recently took some time to answer a few questions for the New Vilna Review about the valuable contributions that this publisher has made in the English-speaking Jewish world since its founding in 1888. As Ms. Hupping notes in her answers below, JPS started off publishing Jewish books in English at the end of the 19th century to meet the needs of new immigrants who wanted to have Jewish texts in the language of their adopted homeland and since that time has continued to grow and expand, to cover a wide range of important Jewish topics.
NVR: For readers who may not be familiar with the work of the Jewish Publication Society, can you give us some sense of the range of the different kinds of books that you publish? How would you describe the readership of JPS publications?
JPS is best known for its translation of the Hebrew Bible, the JPS Tanakh. It’s the most widely read English translation, in print and electronic formats, and adopted by both the Reform and Conservative movements. Then there are the JPS Torah commentaries and a growing list of commentaries on other books of the Bible: Esther, Jonah, Ecclesiastes, and the next Ruth, which will be out this summer. Our list also includes a host of Jewish classics in English translation, and books on holidays and traditions, ethics, theology, history, folktales, midrash and resources for Bible study. For young readers we have The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, historical and contemporary fiction, and biographies.
JPS’s mission is to enhance Jewish literacy for everyone, and for this reason our readership is very broad: from clergy and scholars, to general readers. Rabbis, and Christian clergy too, have JPS books in their personal libraries and use them for their work with young and adult learners, such as our new paperback series on ethics: Jewish Choices, Jewish Voices. Introduction to Islam for Jews is popular for adult study classes; books like The Zionist Idea and Who’s Who in the Jewish Bible are used in college courses. JPS Bibles and our stunning illuminated books, such as The Song of Songs, are perennial b’nai mitzvah, graduation, and confirmation gifts.
NVR: JPS has been around for over a century – how have things changed during that time? Have there been any major noticeable shifts in the kinds of books that American Jews have been reading and writing during this time?
Things have certainly changed a lot since 1888, when we were founded. Back then, we were the only organization publishing Jewish books in English in this country. New immigrants were hungry for books in the language of their adopted country, and we had them. Now, of course, many trade publishers and university presses, and the Jewish movements also publish Judaica.
JPS has been and still is well known for publishing scholarship presented in a way that’s accessible to almost everyone. And we’ll continue to do so, especially our Bible commentary series, resources for Bible study, and substantial works of new scholarship; Jews will always be interested in these. The noticeable shifts we’ve seen have been for the lighter reading—contemporary lifestyle, lifecycle events, and holidays. More and more, people are going online for this type of information.
NVR: One of the challenges that many publishers face today is an increased demand for e-books and the ability to access resources that have traditionally been available in print, via electronic media. How has JPS responded to this desire on the part of readers?
Very true, and we’ve jumped into the ebook world wholeheartedly, because we want to make our books available in whatever format people want them. We have our own e-books program on our website: www.jps.org, with about 65 of our titles and are expanding monthly. JPS ebooks are in college and public e-library programs, and are available for Kindle, the Nook, Sony e-Book Reader, the iPhone and iPad. There’s even an iPhone and iPad app for the JPS Tanakh.
NVR: Are there any titles that will be out in the coming year that you are particularly excited about?
Whew, where do I start?! Our seasonal lists are small because we’re very selective about what we publish, so they’re all good. To pick a few, for Passover there’s a wonderful new haggadah with commentary, The Passover Haggadah: Good Forth and Learn, by Rabbi David Silber, founder of Drisha Institute in New York. In April we’ll release the 3rd volume in the multi-volume Folktales of the Jews series: Tales from Arab Lands. So many will be eager to have Michael Carasick’s next volume in his Commentators’ Bible series-- Numbers, and this summer we’ll publish the JPS Bible Commentary on Ruth.
NVR: Looking some ten, twenty, thirty years ahead into the 21st century, what role do you see JPS playing in the world of Jewish books, thought and life? Do you think that it will be markedly different from the role it played in the 20th century?
Yes, it will be different; it has to, as media continues to change and people access information in new ways. Many of our books will still be available in print, but all will be in electronic format--via apps, online links, and internet-based clouds. People will be able to access works in their entirety but also in chunks—just the passages, pages, and chapters they’re interested in.
I predict our role will be different, too, with our focus on major works that only a dedicated organization like ours has the resources and talent to do well and make accessible to everyone, not just academics. And we’ll have a new JPS translation of the Tanakh, both in print and electronically linked to an entire library of other electronic works and resources.
NVR: Can you tell us a little about your own background and how you came to work at JPS?
I joined JPS in 1999, 12 years ago, with close to 30 years in book publishing already. I approached then-CEO and editorial director Ellen Frankel for freelance work, and she offered me managing editor position on the spot! (Rabbi Barry Schwartz is JPS’s CEO now.) Since I had several projects in the works with clients in New York, I couldn’t commit to full-time work, so I joined JPS part-time for the first six months. After that it was full time plus. In a small nonprofit that has very high standards, there’s always more work to do than time to do it.
Before JPS I had been a vice president and the editorial director of the book division at Rodale Press, and so I knew the publishing business. I’d edited a career’s worth of books by then, dozens; all nonfiction. But only a few in Jewish studies. I’m an eager learner, though, and an earnest student of Judaica, and JPS was—and still is--a wonderful place for me to bring my professional experience and personal interest together.
Copyright 2011 The New Vilna Review.
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