More than it succeeded, however, JPS stumbled. Faced with a raft of competitors eager to publish Jewish books — including mainstream presses, university presses and other Jewish presses — it had trouble finding its way.
For its centennial, in 1988, I wrote a history of JPS. It concluded with a series of “fundamental questions” that JPS grappled with but never resolved, such as: “What, first and foremost, were its aims and objectives, especially given the new and rapidly changing world of Jewish publishing?” “What obligations should it feel to the American Jewish community, to Jews everywhere, to Jewish scholarship, to its members — and which of these obligations should take priority?” What should be its relationship to others in the Jewish publishing field — competition, cooperation, or fallback?” “What types of books should it publish — should they be popular and timely or scholarly and timeless, books that members wanted or books that they should want, controversial books or those that represented a community consensus?” And if the answer is “a whole range of books,” how should priorities be determined, how should scarce resources be allocated, how should decisions be made, and at the most basic level, how should JPS guarantee its own financial solvency?
In the years that followed, JPS remained flummoxed by these questions. As the world of publishing consolidated, and online sales as well as ebooks came to dominate the marketplace, it found itself unable to compete and was increasingly left behind. The economic downturn only added to its financial woes. As its options narrowed, it found itself facing a stark and difficult choice: Find a publishing partner or go bankrupt.
Once upon a time, a Jewish organization in this position would have considered only potential Jewish partners, such as another Jewish publisher or a Jewish educational institution. No longer. Instead, following a trend that has grown increasingly common nowadays, JPS jumped into a relationship with a non-Jewish partner, the University Press of Nebraska. In so doing, it joined a parade of other Jewish institutions that in recent years have similarly “intermarried.”...
Jonathan Sarna wrote in the Forward a wry and detailed analysis of the demise of the Jewish Publication Society. It's something between an obituary for the company and a wedding announcement for its merger with the University of Nebraska Press. Since Sarna declares that no, the University of Nebraska Press is not Jewish, the metaphor may be that we ought to sit shiva over the intermarriage -- over JPS' union with the U of N. In the article, Sarna writes: