American Jews in Text and Context: Jacob Behrman and the Rise of a Publishing Dynasty

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This article explores the career of Jacob Behrman (1921–2012) and the growth of Behrman House from a small Jewish bookseller to the leading publisher of Jewish religious school textbooks. Behrman’s success owed in part to his ability to appeal to the vast center, to gauge correctly his consumers’ needs and reflect their outlook and values, to eschew partisanship and play down ideological differences, and to swim with the tide. In addition, I make the case that Behrman House elevated the field of Jewish education by raising the quality of Jewish textbooks, and that through its ascendency played a role in redefining the goals of Jewish education and its undergirding ideological thrust. Behrman was not driven by a single model of Jewish education or a monolithic vision for the Jewish community, but rather, by business exigencies and a connection to Jewish peoplehood and culture.

American Jews in Text and Context: Jacob Behrman and the Rise of a Publishing Dynasty





Steven Johnson“The Genius of the Tinkerer,” Wall Street JournalSeptember 25 2010.


Harold Ribalow“From Generation to Generation,” Congress WeeklyJune 28 1954 11–12.


Ribalow“From Generation to Generation” 11–12.


Ben EdidinRebuilding Palestine (New York: Behrman’s Jewish Book House1939).


Corinne ChochemPalestine Dances! (New York: Behrman’s Jewish Book House1941).


Daniel Delis HillAs Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising (Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press2004) 70. Dena and Green procured the wool from Behrman family friend Manny Povar who operated a mill in Torrington CT and was the main supplier of wool for GGG Clothes (which was bought out in 1977 by Martin Greenfoeld Clothiers).


David de Sola PoolTraditional Prayer Book for Sabbath and Festivals (New York: Behrman House1960).


Louis BernsteinChallenge and Mission: The Emergence of the English Speaking Orthodox Rabbinate (New York: Shengold, 1982), 259–262; Lawrence Hoffman, Beyond the Text: A Holistic Approach to Liturgy (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press1987) 68.


Louis BernsteinChallenge and Mission259–262.


Paltiel Birnbaum“Siddur Hadash Ba La-Medinah,” Hadoar2 Kislev 5721 85.


Louis BernsteinChallenge and Mission259–262.


BernsteinChallenge and Mission259–262.


David Bridger (ed.)The New Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Behrman House1962) xi.


Johanna Ginsberg“Publisher, 86, Still Thrills at the Chance to Inspire,” New Jersey Jewish NewsAugust 7 2008; David Behrman interview with the author November 11 2013.


On Mitchell see Joyce AntlerLucy Sprague Mitchell: The Making of a Modern Woman (New Haven: Yale University Press1989).


On teaching machines see B.F. Skinner“Teaching Machines,” Science 128 (October 24 1958): 969–977; Ludy Benjamin “A History of Teaching Machines” American Psychologist 43 (1988): 703–712.


Benjamin“A History of Teaching Machines” 710.


Jacob Behrman Circular Letter August 1966.


Jacob Behrman to David Behrman May 13 1970(Behrman House Papers Collection of David Behrman).


Alexi Friedman“Jewish Educational Publisher Holds to Tradition but Ventures into the Digital Age,” Star LedgerSeptember 15 2013; Julie Wiener “Start Up Nation Takes on Hebrew School” New York Jewish Week June 4 2013.


Eugene Borowitz“Eugene Borowitz Reflects on Jacob Behrman, Writing and Editing,” Open Lion 7 (Fall 2000): 4 6.


  • View in gallery
    Louis and Sara Behrman founded Behrman’s Jewish Book Shop in 1921.
  • View in gallery
    Dena Behrman Bengal (1911–1990), who operated Behrman House from 1940–46 with Rabbi Emanuel Green and her sister, Martha Behrman Weisman.
  • View in gallery
    Behrman House’s longtime owner and publisher Jacob Behrman (right), Scotch and cigarette in hand, speaking with a relative at a family function in 1983.
  • View in gallery
    The title page of the Traditional Prayer Book (1960), a joint venture of Behrman House and the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America. Controversy surrounding Rabbi David de Sola Pool’s translation caused Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik to insist that his name be removed from subsequent editions.
  • View in gallery
    Edited by David Bridger, the ambitious New Jewish Encyclopedia (1961) was marketed as a bar mitzvah and Hanukkah gift and proved to be a publishing success for Behrman House.
  • View in gallery
    With Christian Castberg and Lillian Adler’s Reading Hebrew (1966) primer, Behrman House introduced programmed instruction to Hebrew teaching in the supplementary school. The book emerged from Jacob Behrman and Eugene Borowitz’s fascination with teaching machines.
  • View in gallery
    Behrman House pioneered the use of color in Jewish supplementary school textbooks with Harry Gersh’s When a Jew Celebrates (1971), illustrated by Erika Weihs.

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