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.

  • 1

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

  • 3

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

  • 9

    Ribalow, “From Generation to Generation,” 11–12.

  • 11

    Ben Edidin, Rebuilding Palestine (New York: Behrman’s Jewish Book House, 1939).

  • 12

    Corinne Chochem, Palestine Dances! (New York: Behrman’s Jewish Book House, 1941).

  • 17

    Daniel Delis Hill, As Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising (Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 2004), 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).

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  • 25

    David de Sola Pool, Traditional Prayer Book for Sabbath and Festivals (New York: Behrman House, 1960).

  • 28

    Louis Bernstein, Challenge 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 Press, 1987), 68.

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  • 29

    Louis Bernstein, Challenge and Mission, 259–262.

  • 30

    Paltiel Birnbaum, “Siddur Hadash Ba La-Medinah,” Hadoar, 2 Kislev, 5721, 85.

  • 32

    Louis Bernstein, Challenge and Mission, 259–262.

  • 34

    Bernstein, Challenge and Mission, 259–262.

  • 36

    David Bridger (ed.), The New Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Behrman House, 1962), xi.

  • 45

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

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  • 56

    On Mitchell see Joyce Antler, Lucy Sprague Mitchell: The Making of a Modern Woman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).

  • 60

    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.

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  • 66

    Benjamin, “A History of Teaching Machines,” 710.

  • 83

    Jacob Behrman, Circular Letter, August 1966.

  • 99

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

  • 110

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

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  • 114

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

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