The 1985 JPS may be on the Amazon best seller list but it won’t be until 2080 before its contents enter the Public Domain. Thankfully an excellent English translation of the TaNaKh already exists that we can use, modify, and importantly, update: The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text: A New Translation with the Aid of Previous Versions and with Constant Consultation of Jewish Authorities by the Jewish Publication Society of America (aka, the 1917 JPS). Max Margolis led the committee of scholar/translators which included Cyrus Adler, Solomon Schechter, Kaufmann Kohler, Samuel Schulman, Joseph Jacobs, and David Philipson. (Begun in 1890, Schechter and Jacobs died before the translation was completed in 1915.) Once published, it effectively became the standard Jewish translation for most of the 20th century. The 1917 JPS is an accurate translation, but is considered archaic by contemporary translation standards. Margolis, a non-native speaker of English, felt that was the proper standard of language that Jews should adopt for their translation, and so the literary form of the 1917 JPS was consciously based on that of the King James Version. The 1917 JPS translation was used in the Pentateuch and Haftaroth edited by R’ J. H. Hertz and in the Soncino Books of the Bible series. With the text available, the 1917 JPS could form an excellent platform for deriving more modern translations. As such, it can be the basis of one or more new, freely redistributable Hebrew Bible translations. A free text for creating derivative works, however,
has not been available was not available until 2010 when JPS Publications began offering the tome as a free PDF download.
We are grateful to JPS for contributing an authoritative digital edition of the 1917 JPS to the Public Domain, and for this statement of support.
The Jewish Publication Society supports the Open Siddur Project’s efforts to remix the 1917 JPS English translation of the TaNaKh, thereby adding value to an important historical work produced by JPS which has entered into the Public Domain.
It is such good news that JPS is finally distributing their own free digital edition of the work. Until recently, there was really only one other extant digital edition of the 1917 JPS — and a separate copyright was claimed on that edition by its transcriber. That edition can be accessed at some sites on the Internet (see here and here). The distributor of that edition claims that certain changes they made to the Public Domain work constitute creative work that is protected by copyright. Furthermore, they state they are under no obligation to show exactly what changes they made to it. Wikisource, ran afoul of this copyright claim in 2008 when they began redistributing text from that edition and received a warning.
In response, the Internet Archive at archive.org made their own free edition but the quality of its transcription was exceptionally poor. John B. Hare, z”l, founder of the Internet Sacred Texts Archive, determined the best course of action would be to simply comprehensively re-transcribe the work with a Public Domain declaration. The work he managed to completed before he passed away is available here. The lack of a free, high-quality digital edition of the 1917 JPS led to the Open Siddur Project collaborating with the Internet Sacred Text Archive to transcribe our own free and unrestricted edition of the work.
That transcription effort can now end and move to the next stage, because thanks to JPS, the text of the 1917 JPS is available for encoding in a standard XML format (JLPTEI). As an authoritative Jewish translation, it can serve as an important translation source for much of the Siddur. Hare provided us with full page images of the 1917 JPS. We have generated a first-pass transcription produced by computer using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. With the digital edition provided by JPS, our jobs now remains to follow a few simple transcription conventions that will make it easier to convert the text to web-viewable format.
Our resulting XML formatted text will be licensed with the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) Public Domain declaration. The more volunteers who step up to work on this, the faster we’ll finish. To help us, please start here, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions. The full scan of 1917 JPS is here. Our scans are licensed Creative Commons Zero (CC0), a Public Domain declaration. Once encoded in JLPTEI XML, the work will be available to reference and download from our public database. Check back on this page for news on our progress completing an XML formatted edition of the 1917 JPS.