Interview with David E. Behrman
President and Publisher of Behrman House, Inc.
This project began with an off-hand comment by Jonathan Sarna. Can you explain?
I met with Jonathan Sarna about 10 years ago, about a different project which I can no longer remember. He told me there was a Milton Steinberg unfinished manuscript at the American Jewish Historical Society. It intrigued me, so I asked for a copy to be sent to us.
Why did you think it was a good idea?
Well, the growing impact and popularity of biblical fiction and the enduring legacy of Milton Steinberg made it tantalizing. I knew that such a book would be of interest to readers who enjoyed other biblical fiction, such as The Red Tent, the Rashi’s Daughters series and also fans of Steinberg’s other works, such As a Driven Leaf and Basic Judaism.
When did you get the manuscript?
I received the manuscript in 1999.
Did you think that you’d actually publish the book when you received the manuscript?
Absolutely! It is a captivating story that is just as meaningful today as it was when it was written, nearly 60 years ago.
Why do you think it hadn’t been published?
Well, the obvious reason is that it hadn’t been completed. Rabbi Steinberg passed away suddenly at a very young age. The manuscript was left without an ending. He left no notes. Also, the topics discussed in the book, including infidelity, were considered more difficult to address than in current times.
Why did you decide to publish Prophet’s Wife without an ending?
Originally, we thought that we could not publish the book without an ending; we thought that readers just would not allow it. But as we considered that possibility more carefully, it didn’t feel authentic, and we were came to believe that whatever we did in the way of an ending would not do justice to what Rabbi Steinberg would have done. And so, we decided to leave the book unfinished, and to provide a foreword and commentaries by thoughtful, informed, and credible individuals to help put the book into context. And, we decided to invite readers to comment on their own views, and to craft their own ending to the story; modern technology allows that sort of communication in way that was impossible even ten years ago. And so, the books’ website www.prophetswife.com has a place for such discussions, including a place for readers to upload their own ending to the story.
Who is the audience for this book?
It would be of interest to readers who enjoy other biblical fiction, such as The Red Tent, to those who want to explore Jewish practice, thought, and history, and also fans of Rabbi Steinberg’s other work As a Driven Leaf.
When did you reissue As a Driven Leaf? Why?
We reissued As a Driven Leaf in 1996. Chaim Potok had offered to write a new introduction. His words were so powerful I can remember even today when I first read them. He said: “One day in March 1950, while hurrying through a crowded hallway during break between college classes, I overheard two students talking in Yiddish. One said: ‘Did you hear the news? Milton Steinberg died last night.’ The other said: ‘Really? He was young.’ To which the first responded: ‘Now they’re punishing him for his books.’” As soon as we read those words, we knew we had to include it in the book.