Sefaria users have long requested a modern Tanakh translation, and we’re pleased to now offer the classic 1985 Jewish Publication Society Tanakh.
The decision to provide this translation was, however, only made after much debate, as it is the only text in Sefaria’s library without a Creative Commons license or in the public domain. We have licensed the translation from JPS for use on Sefaria’s website, source sheets, and apps, but the translation will not be available for download from GitHub and when it appears in our API, it will be marked with a copyright notice. As with all copyrighted works, you’re free to use the text personally or within the limits of Fair Use, but you’ll need permission to republish the text on your site or app.
Why did this decision keep us up at night?
Sefaria is committed to making the Jewish canon as accessible as possible. That’s why we’re acquiring English translations and trying to build products that are as user-friendly as possible. But Sefaria doesn’t necessarily privilege present access over future access. We’re committed to building digital infrastructure that will maximize the number, quality, and diversity of Jewish learning experiences for the next several generations–or as long as content is consumed in some sort of digital medium.
To explain: We don’t know what sort of digital devices will be used to study Jewish texts in ten and twenty and thirty years time, but we know (or believe very deeply) that those devices will be chomping on digital data–and Sefaria’s most important value proposition stems from this premise. If we create a single, well-structured, open, and flexible database of Jewish texts–in Hebrew and English–Jewish learning will be infinitely better positioned to evolve with technology.
For this to work, the data must be available with as few restrictions as possible, which is why all of Sefaria’s code is open source and our texts are, ideally, public domain or Creative Commons, making them free for use and reuse–no permission needed. In cases where high quality public domain texts are not available, Sefaria tries to make deals with publishers to liberate copyrighted texts from restrictive use and release them with an open license.
Unfortunately we were unable to strike a deal to bring the seminal JPS 1985 Tanakh translation into the Creative Commons. In this instance, given the importance of a modern English Tanakh to our users, we decided we would privilege access over infrastructure and enter a more traditional licensing deal to make this translation available.
Sefaria is still just as committed to open access for Jewish texts, but we’re pragmatists, and we don’t want to make thou suffereth any longer.