The ProsenPeople

In Honor of Stuart Matlins

Thursday, June 26, 2014 | Permalink
by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner reflects on the career of long-time JBC board member and the founder of Jewish Lights Publishing, Stuart Matlins.

I am not sure what prompted Stuart Matlins, now just over two de­cades ago, to give up a successful career as a management consultant and found Jewish Lights Publishing but I am certain it was very good for the Jews. Matlins is one of the great Yidn of our generation—fiercely ethical, spiritually open, intellectually restless, and insatiably interested in all matters Jewish. Indeed, his continuing success at prying open the life of the spirit to an ever-widening audience may be one of the most hopeful signs yet for the future of liberal Judaism in America.

Stuart Matlins brings to publishing a uncompromis­ing commitment to ethics. The publishing business is notoriously hidebound; it pays authors only after many, many months; it is also opaque. A friend and best-selling author once cautioned me not to bother asking the publisher for sales figures: “Even if they do tell you, they lie.” And, whatever you do, don’t try to decipher a royalty statement. Contrary to all this, after twenty-three years, the royalty checks from Jewish Lights have never arrived so much as one day late and they are accompanied by a statement my granddaughters can understand.

The success of Jewish Lights (nearing 400 titles!) amply testifies to Stuart’s skill as a shrewd businessman. Permit me an example: When JLP was about to publish its first “Kushner book,” I sat with the staff around his dining room table planning the promotion for my The Book of Letters: A Mystical Hebrew Alphabet. Someone reasonably asked how we would distinguish me from my old haver and friend, Rabbi Harold Kushner. Stuart closed his eyes, wrinkled his brow and, then, opening his eyes again, grinned: “Why would I want to do that?”

Stuart Matlins, of course, has brought to light works by such impor­tant teachers as Arthur Green, David Hartman, Lawrence Hoffman, and Norman Cohen. But, less well known, he has also published other authors you’ve probably never heard of. He once referred to these books as his “defense attorneys,” you know, for when he goes before the heavenly tribunal. God [I imagine] looks over the list of titles and says something like, “You published that book?! I don’t get it. You knew you’d never make a nickel on it, but you published it anyway—just because it was important and holy!”

Then God, as it were, smiles and says, “Welcome!”

I and the authors of your other “defense attor­neys,” and a whole lot of Jews, too, rise on this occa­sion of your receipt of the Abraham Geiger Medal to salute you and thank you.

Lawrence Kushner is the Emanu-El Scholar at Congre­gation Emanu-El of San Francisco. He is an adjunct member of the faculty of the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. He is the author of 18 books, most recently I’m God; You’re Not: Observa­tions on Organized Religion & Other Disguises of the Ego, (Jewish Lights, 2011) and a novel, Kabbalah: A Love Story, (Doubleday/Morgan Road, 2006. He has also co-authored and co-starred in a feature length film, Your Good Friend.



Stuart Matlins: Visionary for the People of the Book

Monday, March 01, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Profile on Stuart Matlins, JBC Board Member and founder of Jewish Lights Publishing, on JewishJournal.com:

In light of our status as the People of the Book, there is no doubt one of our Top Jews is the visionary Stuart Matlins. An accomplished businessman, Matlins left a lucrative career in management consulting to create Jewish Lights Publishing (www.jewishlights.com), which is now a major force in Jewish publishing. Read On.