Random House, the recipient of editorial help and marketing grants from a nonprofit group? This unusual arrangement results from a collaboration between Pantheon's Jewish imprint Schocken Books and the philanthropic Jewish cultural project Nextbook.

The two have joined to create the Jewish Encounters series, a collection of small-trim hardcovers in which accomplished authors write about subjects related to Jewish culture ranging from the conventional to the hip and the esoteric. While Schocken will handle manufacturing and retail distribution, Nextbook will support the series editorially and with $20,000 marketing grants for each title, book promotion in secular venues and exposure on www.nextbook.org, a nonprofit Jewish cultural news site that gets about 90,000 hits a month and has 2,000 daily subscribers. "Nextbook's involvement means that we can publish books on subjects that a trade publisher might not ordinarily commission," explained Pantheon publisher Dan Frank.

The series, which is edited by former Forward culture editor Jonathan Rosen, will launch in the fall with two biographies: King David by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky and Maimonides, a portrait of the 12th-century philosopher who Rosen calls "the patron saint of Jewish doctors," by Sherwin B. Nuland. Twenty-one authors are currently under contract, including MacArthur fellow Rebecca Goldstein for a volume on Spinoza and graphic artist Ben Katchor on the 20th-century dairy restaurant.

By 2007, the series will add about four titles a year to the Schocken list, effectively expanding it by a third. While Schocken is paying the advances, as well as manufacturing and distributing the books, it's a sweet deal for the house, since Nextbook is paying Rosen's editorial salary and doubling the per-title marketing budget Schocken would otherwise commit.

Though details haven't been finalized, the marketing campaign will likely include author tours and direct mail solicitation to a potential subscriber base like that for the Library of America. Nextbook will also undertake a "One Book/One Congregation" campaign to encourage rabbis to adopt the books for synagogue-wide reading projects.

For Nextbook, which is funded by the Keren Keshet-the-Rainbow Foundation and will receive only a modest cut of the proceeds from the books, the project is not about making money. Program director Matthew Brogran explained, "Each book offers us a new way to fulfill our mission to promote Jewish cultural literacy."