David Moss keeps a stack of pizza boxes as storage containers in his studio in Jerusalem, “and each pizza box (has) a project or idea that I want to do that may be almost finished, or just beginning or in the works.”
Moss is a co-founder of Kol HaOt, an organization that uses the arts for Jewish inspiration and education. At 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday, July 14, he will present his lecture, “A Glimpse into the Divine?,” on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of Week Three’s theme for the Interfaith Lecture Series: “Art: A Glimpse into the Divine.”
The focus of Moss’ work is idea-based, whether that concept is applied through books, prints, architecture or programming.
“So I never really consider myself a painter or graphic artist or a sculptor,” Moss said, “because I don’t have training at all — (it was) kind of on the fly as I learned, so I can try something new and enjoy the challenge of putting my mind to thinking of two different media.”
After Moss finished college, a traditional scribe in Israel wrote the Hebrew alphabet for him, and he “just fell in love.”
“Everything grew out of that, just copying the letters and thinking what I could do with it and exploring different ways of using the lettering,” Moss said.
Moss started his career in the arts making traditional illuminated Jewish marriage contracts for his friends. Moss said these texts originate about 2,200 years ago and protect the woman’s rights in the marriage — in the case of something like a divorce — and is required in every Jewish marriage. These texts were decorated with flowers, and were written in a vernacular particular to the region.
“There was this very rich tradition going on for hundreds of years of making up this simple kind of boring insurance policy (into) a work of art — folk art,” Moss said. “So when I saw these things, I got very excited and asked, ‘Who is doing these?’ and I was told, ‘Oh, this form died out, you know, because of printing.’”
In the late ‘60s, Moss started to revive the art form by making these personalized illuminated marriage contracts for his friends, and the form became more popular. Moss said that hundreds of people do this work now.
While these marriage contracts were one sheet of parchment and took Moss a month to six weeks to complete, he spent three years making an illuminated Haggadah — the text sets forth the order for Passover Seder. On each page, Moss said he aimed to bring “my own fresh insights into that, artistically, scholastically, … bringing the old sources and giving them new life.”
Moss’ dream project is “a garden of Jewish exploration,” where people can experience fundamental Jewish ideas and values through the landscape and sculptures. The idea came to Moss decades ago when he realized Israel had places that teach Jewish history, such as the Museum of the Jewish People and the Yad Vashem, but something key was missing.
“What was missing was something about Judaism — not our history and not our suffering and not our successes, but who we are, what we believe in what we stand for and why we’re here,” Moss said.
Due to certain difficulties, like obtaining the land for the garden, Moss has been working on other projects over the past few years. He runs the Teachers Institute for the Arts, which aims to integrate “the arts with Jewish study and learning into Jewish schools in America and North America.” Each year, the institute leads around 25 teachers through a year-long program where they learn how to bring these teachings to their schools.
Moss will be presenting his lecture “A Glimpse of the Divine?” on Tuesday, July 14.
“But from a Jewish context it’s a bit problematic, because (of) the idea of God being invisible and no images of God being allowed, and the 10 Commandments saying you can’t make anything, any image of anything in heaven our honor,” Moss said. “So I tried to resolve that conflict with the talk by showing how I translate what I do, not so much toward the divine, but very much towards the human. And then my art is very people-oriented.”
This program is made possible by the Dr. William N. Jackson Religious Initiative Fund.