TORONTO — Jerusalem-based artist David Moss is described on the Yale University library website as “arguably the finest living Judaic artist.”
He is known for resurrecting the ketubah as an art form, for the limited-edition “Tree of Life” shtender he created with woodworker Noah Greenberg, and for his eponymous “Moss Haggadah,” a book originally created as a one-off commissioned work of art.
The Haggadah is now available in three versions, one of which is a limited-edition replica of the original, replete with symbolism, illuminated drawings, gold leaf, moving parts, and intricate paper cuts.
Moss will speak at Beth Tzedec Congregation on March 26 at 7:30 p.m. at a pre-Pesach event titled “Roth and Moss: Old Forms, New Expressions: Ketubah and Haggadah.”
“Roth” refers to historian Cecil Roth, who edited many haggadot and also assembled the collection of ketubot at the shul’s Reuben and Helene Dennis Museum.
Moss, who has no formal art training, traces the beginning of his career to an interest in Hebrew calligraphy that he pursued after graduating from university in the late 1960s, he said in a phone interview from Jerusalem. A friend of his who was a sofer wrote out the aleph bet for him, and he “started copying the letters, and everything grew from that.”
A native of Dayton, Ohio, who was born into “a very committed Reform family” in 1946, Moss, in his online resumé, also credits his father – inventor, musician, writer and businessman Jack Moss – for “creative tutelage” from 1946 to 1975.
In addition to his art projects, Moss teaches creativity and “creative problem solving.”
A father of four and grandfather of 10, he believes that anyone can learn to be creative. “The proof is that all children are creative. Human beings start by being creative, and school squelches that. It can be revived, or helped along.”
His daughter, Toronto-based Ariella Moss Peterseil, is assistant director of Camp Ramah in Canada, where he began working in 1999 on special programs. Another daughter, Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz, was one of the three co-founders at Kol HaOt, which runs programs incorporating art and Jewish texts and ideas.
Moss’ mission to revive the art of the ketubah began with what he terms a naive question about historic illuminated ketubot.
“I started asking people, ‘Who’s doing that now?’” He was told the art form – which, he explains, reflects the joy and beauty associated with a wedding – had died out about a century earlier, and that the illuminated manuscripts had been replaced by printed forms that often end up in a drawer.
“It seemed to me a shame that that tradition had died out. I started doing them for friends, and people saw me doing them, and asked me to do their own.”
Moss’ Judaic background, following the acquisition of a BA in liberal arts, includes three years at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was enrolled in the rabbinic program in the late 1960s, although he had no intention of becoming a rabbi.
“I wanted to continue my Jewish education,” he said.
After his year in Israel in 1968-1969, he remained mostly in the United States, including a 1974-1977 stint in Berkeley, Calif., where he was artist-in-residence at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.
In addition to his evening presentations at Beth Tzedec – one on the revival of the hand-done ketubah and one on the haggadah – Moss will meet with young students at Robbins Hebrew Academy, which has a branch at Beth Tzedec. He said he asked to meet with small groups “so I can sit on the floor and engage them in the artistic process.”
There is no charge for the evening presentation, which includes a dessert reception, but attendees are requested to RSVP to Avital at 416-781-3511.