Who The Folk?! Rabbi Tobias Moss

Rabbi Tobias Moss has a background in many different areas of the modern, movement-based Judaism. So what brought this newly-ordained rabbi to Temple Israel? We sit down with the Minneapolis synagogue’s newest clergy member, and talk about the many forms of Judaism in his family, what drew him to Minnesota, and why he chose to tackle Yiddish – and what it helped him unlock – in this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.

You can read an excerpt below, but for the whole interview, please listen or subscribe to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher, with more to come later soon. Please subscribe, rate, and review. And of course, if you have suggestions of others who would be great subjects, let us know!

So we’ve given giving you a couple of months before we brought you on the podcast. How have you settled settling professionally and personally?

The transition has been much smoother than I even could have imagined. I moved from New York City, so often when I’m introducing myself, people say, “Oh, it’s such a change to be here.” And it’s really fit like a glove. Because as much as I love the urban offerings of New York City, which Minneapolis and St. Paul can match in certain ways. I also love the nature aspect of the Twin Cities. And that’s sort of that combination which you can’t get in New York. So it’s really fit well. And also at the synagogue, I’ve really been welcomed into the team as a thought partner and hit the ground running. It’s been a pretty smooth transition. I’ve already hit the mountain biking trails of Theodore Wirth Park and got on the water here. It’s an upgrade in that respect for sure.

What was the draw to the Twin Cities for you?

There was a lot went into it, nature and urban arts and culture crossover being one of them. I also was really impressed by the synagogue board in particular, which was not a factor that I had been planning on. I interviewed at 16 different synagogues by Skype, and then four in-person. You know, when you go into a restaurant, you don’t expect that you’re going to judge the place – don’t be offended board – by the nuts that are offered at the bar, right? I just didn’t think the board was going to feature. But then when I was meeting the board, they, they seem to be really the most strategically aligned with the clergy, and really be able to be partners and speak the language of the clergy. And also, they were telling me, “in the middle of winter, I jog around the lake,” and “my son does urban snowboarding.” And there’s this spirit of adventure and embracing the winter.

From a religious standpoint, how does Temple Israel align with you and your beliefs and how you operate today?

So I grew up with every Jewish influence, practically, belonging to a reconstructionist synagogue on the Upper West Side in New York City, simultaneously belonging to a reform synagogue in Teaneck, New Jersey. And my grandmother, who was a secular Zionist folk singer, was a founding member of a modern orthodox synagogue, in the Hamptons.

So you have New York that sort of like America’s melting pot, And your family is sort of this melting pot of Judaism in a way.

Exactly. So I’ve always had different influences and, and then in my studies, I’ve also pursued different influences. So I went to Hebrew Union College, which is the Reform Seminary in New York. But I also went to Pardes, which is a coed yeshiva, a place of traditional Jewish learning in Jerusalem, the year before rabbinical school. And during rabbinical school, I took many opportunities to study with other seminaries, other opportunities. I’m trying to be an internal melting pot of the Jewish world.

All of those influences that you’ve had, how do you think that that helps you, whether you’re writing a sermon or studying a particular piece of text or having a sort of discussion group with congregants or Jews around the community?

My answer that helps tie into why Temple Israel is a good spot. When I was in rabbinical school, I articulated that one of my goals was to be able to further the conversation with any Jew. And so in order to further the conversation with someone, you have to be able to speak their language. Most American Jews are speaking English, but we actually all have our own sort of language of Judaism, which rituals we’re most familiar with, and which we care about. The slang we use, the aesthetic of prayer we’re used to, and I don’t want to leave anyone out from my purview. So I, by having this engagement across the Jewish world, I really feel that I can further the conversation with anyone that walks into Temple. And Temple Israel, being such a large synagogue and pulling from many constituencies, from the four-generation, classical reform, Minnesota Jews, transplants that are just looking for a synagogue for the first time in their adulthood. Also, Jews that grew up conservative or orthodox, there’s a lot of people coming through that building, and it excited me to be able to be able to tap into so many aspects of the community.

Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!