With the onslaught of a new-age movement, where religion can be cool and believing in a superior power higher than thyself is deemed the bee’s knees, millenials have taken to Instagram to showcase their love for religion through art.
One such artist, who combines Jewish principles with graphic art, is Jessica Tamar Deutsch. Her book, “The Illustrated Pirkei Avot: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Ethics,” gives traditional Jewish texts a more contemporary (and female) voice in the art world.
As Walt Hickey from the Five Thirty Eight said: “Comic books are still made by men, for men, and about men.”
For a woman who attended an art school and doesn’t look or dress like a Torah educator, it’s an unlikely choice to take on the centuries-old Jewish text, which features only male rabbis and sages.
“I would study from about five versions of Pirkei Avot from different publishers that represent observances of Judaism,” she says. “I had a great support system of teachers I would reach out to for their thoughts on what I had come up with, but I wish I had more women to consult with. I think I was only really able to appreciate the empowering process of sitting with text as a Jewish woman once the writing was actually complete.”
“I grew up always making art. The two consistent things that I’ve always been interested in and played with is creating art and practicing Judaism,” she explains. “I grew up in a traditional modern Orthodox household. I think once I got to college, I was able to find a way to express different Jewish teachings or thoughts I had on Jewish practice in a way that was a little less traditional.”
As most things go, it was never her intention to publish a book. “When I was a really little kid I always wanted to be either a fashion designer or fine artist and there were points where I was also like ‘I want to be Haredi,’” she says, laughing at the thought. But, when she had to complete a thesis for her senior year project at Parson’s School of Design, she was excited about the idea of turning her Pirkei Avot sketches into a novel. It wasn’t until her junior year of college that she started reading comic books more obsessively and hanging out in comic book stores.
“It was an experiment to see what it would look like because I was making art about Pirkei Avot before I started making the book. And then my teacher really encouraged me to try the comic thing. I was excited about the idea of making something that could potentially get published,” she says.
“For someone who grew up in Modern Orthodox day schools, and pretty traditional communities, it felt great to make something that was a bit more open-minded but also truly rooted in primary source Torah.”