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Vanessa Ochs



  • BA, Tufts University, Drama and French
  • MFA, Sarah Lawrence College, Theater
  • MPhil, Drew University
  • PhD, Drew University, Anthropology of Religion
  • Beit Cochman: Rabbinical Ordination

Research Interests

  • Women in Judaism
  • Material culture and the study of religions
  • New ritual
  • Literature of spiritual journeys
  • Ethnographic study of religious practice

Rabbi Vanessa Ochs, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and a core member of the Jewish Studies Program since its inception, teaches such topics as Jewish feminism, Jewish weddings, the Passover Haggadah, ethnographic fieldwork in religion, and spiritual writing. She is Chair of the Professional Consulting Committee: UVA Chaplaincy Services and Pastoral Education at the UVA Health System.

Her books include The Passover Haggadah: A Biography (Princeton University Press, 2020), Inventing Jewish Ritual (winner of a 2007 National Jewish Book Award, Sarah LaughedThe Jewish Dream Book (with Elizabeth Ochs), Words on Fire: One Woman’s Journey into the Sacred, and Safe and Sound: Protecting Your Child in an Unpredictable World.  For her writing, she was awarded a Creative Writing Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. Her

In her research, she investigates new Jewish ritual, Jewish feminism, the Passover Haggadah, and Jewish material culture. She continues to explore the theme of “Jewish Sensibilities,” which has become the central focus of the journal Sh’ma and the work of the Lippman Kanfer Foundation and is now featured as a curriculum produced by Hillel International.


  • Spiritual Writing
  • Pilgrimage
  • Jewish Feminism
  • Jewish Weddings
  • Passover Haggadah
  • Food in Judaism and Christianity
  • Ethnographic Fieldwork and the Study of Religion

Selected Publications 

  • The Passover Haggadah: A Biography, Princeton University Press, 2020.
  • Inventing Jewish Ritual. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2007. Winner of 2007 National Jewish Book Award.
  • Sarah Laughed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004.
  • The Jewish Dream Book, with Elizabeth Ochs. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publications, 2003.
  • The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices, co-edited with Irwin Kula. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publications, 2001.
  • Words on Fire: One Woman's Journey into the Sacred, revised edition, with a new introduction and afterword. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.
  • Safe and Sound: Protecting Children in an Unpredictable World. New York: Penguin, 1995.
  • Words on Fire: One Woman's Journey into the Sacred. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990. Fort Washington, PA: HBJ/Harvest paperback, 1991.