Vanessa Ochs

Professor of Religious Studies
Nau Hall, N-185


  • BA, Tufts University
  • MPhil, Drew University
  • PhD, Drew University
  • 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 ritual, ethnographic fieldwork in religion, Abrahamic feminisms. Her course on Spiritual Writing is cross-listed in the Program in Creative Writing and she co-teaches the two-year pilot Forum in Creative Processes and Creative Practices. She is the Chair of the Professional Consulting Committee: UVA Chaplaincy Services and Pastoral Education at the UVA Health System.

Her books include  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.

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 

  • 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.