University of Virginia

Vanessa L. OchsVanessa L. Ochs is the author of The Passover Haggadah: A Biography (Princeton University Press: 2020). Her other books include Inventing Jewish Ritual (winner of a 2007 National Jewish Book Award), Sarah Laughed, The Jewish Dream Book (with Elizabeth Ochs), The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices (edited with Irwin Kula), Words on Fire, 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.

Ochs is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Jewish Studies Program at the University of Virginia where her courses include “The Jewish Wedding,” The Passover Haggadah,” “Jewish Feminism,” and “Spiritual Writing.” She has also been a faculty member for the Bronfman Youth Fellowship.

Ochs earned her B.A. in Drama and French from Tufts University, an M.F.A. in Theater from Sarah Lawrence College, and Ph.D. in Anthropology of Religion from Drew University. She was ordained as a rabbi in 2012.


  • Dressing For God: Expanding The Jewish Sacred Wardrobe
    Jewish women now have increased options for expressing and experiencing holiness by donning items that serve spiritual purposes. These include wearing diverse head coverings, tallitot and tefillin. Ochs’ talk explores the history and implications of these changes.
  • The Myth of the “Authentic” Jewish Wedding
    Ochs uncovers histories of Jewish wedding practices such as the chuppa, ketubah, seven blessings, and the breaking of a glass. Many practices that we now consider iconic were contested when they were introduced. Considering the ways that Jewish wedding practices have changed allows us to see the current wedding rituals in a different light.
  • 6000 Editions and Counting: Why Do We Keep Revising the Haggadah?
    The Passover Haggadah is a unique text that emerged as an oral tradition, and continues to evolve in written form. Why have thousands of editions emerged—with more to come, many in the form of family and social action haggadot? Ochs explores why the Haggadah has been subject to revision from the very start.