Inventing Jewish Ritual

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  • Vanessa L. Ochs (author)
  • Riv-Ellen Prell (foreword)
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About the Book

A celebration of innovation and creativity in Jewish ritual.

Vanessa Ochs invites her readers to explore how Jewish practice can be more meaningful through renewing, reshaping, and even creating new rituals, such as naming ceremonies for welcoming baby girls, healing services, Miriam’s cup, mitzvah days, egalitarian wedding practices, and commitment ceremonies. We think of rituals—the patterned ways of doing things that have shared and often multiple meanings— as being steeped in tradition and therefore unalterable. But rituals have always been reinvented. When we perform ancient rituals in a particular place and time they are no longer quite the same rituals they once were. Each is a debut, an innovation: this Sabbath meal, this Passover seder, this wedding—firsts in their own unique ways. In the last 30 years there has been a surge of interest in reinventing ritual, in what is called minhag America. Ochs describes the range and diversity of interest in this Jewish American experience and examines how it reflects tradition as it revives Jewish culture and faith. And she shows us how to create our own ritual objects, sacred spaces, ceremonies, and liturgies that can be paths to greater personal connection with history and with holiness: baby-naming ceremonies for girls, divorce rituals, Shabbat practices, homemade haggadahs, ritual baths, healing services. Through these and more, we see that American Judaism is a dynamic cultural process very much open to change and a source of great personal and communal meaning.

The ceramic “Tree of Life” spice container that appears on the cover of Inventing Jewish Ritual is by Susan Garson of Garson and Pakele Studios.


National Jewish Book Award Winner 2007


Inventing Jewish Ritual by Vanessa Ochs is a wonderful read, especially if one is an egalitarian Jew. Her passionate feminism comes through clearly, as does her pride in being Jewish. The two play together brilliantly.
—Edgar Bronfman

Reading Inventing Jewish Ritual did precisely what any good ritual should . . . it enchanted, delighted, destabilized, anchored, challenged and charmed . . . a must read for anyone who wants to know how ritual works to make us wiser and more compassionate and wants to reimagine life as the most profound ritual of all.

—Rabbi Irwin Kula

Explores how traditional communities can move beyond skepticism to turn invented rituals into sanctioned, even beloved, traditions.


Offers a clear, informative discussion of a dynamic process that will continue to change the face of American Judaism.

—Publishers Weekly

Ochs is a gentle guide to the world of new Jewish ritual, both for newcomers to the concept and for those who are already immersed within it.

A compelling case for creating new ritual in Jewish life – new ways to observe holidays and mark life-cycle events – while reminding that it is the doing that makes ritual come alive and the practice real.

—Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

Vanessa L. Ochs

Vanessa Ochs is the Isa and Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies at the University of Virginia.

Riv-Ellen Prell


  • View video of author Vanessa Ochs discussing new Jewish traditions.

Study Guides

Read article by author in the Jerusalem Post, From Torah Yoga to Shoah Scrolls.

Read article by author in New Jersey Jewish News on-line, "When you sit in your house and when you go...on-line"

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