March 26-April 8, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 6
Back Issues
Someone else’s shoes
Fraser answers call
Research week showcases students’ work
Headlines @ U.Va.
Conference to examine where the arts belong
Ayers wins Bancroft Prize
Davis Parker’s Magnum Opus
Move over, Sigmund
Emily Couric’s political papers now part of U.Va. library collection
‘Telling Moments’ project aids high school Spanish teachers
Expert to discuss new findings on equity in higher education
Students, employees give back to community
Move over, Sigmund
Book offers guide to interpreting dreams for a richer spiritual life
Vanessa Ochs (left), and her daughter Elizabeth
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
Vanessa Ochs (left), director of U.Va.’s Jewish Studies Program, collaborated with her daughter, Elizabeth, on a dream interpretation book that combines ancient wisdom with modern insights.

By Charlotte Crystal

Dreams have fascinated people since ancient times and different traditions have found different ways of interpreting them.
Vanessa Ochs, U.Va.’s Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies, and her daughter, Elizabeth Ochs, a student at Brown University, may have written the most recent entry in this ancient tradition with the publication of “The Jewish Dream Book: The Key to Opening the Inner Meaning of Your Dreams.”

Drawn from ancient and modern Jewish texts, the book is intended as a bedside companion to enrich readers’ lives through a better understanding of their dreams. It includes artwork by Kristina Swarner, the award-winning illustrator of “Yiddish Wisdom” and “Yiddish Wisdom for Parents.”

The book will appeal most to Jewish readers familiar with the Torah, but could also benefit other readers comfortable with the Bible’s Old Testament. It does not offer a single approach to dream interpretation, but a range of teachings and practices that are rooted in antiquity and updated in light of contemporary understanding about dreams.

The 107-page book, published by Jewish Light Publishing, is organized into three parts: the first presents an overview of Jewish teachings on dreams and dream interpretation, the second offers instructions for a variety of dream practices and the third offers suggestions for further reading.

The book came about as Vanessa Ochs realized there were voices missing in the Old Testament.

“Had I read that God appeared to Sarah in her dream and told her to set off on a journey to a land of promise, I might have begun listening for the divine voice in my own dreams long ago,” she wrote in the book’s introduction. “As it stands, God appeared only to Abraham in a dream and in visions, which set Abraham off on his journey to become the father of a great nation. Sarah is depicted as the wife who, along with the livestock, tags along.

“Fortunately, I, like many others, have been inspired by the work of feminist biblical scholars, and have learned to read Jewish sacred texts in more expansive ways so that I can feel that the words include both women and men. I have learned to imagine the words God spoke to Sarah in her dreams, words that were never recorded. I have imagined dreams given to the other women in the Bible that prompted them to set forth on their own spiritual paths.

“I also learned that there is no part of life that cannot be shaped and made sacred through Judaism — including dreams. As one who analyzes and develops new Jewish rituals, I have learned how to study practices performed by Jews in different settings, ancient and modern, in order to adapt them to our lives today.”

In studying the Talmud, Ochs realized that the best Jewish minds had been grappling with the meaning of dreams for millennia. In the Talmudic period (200-500 B.C.E.) dreams were considered a particular category of blessing: they were gifts that had to be opened.

Conceived as a “dream book” similar to those of other traditions, both ancient and modern, the Ochs’ book offers a way to open those gifts by sharing an understanding of the nature of dreams and serving as a manual for their interpretation.

“ We hope that in your own study and spiritual practice, you will discover ways of having a dream life that is rich in insight and leads to spiritual growth,” Ochs said..


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