The Jewish Dream Book, by Vanessa Ochs

Dream a Little Dream
The Jewish Dream Book: The Key to Opening the Inner Meaning of Your Dreams
By Vanessa L. Ochs

Reviewed by Rabbi Jason Miller

What does Judaism have to say about dreams?  You might be surprised to discover that Judaism, in fact, has quite a lot to say about what goes on in our brains between the time we fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning.  We need only open the Book of Genesis to the Joseph saga, the wonderful story of our ancestor the dreamer that we are now reading about in synagogue, to discover the rich history of dream interpretation in the Jewish tradition.  It is not difficult to see where Joseph’s penchant for dreams and their meaning comes from.  His father, Jacob, encountered God through the dream of a ladder with ascending and descending angels; and, Joseph’s grandfather, Abraham, received the call to be the father of a great and numerous people through a dream.  Our ancient Jewish sages put forth much wisdom about dreams and their interpretation throughout rabbinic literature.

If you have ever had an interesting, odd, scary, or funny dream only to forget it the next day, then you would be wise to keep The Jewish Dreambook at your bedside.  Vanessa Ochs has authored a book that will help you uncover the hidden meanings in your dreams, revealing the meanings they may hold for you.  She takes the reader on a journey, beginning with the rich origins of dreams and the classical Jewish approaches to dream interpretation.  However, as an educator who puts much emphasis on ritual, Ochs dedicates the bulk of her book to “Jewish Dream Practices.”

She helps us find inspiration and spiritual understanding in our dreams.  Using an engaging and entertaining method, she gives us practical advice for gaining control of our dreams.  Ochs offers bedtime rituals to help us prepare for dreaming, dream practices for waking up, and even, ways to respond to our nightmares.  At first, I found this ritual (called Hatavat Chalom) esoteric and silly, but when I gave it a chance, I realized it is actually a motivating approach for dealing with bad dreams.  Ochs looks to the Talmud to help make sense of nightmares, borrowing the customs described therein to suggest ways to relieve any lingering feelings of fear from the night just passed.  I found it much easier to begin the day after confronting the bad dreams and transforming them to good ones.

As a feminist, Ochs, devotes a chapter to mapping out a curriculum for women to hold Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the Jewish month) gatherings devoted to dreaming.  She writes, “The New Moon is taken as an occasion to dwell on the illumination that dreams and their interpretation can bring into one’s life.”  The goal of these gatherings is to allow individuals the space to share something that most of us regard as private – our dreams.  She also offers that dreams can be a kind of prayer that encourages healing, as well as a means to work through grief after the mourning period.

I found her chapter on “bedtime rituals to help prepare for dreaming” to be a wonderful resource.  The mere phrase “bedtime prayers” conjures up images of non-Jews in television shows hunched over their beds.  However, there exists a beautiful tradition of bedtime prayers for Jews called Hamapil.  If you have ever wanted to begin a Shema Yisrael custom with your children, but were not sure where to begin, you can now use this book as a guide.  Similarly, I encourage you to take on this routine before you turn in each night.  Whether you are interested in just trying to remember your dreams in the morning, or you want to decode your dreams, conquer your nightmares, and learn to link your dreams to Torah, this is a wonderful book to keep at arms length after you wish everyone “lilah tov.”