Reading Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, in my experience, requires an investment of time and attention but is very worthwhile.

For starters, her comments on any one portion will run 25-30 pages or more, and I have never felt like I got all she had to say on one reading. (Skimming is not a good option.) Her main points are developed through reference to many sources: rabbinic and medieval midrash as well as Hassidic commentaries; Shakespeare and other literary sources; and the literature of psychoanalysis. It therefore can take a while to grasp what she’s teaching. It is also important to note that, for better or worse, she takes Freud and followers as “gospel”; her main point can often not be understood without assuming that worldview.

One benefit of her style is that reading Zornberg provides a great introduction to a variety of sources. She is precise and thorough in her references, which means that the reader can follow up to learn more — or just to see the original — if desired. (Lots of great endnotes.) But she also conveys a familiarity with the sources that gives the reader a sense that they, too, “know” these sources — almost as though you’ve been adopted by a large family and have inherited their stories.

Equally important, in my opinion, Zornberg’s sense that the text and our lives inform one another also conveys with her work.

On-line, Audio, Video

Here is a brief biography and a short conversation regarding her concept of the “biblical unconscious.” Another biography is offered at Torah In Motion.

Torah in Motion also offers (for a fee) some of Zornberg’s extensive lectures. Some people find that she is easier to follow as an oral teacher. “J insider” offers a free series of short, very accessible videos called “Uncertain Times.”


The Beginnings of Desire: Reflections on Genesis. NY: Doubleday, 1996.
The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus. NY: Doubleday, 2001.
The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious. NY: Schocken, 2009.
—“Cries and Whispers: The Death of Sarah” IN Beginning Anew: A Woman’s Companion to the High Holidays. Gail Twersky Reimer and Judith A. Kates, editors. Simon and Schuster, 1997.
—“The Concealed Alternative” IN Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Resource. Judith A. Kates and Gail Twersky Reimer, eds. NY: Ballantine, 1994.

Posted by vspatz

Virginia blogs on Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day" and manages the Education Town Hall and #WeLuvBooks sites. More at

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