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Regina Jonas:
The First Woman Rabbi in the World

Regina Jonas was born on August 3, 1902 in Berlin. Her father died when she was very young. She became a teacher like many women at that time, however Regina Jonas was not content with simply being a teacher. In Berlin, she enrolled at the Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums, the Academy for the Science of Judaism, a seminary for liberal rabbis and educators. There she graduated as an "Academic Teacher of Religion."

Still that did not satisfy her. Regina Jonas wanted to become a rabbi. She wrote a thesis that would have been an ordination requirement. Her topic was: "Can a Woman Be a Rabbi According to Halachic Sources?" Her conclusion, based on biblical, Talmudic, and rabbinical sources, was: Yes.. And thus, she should have been ordained.

The Talmud professor responsible for ordinations refused to ordain her. Regina applied to Rabbi Leo Baeck, spiritual leader of German Jewry, who had taught her at the seminary. He also refused, maybe because her ordination would have caused massive intra-Jewish communal problems with the Orthodox rabbinate in Germany.

On December 27, 1935 Regina Jonas was ordained by the liberal Rabbi Max Dienemann in Offenbach who was the head of the Liberal Rabbis’ Association. Being ordained was one thing, but finding a pulpit was another. Regina Jonas found work as a chaplain in various Jewish social institutions.

Because of Nazi persecution many rabbis emigrated and so many small communities were without rabbinical support. How ironic: Nazi persecution made it possible for her to be a rabbi and to preach in a synagogue, but not for a long period. She was soon ordered - like all Jews - into forced labor in a factory. Despite this, she continued her rabbinical work, i.e. she continued to teach and to preach.

On November 3, 1942, Regina Jonas had to fill out a declaration form. That declaration form listed her property — including her books. Two days later, all her property was confiscated "for the benefit of the German Reich." The next day, Gestapo arrested her. It was November 6, 1942. She was deported to Theresienstadt. Even there her rabbinate did not end. Viktor Frankl, the well-known psychologist, asked her for help. He wanted to built up a crisis intervention service to improve the possibility of surviving. . Her particular job was to meet the trains at the station. There she helped people cope with shock and disorientation.

A hand-written list of 24 of her lectures entitled "Lectures of the One and Only Woman Rabbi, Regina Jonas," still exists and can still be found in the archives of Theresienstadt. Five lectures are about the history of Jewish women,. five deal with Talmudic topics, two deal with Biblical themes,. three with pastoral issues, and nine offer general introductions to Jewish beliefs, ethics, and the festivals.

Regina Jonas worked tirelessly in Theresienstadt for two years. Finally, she was deported to Auschwitz. We even know on which day she was murdered. It was December 12, 1944. She was 42 years old .

In 1972 the reform and reconstructionist movement in the USA began to ordain women rabbis. In 1995 Bea Wyler, who had studied at the JTS in New York, became the first woman rabbi in post war Germany at the Jewish community of Oldenburg.

Regina Jonas
Zwischen Tradition und Aufbruch
Von Iris Weiss

Regina Jonas 1902-1944
Von Rachel Monika Herweg

[Rabbiner in Berlin] [Frauen in Berlin]

Bet Debora - Berlin

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