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Regina Jonas

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Regina Jonas (August 3, 1902 - December 12, 1944) was a Berlin-born rabbi. She was the first Jewish womanin history to be ordained as a rabbi (though there had been some previous women, such as the Maiden of Ludmir and Asenath Barzani, who acted in similar roles).

Early life

Jonas became orphaned from her father when she was very young. Like many women at that time, she followed a career as a teacher but was not content. In Berlin, she enrolled at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, Higher Institute for Jewish Studies - the Academy for the Science of Judaism, and took seminary courses for liberal rabbis and educators. There she graduated as an "Academic Teacher of Religion."

With the goal of becoming a rabbi, Jonas 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, proved that she should be ordained. However, the Talmud professor responsible for ordinations refused her. Jonas applied to Rabbi Leo Baeck, spiritual leader of German Jewry, who had taught her at the seminary. He also refused because her ordination would have caused massive intra-Jewish communal problems with the Orthodox rabbinate in Germany.

On December 27, 1935 Regina Jonas received her Semicha and was ordained by the liberal Rabbi Max Dienemann, who was the head of the Liberal Rabbis’ Association, in Offenbach, Hesse. Jonas found work as a chaplain in various Jewish social institutions while attempting to find a pulpit.

Persecution and death

Because of Nazi persecution, many rabbis emigrated and many small communities were without rabbinical support. The duress of Nazi persecution made it impossible for Jonas to be a rabbi and to preach in a synagogue, and she was soon ordered into forced labor. Despite this, she continued her rabbinical work as well as teaching and preaching.

On November 4, 1942, Regina Jonas had to fill out a declaration form that listed her property, including her books. Two days later, all her property was confiscated "for the benefit of the German Reich." The next day, November 5, 1942 the Gestapo arrested her and she was deported to Theresienstadt. She continued her work as a rabbi, and Viktor Frankl, the well-known psychologist, asked her for help in building a crisis intervention service to improve the possibility of surviving by helping to prevent suicide attempts. Her particular job was to meet the trains at the station. There she helped people cope with shock and disorientation.

Regina Jonas worked tirelessly in Theresienstadt concentration camp for two years - her work including giving lectures on different topics - until she was deported to Auschwitz in the midth of October 1944, where she was murdered two months later. She was 42 years old.

Many other gifted Jewish people gave lectures in Theresienstadt. [1] Most of them were murdered. None of the famous survivors has ever mentioned Jonas' name or work at Terezin, nor has there been research on the reason why,[2]

Life work and legacy

A hand-written list of twenty-four of her lectures entitled "Lectures of the One and Only Woman Rabbi, Regina Jonas," still exists and can 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.

In 1972 the Reform and Reconstructionist movements in the USA began to ordain women rabbis. In 1995 Bea Wyler, who had studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, became the first woman rabbi in post war Germany at the Jewish community of Oldenburg.


  • Klapheck, Elisa. Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi, Toby Axelrod (Translated) ISBN 0-7879-6987-7
  • Makarova, Elena, Sergei Makarov & Victor Kuperman. University Over The Abyss. The story behind 520 lecturers and 2,430 lectures in KZ Theresienstadt 1942-1944. Second edition, April 2004, Verba Publishers Ltd. Jerusalem, Israel, 2004. ISBN 965-424-049-1, (Preface: Prof. Yehuda Bauer)
  • Sarah, Elizabeth. "Rabbiner Regina Jonas 1902-1944: Missing Link in a Broken Chain" in Hear Our Voice: Women in the British Rabbinate by Sybil Sheridan. Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1998. ISBN 157003088X
  • Von Kellenbach, Katharina. “’God Does Not Oppress Any Human Being’ The Life and Thought of Rabbi Regina Jonas,” in Leo Baeck Year Book, 1994
  • _________. “Denial and Defiance in the Work of Rabbi Regina Jonas” in In God's Name: Genocide and Religion in the 20th Century, Phyllis Mack and Omar Bartov, eds. Berghahn Publishers, 2000


  1. List of Lecturers in Ghetto Theresienstadt
  2. Elisa Klapheck, Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi, introductory chapter: My Journey toward Regina Jonas

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Regina Jonas. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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