Jonas, Regina

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JONAS, REGINA (1902–1944), German rabbi and Holocaust victim. Born in Berlin in 1902, Regina Jonas completed her secondary education, receiving a license to teach in girls' schools in 1924. Shortly afterwards, she began studying at the Berlin rabbinical seminary, the *Hochschule fuer die Wisenschaft des Judentums (College of Jewish Studies). Ordinarily the Hochschule awarded female students a diploma certifying them as Academic Teachers of Religion. Jonas, however, desired rabbinic ordination. In 1930, she completed her thesis, "Can a Woman Hold Rabbinical Office?" in which she argued that Jewish law permitted female ordination. Although the distinguished scholar Professor Eduard Baneth accepted her thesis, he died before he could administer the oral exam in Jewish law required of all rabbinical candidates. Whether or not Baneth would have ordained her is not known. His successor believed Jewish law forbade women's ordination, and would not ordain Jonas. Instead she received a special transcript noting that she was becoming a skilled preacher.

In the years immediately following her graduation from the Hochschule, Jonas indeed found opportunities to preach. In 1935 Rabbi Max *Dienemann, one of the leaders of German Liberal Judaism, examined her and privately ordained her. She thus became the first woman rabbi, and from then until her death, many knew her as Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas. In 1937 the Jewish community of Berlin hired her to teach and also to provide rabbinical spiritual care for the elderly and the ill. As Nazism intensified its anti-Jewish persecution, Jonas was an active community presence, serving congregations whose rabbis had emigrated or been arrested. In late 1942, she was deported to Theresienstadt. Her work there included meeting new arrivals at the train station, trying to alleviate their horror as they confronted this terrible ghetto. She also lectured on biblical, talmudic, and religious themes for the ghetto's cultural programs. From there, Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas made her final journey. Sharing the fate of her people, the first woman rabbi was murdered in Auschwitz.


K. von Kellenbach. "'God Does Not Oppress Any Human Being': The Life and Thought of Rabbi Regina Jonas," in: Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 39 (1994), 213–25; P.S. Nadell. Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination (1998), 85–87, 112–16; E. Klapheck, Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi (2004).

[Pamela S. Nadell (2nd ed.)]