Memorial tablet for Regina Jonas, first female rabbi to be ordained.
|Born||3 August 1902
|Died||12 December 1944
Auschwitz concentration camp, Nazi Germany
Regina Jonas (3 August 1902 – 12 December 1944) was a Berlin-born rabbi. In 1935, she became the first woman 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 without being ordained).
She 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, was that she should be ordained. However, the Talmud professor responsible for ordinations refused her because she was a woman. Jonas applied to Rabbi Leo Baeck, spiritual leader of German Jewry, who had taught her at the seminary. He also refused because the ordination of a female rabbi 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 am Main. 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 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 the Theresienstadt concentration camp for two years—her work including giving lectures on different topics—until she was deported to Auschwitz in mid-October 1944, where she was murdered two months later. She was 42 years old.
There have been many other gifted Jewish people giving lectures in Theresienstadt, such as Leo Baeck. Most of them have been murdered. None of the famous survivors has ever mentioned her name or work at Terezin.
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.
In 2013 a documentary about Regina Jonas, titled Regina, premiered. It is directed by Diana Groo, and concerns Regina Jonas's struggle to be ordained as a rabbi, and also her romance with Hamburg rabbi Josef Norden. It is a British, Hungarian and German co-production.
On April 5, 2014 an original chamber opera, titled "Regina", written by composer Elisha Denburg and librettist Maya Rabinovitch was commissioned and premiered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by the independent company Essential Opera. It featured soprano Erin Bardua in the role of Regina, and soprano Maureen Batt as the student who uncovers her forgotten legacy in the archives of East Berlin in 1991. The opera is scored for five voices, clarinet, violin, accordion, and piano.
- Boulouque, Clémence. Nuit ouverte. ed. Flammarion, Paris 2007. Novel. (See Review by Claudio Magris "Una Donna per rabbino" Corriere della Sera, September 2007)
- 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)
- Milano, Maria Teresa."Regina Jonas.Vita di una rabbina Berlino 1902 Auschwitz 1944" ed. EFFATA' 2012
- Sarah, Elizabeth. "Rabbiner Regina Jonas 1902–1944: Missing Link in a Broken Chain" in Sheridan, Sybil (ed.): Hear our voice: women in the British rabbinate, Studies in Comparative Religion series. Paperback, 1st North American edition. Columbia, South Carolina: University 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
- Paula Ackerman, the first woman to perform rabbinical functions in the United States (she was never ordained)
- Antje Deusel, the first German-born woman to be ordained as a rabbi in Germany since the Nazi era 
- Amy Eilberg, the first woman ordained by the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary of America
- Sally Priesand, the first woman ordained by the Reform Hebrew Union College
- Jackie Tabick, the United Kingdom's first woman rabbi, ordained at Leo Baeck College
- Alina Treiger, the first female rabbi ordained in Germany since Regina Jonas 
- Bea Wyler, the first female rabbi in postwar Germany 
- Klapheck, Elisa. "Regina Jonas 1902–1944". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
- "List of Lecturers in Ghetto Theresienstadt". University over the Abyss. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
- Klapheck, Elisa. Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi, introductory chapter: My Journey toward Regina Jonas
- "Oldenburg". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
- Breitenbach, Dagmar (4 November 2010). "German Jews ordain first female rabbi since World War II". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 4 November 2010.
- The First Woman Rabbi in the World
- St. Mary's college of Maryland: Rabbi Regina Jonas Memorial page.
- Theresienstadt Ghetto
- Aryeh Dayan (May 25, 2004). "A forgotten myth". Haaretz.
- Regina Jonas: "The one and only woman rabbi" during dark times Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah, August 3, 2002
- A Case of Communal Amnesia Rabbi Dr. Sybil Sheridan, 16 May 1999
- Regina Jonas: Audio feature from The Open University