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Regina Jonas
German rabbi

Regina Jonas

Regina Jonas
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro German rabbi
Was Rabbi
From Germany
Field Religion
Gender female
Birth 3 August 1902, Berlin, Margraviate of Brandenburg
Death 12 October 1944, Auschwitz concentration camps, Nazi Germany (aged 42 years)
Star sign Leo
The details (from wikipedia)


Regina Jonas ([ʀeˈɡiːna ˈjoːnas]); 3 August 1902 – 12 October/12 December 1944) was a Berlin-born rabbi. In 1935, she became the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi. There had been some women before Jonas who made significant contributions to Jewish thought, such as the Maiden of Ludmir, Asenath Barzani, and Lily Montagu, who acted in similar roles without being ordained.

Early life

Jonas' father, who was probably her first teacher, died when she was 13. Like many women at that time, she followed a career as a teacher but was not content with the career she chose. 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 27 December 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 hold services in a synagogue, and she was soon ordered into forced labor. Despite this, she continued her rabbinical work as well as teaching and holding services.

On 4 November 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, 5 November 1942, the Gestapo arrested her and she was deported to Theresienstadt, a notably advanced date for the commencement of internment, in comparison to the fate of most Jews. Within the internment town 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 and screen disorientated newcomers, arriving at the increasingly overcrowded ghetto with a questionnaire on the topic of suicide, designed by Viktor Frankl.

Regina Jonas worked in the Theresienstadt concentration camp for two years, her work included giving lectures on different topics. Records of some 23 written by Jonas survive, including What Is Power Nowdays Jewish Religion, the Power Source for Our Ego Ethics and Religion. During her 2 year internment, Jonas was a member of a specific group that organized concerts, lectures and performances to distract others from events around them.

Upon passing the June 1944 inspection, a number of summer months would pass at relative ease, until most all of the Jewish Council, including Jonas, were then deported amongst the majority of the town, to Auschwitz in mid-October 1944, where she was murdered either less than a day or two months later. She was 42 years old.

Of the 520 or so who lectured in Theresienstadt, including Frankl and Leo Baeck none ever mentioned her name or work.


Regina Jonas's work was rediscovered in 1991 by Dr. Katharina von Kellenbach, a researcher and lecturer in the department of philosophy and theology at St. Mary's College of Maryland, who had been born in Germany. In 1991 she traveled to Germany to research material for a paper on the attitude of the religious establishment (Protestant and Jewish) to women seeking ordination in 1930s Germany. She found an envelope containing the only two existing photos of Regina Jonas, as well as Jonas' rabbinical diploma, teaching certificate, seminary dissertation and other personal documents, in an archive in East Berlin. It was newly available because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of eastern Germany and other archives. It is largely due to von Kellenbach's discovery that Regina Jonas is now widely known.

In 1999, Elisa Klapheck published a biography about Regina Jonas and a detailed edition of her thesis, "Can Women Serve as Rabbis?". The biography, translated into English in 2004 under the title Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas - The Story of the First Woman Rabbi, gives voice to witnesses who knew or met Regina Jonas personally as rabbi in Berlin or Theresienstadt. Klapheck also described Jonas' love relationship with Rabbi Josef Norden.


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

A large portrait of Regina Jonas was installed on a kiosk that tells her story; it was placed in Hackescher Market in Berlin, as part of a citywide exhibition titled “Diversity Destroyed: Berlin 1933-1938-1945,” to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the National Socialists’ rise to power in 1933 and the 75th anniversary of the November pogrom, or Kristallnacht, in 1938.

In 1995, Bea Wyler, who had studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, became the first female rabbi to serve in postwar Germany, in the city of Oldenburg.

In 2001, during a conference of Bet Debora (European women rabbis, cantors and rabbinic scholars) in Berlin, a memorial plaque was revealed at Jonas’ former living place in Krausnickstraße 6 in Berlin-Mitte.

In 2003 and 2004, Gesa Ederberg and Elisa Klapheck were ordained in Israel and the US, later leading egalitarian congregations in Berlin and Frankfurt. Klapheck is the author of Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas – The Story of the First Woman Rabbi (2004).

In 2010, Alina Treiger, who studied at the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, became the first female rabbi to be ordained in Germany since Regina Jonas.

In 2011, Antje Deusel became the first German-born woman to be ordained as a rabbi in Germany since the Nazi era. She was ordained by Abraham Geiger College.

2013 saw the premiere of the documentary Regina, a British, Hungarian, and German co-production directed by Diana Groo. The film concerns Jonas's struggle to be ordained and her romance with Hamburg rabbi Josef Norden.

On 5 April 2014, an original chamber opera, also titled "Regina" and written by composer Elisha Denburg and librettist Maya Rabinovitch, premiered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was commissioned and performed by the independent company Essential Opera and 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.

On 17 October 2014, which was Shabbat Bereishit, communities across America commemorated Regina Jonas's yahrzeit (anniversary of death).

In 2014, a memorial plaque to Regina Jonas was unveiled at the former Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic, where she had been deported to and worked in for two years. There is a short documentary about the trip on which this plaque was unveiled, titled In the Footsteps of Regina Jonas.

In 2015, Abraham Geiger College and the School of Jewish Theology at the University of Potsdam marked the 80th anniversary of Regina Jonas’s ordination with an international conference, titled "The Role of Women’s Leadership in Faith Communities."

In 2017, Nitzan Stein Kokin, who was German, became the first person to graduate from Zecharias Frankel College in Germany, which also made her the first Conservative rabbi to be ordained in Germany since before World War II.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 07 Feb 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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