Today’s show is about Rabbi Regina Jonas.
Try to imagine being the first person in the world to do something.
Anything. What would that be?
The reason why I ask you to try and find a place in your mind that puts you in front of everybody else and says, everybody else, in the world, is wrong, and I am right!!
That includes not only the people I don’t know, on the other side of the world, that
I’ve never met, don’t necessarily respect, but even the people that I respect the most.
Even my mother, even my father. They’re wrong too, and I am right.
The first female rabbi in the world was Rabbi Regina Jonas from Berlin, Germany.
This story is interesting on a few different levels.
One is what I’m talking about now.
Regina was a teacher, and then she went on to study at the Academy for the Science of Judaism. She graduated, and her position then was an Academic Teacher of Religion.
Not a rabbi, but that’s not what she wanted. Regina, our heroine! Wanted to be a rabbi.
So she went ahead and wrote a thesis, which is a requirement if you want to be ordained.
The subject of her thesis was: “Can a Woman be a Rabbi According to Halachic Sources?”
Her conclusion, based on biblical, Talmudic, and rabbinical sources was: Yes, and therefore, she should have been ordained!!
Clever, but not enough.
The professors there refused to ordain her.
Regina then applied to Rabbi Leo Baeck, the spiritual leader of the German Jewry at the time, who was her teacher also.
But our Regina Jonas was persistent! Not taking no for an answer!
A more liberal rabbi, Max Dienemann, in Offenbach, who was the head of the Liberal Rabbis Association ordained Regina Jonas on December 27, 1935!! YOOHOO!!!
The next part of Regina’s story is very sad.
Of course, Germany in the 1930’s was the rise of the Third Reich.
Many Rabbis of Germany fled, left, which enabled Regina, funnily enough, to finally be able to have her congregation, because up to that point, she didn’t.
But not for long.
She was forced to a labor factory, then in 1942 arrested and deported to Theresienstadt.
In the concentration camp, she continued her rabbinical work.
She was there for two years before being deported to Auschwitz, and murdered in December of 1944 at the age of 42 years old.
How do we know about her story?
It was widely thought that the first ordained female rabbi was Sally Jane Priesand from the US in 1972.
After the fall of the Berlin wall, Regina Jonas’s files were found in an obscure archive in East Berlin. She had left there a few of her papers, two photographs of herself.
A short documentary film was made to record the trip to Germany to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Regina Jonas’s death.
Gail Reimer directed it, it’s called “In The Footsteps of Regina Jonas.”
Here’s a short clip from the ceremony at Theresienstadt, during that commemoration trip.
Thank you to The Jewish Women’s Archive which you can find at JWA.org. And to the Yad Vashem website. And to HaGalil.com
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