Commemorating Rabbi Regina Jonas
This October marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Regina Jonas, the first woman ever ordained as a rabbi. Born in Berlin in 1902, Jonas began talking to friends about her desire to become a rabbi when she was still a teen, and later studied under Eduard Banath, who oversaw ordination for the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, a liberal, nondenominational seminary in Berlin. But when Banath died in 1930, Jonas struggled to find another rabbi willing to ordain her. She argued brilliantly for the possibility of women becoming rabbis and eventually won over Rabbi Max Dienemann, executive director of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis, in 1935. Over the next few years, Jonas preached at the Neue Synagogue and lectured to WIZO (the Women’s International Zionist Organization) and local sisterhoods in Berlin, gradually becoming accepted as a spiritual leader for the Jewish community. Even after her deportation to Terezin, she continued to preach and to offer spiritual comfort to her fellow prisoners.
But after her death in Auschwitz, Jonas was forgotten, unmentioned even by the theologian Leo Baeck and psychologist Viktor Frankl, who had known and worked with her. It was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall that her papers—and her story—came to light again.
Inspired by a trip to Berlin and Prague in the footsteps of Regina Jonas in July, co-sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Archive and the American Jewish Archives, rabbis and leaders from across the denominations have partnered to commemorate Jonas’s death and honor her work on Shabbat Bereishit. For those eager to participate in remembering her, we have assembled resources on Jonas, from biographies, articles, and documentaries to samples of her writing and ideas for sermons linking Jonas’s story to Shabbat Bereishit and the High Holidays. We’re eager to hear how different communities choose to remember Jonas, and will be using the hashtag #reginaremembered to share ideas. May her memory be a blessing.
Remembering Regina Jonas around the web:
How to cite this page
Feld, Lisa Batya. "Commemorating Rabbi Regina Jonas ." 29 September 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 1, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/berlin-prague-2014/commemorating-regina-jonas>.