Regina Jonas

The first female rabbi and how she was almost forgotten.

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Jonas distinguishes between immutable statutes of divine origin on the one hand and "opinions" of individual rabbis on the other. For her, the validity of a prohibition depends on the reasoning behind it, not on the prohibition as such.

A key issue in her argument is the ideal of Tz'ni'ut--(Modesty). She expects women in particular to re-establish values such as humility, restraint and morality. In her opinion, a female rabbi should not marry--but every woman should be free to decide if she wants a life as wife and mother or a profession according to her skills. In Jonas's opinion, women are especially fit to be rabbis, since "female qualities" such as compassion, social skills, psychological intuition and accessibility to the young are essential prerequisites for the rabbinate. Therefore, female rabbis are "a cultural necessity."

Jonas's thesis received a grade of "good" (Praedikat gut). Soon thereafter, Eduard Baneth died and his successor, Hanokh Albeck (pictured) (1890-1972), proved unwilling to ordain a woman. None of the other professors of the Hochschule raised their voices on this issue, probably fearing a scandal. As a result, Regina Jonas graduated only as religious teacher. In the following years, she taught religion at several girls' schools in Berlin, where she was known to be a very popular and committed teacher.

In 1933, the workload for Jewish teachers increased tremendously, since the students who had to leave public schools due to antisemitism not only needed Jewish knowledge, but also needed to learn to be proud of their Jewish heritage.

Achieving Ordination

Nevertheless, Jonas continued to pursue ordination. Finally, in 1935, Rabbi Max Dienemann (1875-1939), executive director of the Liberaler Rabbinerverband (Conference of Liberal Rabbis) agreed to the ordination, on behalf of the Verband. Her diploma of ordination reads: "Since I saw that her heart is with God and Israel, and that she dedicates her soul to her goal, and that she fears God, and that she passed the examination in matters of religious law, I herewith certify that she is qualified to answer questions of religious law and entitled to hold the rabbinic office. And may God protect her and guide her on all her ways."

Only a few years of rabbinic work in Berlin were granted to Regina Jonas. In 1937, the Berlin Jewish Gemeinde (official community) began to employ her officially as "pastoral-rabbinic counselor" in its welfare institutions. Thereafter she officiated regularly at the Jewish Hospital. Since more and more rabbis were imprisoned or had emigrated, she also started to preach in the more liberal synagogues in Berlin. A group of regulars from the famous Neue Synagoge, the flagship of German Jewry, had her preach at Havdalah services in the "weekday" synagogue. Jonas lectured to groups of WIZO and the Jüdischer Frauenbund, as well as to sisterhoods of the Jewish lodges.

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Rabbi Elisa Klapheck

Elisa Klapheck, born in D?sseldorf (Germany) in 1962, studied political science while simultaneously pursuing independent studies of Torah and Talmud. She was a journalist for the German newspapers Tagesspiegel and Taz and, later, also for radio and television. Since May 2005, Klapheck has been the rabbi of Amsterdam's progressive Jewish community, Beit ha-Hiddush.