She was orphaned as a young girl. She originally pursued a career as a teacher, but wanted more for her life. In Berlin, she took seminary classes at the Hochschule fur de Wissenschaft des Judentums, where she graduated as an "Academic Teacher of Religion." Her goal was to become a rabbi. She wrote her thesis, "Can a Woman Be a Rabbi According to Halachic Sources?" based on Biblical Talmudic, and rabbinical sources, with the conclusion that she, in fact, could be ordained. She was initially refused on terms that it would have caused massive intra-Jewish communal problems in Germany. But, on December 27, 1935, liberal Rabbi Max Dienemann, granted her ordination.
She worked as a chaplain in various social institutions while she looked for a synagogue just as the Nazis began their program of genocide. She was forced into labor programs but continued to use every opportunity to teach and preach.
On November 4, 1942, she was required to fill out a declaration listing her property. Two days later, all her property was confiscated "for the benefit of the German Feich" and she was arrested and deported to Theresienstadt, in the current-day Czech Republic. Even there, she continued her work as a rabbi, ministering to the other prisoners, helping them cope with shock and disorientation. She worked there until mid-October of 1944, when she was deported to Auschwitz, where she was murdered two months later. She was 42 years old.
This is just a short biography. There's also a movie about her life you should check out [CN: music starts when the page loads]. The wonderful folks over at the Jewish Women's Archives have been running a fantastic series of posts on Regina Jonas all summer.
Walking in the Footsteps of Regina Jonas
Remembering Rabbi Regina Jonas
The "Lost" Story of Regina Jonas
Honoring the Real First Woman Rabbi
"We Who Are Her Successors": Honoring Rabbi Regina Jonas
Visiting the Regina Jonas Archive at the Centrum Judaicum
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