November 4, 2010 12:42 AM   Subscribe

Regina Jonas was the first woman rabbi. Ordained by the head of the German Liberal Rabbis’ Association in 1935 she continued to meet considerable resistance from many more conservative Jews; nevertheless she continued to work as a rabbi whereever she could find an audience even after being deported to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt; she remained there, giving comfort as she could, until she was murdered at Auschwitz in 1944. Her work was, for many years, forgotten until her papers were discovered in East Germany.
Ukrainian-born German Alina Treiger is to become the first woman ordained in Germany as a Rabbi since then.
posted by rodgerd (5 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
These articles give scanty information about the practice of ordaining rabbis in general. I was raised secular, so I may make some little mistakes here for others to correct, but the important point about Regina Jonas as a historic first is that there is no central bureau of rabbis. Any rabbi can ordain anyone else as a rabbi. It's only a matter of opinion and tradition whether rabbis ought to ordain women, and as the saying goes, when you ask three Jews you get five opinions. In fact, there is no way to punish people for making "bad" ordinations-- you could expel someone from your village, but you can't make a Jew non-Jewish.

So, Jonas was undeniably a rabbi. The resistance she would have met would simply have come from people who refused to believe that a woman could have the same intellectual capacity as a man, similar to the first female mayor we discussed here just two months ago. In the early 20th century orthodox Jewish community this would have been quite a burden indeed.
posted by shii at 12:53 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

The resistance she would have met would simply have come from people who refused to believe that a woman could have the same intellectual capacity as a man

Yeah, no. The article itself says that she was respected by her rabbinic teachers and colleagues, but most of them still declined to ordain her.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:36 AM on November 4, 2010

Tikkun olam. Sweet.
posted by eegphalanges at 6:12 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

She was the first woman ordained as a rabbi, but not the first to fulfill the role as a rabbi. There was, for instance, Asenath Barzani, a Kurdish woman and daughter of a noted Jewish scholar, who was highly regarded for her understanding of and ability to interpret Jewish law. Then there was the Maiden of Ludmir, Hannah Rachel Verbermacher, who fulfilled many of the functions of a rabbi in her Hasidic community in the Ukraine.

Even going back to Talmudic times, there was Bruriah, wife of the Tanna Rabbi Meir, whose knowledge of Jewish law was considered unparalleled and who was often consulted about the matter (which, for much of Jewish history, was the primary job of the rabbi).
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:57 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Very nice post, rodgerd, thank you. And thank you, Astro Zombie, for your interesting contribution as well.
posted by clockzero at 7:31 AM on November 4, 2010

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