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Frdulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbiby Elisa Klapheck
Synopses & Reviews
Born at the dawn of the twentieth century in a poor Jewish neighborhood in Berlin, Regina Jonas became the first ordained woman rabbi in the history of Judaism. Her brutal death at the hands of the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1944 might have forever obscured her compelling story if a collection of her personal documents had not been discovered after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Now author, Judaic scholar, and feminist Elisa Klapheck has written the biography of this exceptional and courageous woman after years of studying Jonass papers and recreating her dramatic life story.
Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas tells the moving story of the woman who inspired a new kind of progressive female participation in the Jewish religion. Biographer Elisa Klapheck shows how Jonas overcame formidable resistance and obstacles from conventional Orthodox Jewish institutions to become the first female rabbi. The book includes the text of Jonass definitive treatise on why women can indeed become rabbis, which is based on sound scripture from the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, and other precedents in Jewish halachic law, rabbinic commentary, and Jewish practice. After her ordination in 1935, Jonas spent the remaining years of her life ministering to the abused and terrified German Jewish community as the Nazis rapidly restricted the Jews and robbed them of their property, identity, and social privilege, forcing them into hard labor, poverty, and ultimately death camps.
This moving portrayal of her life reveals Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas as a humorous and passionate woman who was deeply beloved by all she served during the terminal crisis of their lives.
Fräulein Rabbiner Jonas also captures Jonass more private struggles such as her love affair with an older rabbi. This book provides a wonderful historical record of her life and times and is filled with photos, documents, and letters that bring to life this fascinating and heroic woman.
"Though Jonas's ordination in 1935 as the first female rabbi was a groundbreaking event in Jewish history, she was virtually forgotten after the years of genocide that followed in her native Germany. Klapheck, a rabbi herself and co-founder of Bet Deborah, Berlin's first conference of European female rabbis, speculates that the reason for Jonas's surprising post-war obscurity may be two-fold: For German Jews, 'to remember Regina Jonas would be to recall a time when hope for the future had been transformed into murderous self-betrayal,' she writes. Also, 'a woman who steps out of line and succeeds in a male domain' is sometimes seen as an embarrassment. But Klapheck's thoroughly researched account of Jonas's life and work gives her impressive achievements the attention they deserve. In addition to Klapheck's brief but fascinating biographical narrative, the book contains the full text of Jonas's compelling treatise, 'Can Women Serve as Rabbis?' This thesis contains a profusion of examples in Halacha (Jewish religious law) that support her position that a woman is just as 'worthy of receiving God's teachings' as a man. While Jonas concedes that not all Halacha supports her argument, she reasons that in modern times a woman's 'presence among men, even in a House of God, is no longer sexually stimulating,' thus tempering her opponents' likely protest that female rabbis would distract male rabbis. Jonas's murder in an extermination camp, right until which she continued fulfilling her rabbinic duties and preaching to other prisoners, tragically halted what would surely have been a pioneering and remarkable career. Fortunately, the women she inspired, including Klapheck, continue to carry out her valuable efforts." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Fraulein Rabbiner Jonas tells the moving story of the woman who inspired a new kind of progressive female participation in the Jewish religion. Biographer Elisa Klapheck shows how Jonas overcame formidable resistance and obstacles from conventional orthodox Jewish institutions to become the first female rabbi. The book includes the text of Jonas’s definitive treatise on why women can indeed become rabbis, which is based on sound scripture from the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, and other precedents in Jewish halachic law, rabbinic commentary, and Jewish practice. After her ordination in 1935, Jonas spent the remaining years of her life ministering to the abused and terrified German Jewish community as the Nazis rapidly restricted and robbed it of property, identity, and social privilege, forcing the Jews into hard labor, poverty, and ultimately death camps. This moving portrayal of her life reveals Regina Jonas as a humorous and passionate woman who was deeply beloved by all she served during the terminal crisis of their lives.
"Rabbi Elisa Klapheck has recovered for us a vital gem in the history of female ordination. An exciting read! To follow Regina Jonas as she negotiated with the patriarchal system is a surprise and delight for the soul."
Rabbi Zalman Schachter—Shalomi, author, Wrapped in a Holy Flame: Teachings and Tales of the Hasidic Masters
"A most intriguing story both about Jonas herself and Klapheck finding Jonas; the documents, many of which were reproduced for this volume, are riveting historical artifacts. This volume engenders admiration for a woman who had the inner strength to seek ordination when her social and religious milieu adamantly opposed leadership roles for women. This research pushes the beginnings of Jewish feminism, which is considered by most to have started in the United States in the 1970s, back to Germany in the 1930s."
Judith Hauptman, E. Billi Ivry Professor of Talmud and Rabbinic Culture; author, Rereading the Rabbis, a Womans Voice
About the Author
Elisa Klapheck is an ordained rabbi in Berlin, Germany. For many years Klapheck also worked as a journalist for major German newspapers, radio, and TV and was formerly the editor-in-chief of Berlins Jewish monthly jüdisches berlin [Jewish Berlin].
Table of Contents
List of Photos and Translations.
Foreword (Hermann Simon).
My Journey Toward Regina Jonas.
The Story of Regina Jonas.
Preliminary Notes: On the Halachic Treatise of Regina Jonas.
Halachic Treatise: Can Women Serve As Rabbis? (Regina Jonas).
Structure of the Talmud (According to Maimonides).
Additional Halachic Compendia and Commentaries.
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