Fraulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi

Elisa Klapheck, Author, Toby Axelrod, Translator Jossey-Bass $24.95 (220p) ISBN 978-0-7879-6987-5
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.
Reviewed on: 10/04/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
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