Memorial Ritual for Regina Jonas

First female rabbi Regina Jonas

Regina Jonas was the first woman rabbi, ordained in Germany in 1935. She first served the Jewish community of Berlin and then continued to guide the Jewish community of the Theresienstadt concentration camp after her deportation there. After her death in Auschwitz, her story was lost for decades. In 2014, for the 70th anniversary of her death, a group of women rabbis and scholars traveled to Germany to retrace Rabbi Jonas’s journey, reading her sermons, discussing her impact, and dedicating a memorial plaque at Theresienstadt in a moving ceremony honoring her memory.

Although Rabbi Jonas’s exact date of death is not known, based on the time of her deportation to Auschwitz, the Shabbat on which we read Parashat Bereishit has been chosen as her yahrzeit (memorial) date. This is especially appropriate because as the first woman rabbi, Rabbi Jonas represents an important new beginning in Jewish history, just as Parashat Bereishit tells of the beginning of creation and the beginnings of humanity. Therefore, the time around that Shabbat is a particularly powerful occasion for programming or teaching honoring Rabbi Jonas’s memory. For resources on teaching about Regina Jonas connected to the parashah, click here.

Near her chosen yahrtzeit, Parashat Bereishit, or at any other time of year you may choose to memorialize Regina Jonas using some or all of these ritual suggestions.

  • Share some of Rabbi Jonas’s own words, from this undated sermon given on the occasion of Yizkor, the memorial prayer recited several times a year on major holidays:

“We are living today in a time of trial by fire, testing the strength of our love for children, gratitude, the mutual support of family and friends in these alien conditions. Many people wanted, in spite of all obstacles, to preserve a true sense of Jewish family and peoplehood. Our sages say that the Torah was only given to Israel when the people presented guarantees, and only after they offered their children as guarantees to God. If worry and despondency seek our undoing, the we should think about Yizkor in such a way that we identify ourselves as “arevim tovim” (good guarantees), standing up for Israel, carrying on the work of our ancestors from Sinai…and to thank God sincerely that Yizkor has become the celebration of our souls.”

HaRav Malka Reina bat Zev Wolf v’Sarah

הרב מלכה ריינא בת זאב וואלף ושרה

  • You may also wish to include other powerful teachings from Rabbi Jonas’ surviving writings, which were read at the memorial service in her honor held at Terezin on the 70th anniversary of her death.
  • Light a yahrzeit candle
  • Include Rabbi Regina Jonas’ name on your community’s yahrzeit list. Her Hebrew name was:
    • Recite traditional memorial prayers, such as Kaddish or El Maleh Rachamim
    • It is traditional to honor the memory of someone who has passed away, especially a teacher of Torah like Regina Jonas, by studying or teaching Torah in their honor. See suggestions for connecting her story to Torah.

To learn more about Rabbi Jonas, visit JWA’s Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

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