Today discussing the appointment of a female rabbi means walking on hot coals, just imagine how it would have been in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. This story deserves historical attention and female regard: Katerina von Kellenbach, an American researcher of German origin, went to East Berlin in 1991, just two years after the fall of the wall, in order to do research in the archives which were finally made available to the public. Serendipitously, Kellenbach cames across an envelope containing a bilingual document in Hebrew and German, “A Teaching Certificate”, dated 12 December 1930, authorizing a woman named Regina Jonas to teach Jewish studies and the Hebrew language in community schools. The Certificate was issued by the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft der Judentums, a prestigious institution founded in 1896 which remained active until its destruction by the Nazis in 1942.
This was in itself a significant discovery that highlighted an unknown woman. Thus, discovery after discovery, finally led to one even more astonishing: a photograph of Regina Jonas dressed as a rabbi holding a book, and another document, from five years before the day which the first female rabbi ordained, dated 25 December 1935.
In her thesis -- entitled Can a Woman Be a Rabbi? -- Regina Jonas wrotes: “Just as in the medicine field women have become a necessity from a psychological standpoint, so has the female rabbi. There are even some things that women can say to youth, which cannot be said by a man from the publit. Her experiences, her psychological observations are profoundly different from those of a man, therefore she has a different style”. Her dissertation was much admired but it did not lead the teachers -- all men -- to the unanimous decision of ordaining her rabbi.
The community did not want a female rabbi as chief. Regina was not one to allow herself to be discouraged and continued her fruitful ministry in nursing homes and hospitals in the Jewish community. Her battle was launched in silence and with hard work, a clear purpose and supreme intelligence.
Nevertheless spiritual and intellectual richness turned to ashes in Auschwitz by the brutal Nazi ideology, which however has not weakened her memory.