Memory and identity: Female leadership and the legacy of Rabbi Regina Jonas

Sinclair, Stefanie (2019). Memory and identity: Female leadership and the legacy of Rabbi Regina Jonas. In: Bomhoff, Hartmut; Eger, Denise L.; Ehrensperger, Kathy and Homolka, Walter eds. Gender and Religious Leadership: Woman Rabbis, Pastors and Ministers. Lanham, Boulder, New York, London: Lexington Books.



Regina Jonas is now widely recognized as the first female rabbi in the world. Her story highlights particularly pertinent issues in historiography, especially with regard to the role of memory and identity. For almost fifty years following her murder at Auschwitz in 1944, Jonas remained a largely forgotten figure and received hardly any acknowledgement in published records, reference works or scholarly literature. Until the early 1990s, it was widely assumed that Sally Priesand, who was ordained in the Reform movement in the US in 1972, was the first female rabbi. However, Jonas’ ordination had taken place in Nazi Germany – of all places - 37 years earlier. How is it possible that Jonas was almost lost to historiography? And how is she remembered today? This chapter reflects on possible reasons why Jonas was ‘almost forgotten’ and explores how she is remembered today in a range of different national contexts (with a particular focus on Germany, Britain and the USA). The analysis centers on themes of memory and identity and highlights the significance of a sense of heritage in the process of inspiring and ‘naturalizing’ female leadership within faith communities and beyond.

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