Early women religious leaders




                                                             Regina Jonas

                                                                    The First Woman Rabbi



Although our subject here is understanding the philosophy and theology of the movements of American Judaism by examining the way each movement has addressed the subject of ordination of women as rabbis, we would be remiss if we did not briefly address the women who set the stage for those who ultimately became the first ordained women rabbis.  Below, you will find information about two pioneering women who changed the face of women's religious leadership in Judaism, each in her own way.  These women are just two of many.  For more information about early women religious leaders in the American Jewish community, see: Nadell, Pamela S.  Women Who Would Be Rabbis.  Boston:  Beacon Press, 1998.

Ray Frank:  
Ray Frank (1861-1948) was a Jewish educator and journalist who lived in California.  She was a very popular religious school teacher, and her popularity led to her appointment as the principal of the school.  In 1890, Ray Frank was in Spokane, Washington for her newspaper work on the eve of Rosh Hashana.  She was shocked to discover that there was no synagogue in Spokane, even though there was actually a sizeable and fairly wealthy Jewish community there.  Frank shared her shock and disappointment with a member of the Jewish community, and he offered to arrange Rosh Hashana services if she would agree to give the sermon.  Frank agreed, and the rest is history.  From that point on, Frank became a highly respected travelling preacher.  She continued her work until she got married in 1901.  She received much acclaim and press coverage, and was called "the Girl Rabbi of the Golden West." For more information about this fascinating woman and her legacy, click on the links below.  



On-line exhibit


The American Jewess




Regina Jonas:


Regina Jonas (1902-1944) was the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi.  She was a student at the Hochshule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums, which was a rabbinical seminary founded in Berlin in 1872.  While the school refused to ordain her institutionally, she received private ordination from a Reform rabbi named Max Dienemann in 1935.  Rabbi Jonas served as a rabbi in various social service capacities, especially as Nazi power grew.  She perished in Auschwitz in 1944.     


Memorial Page 


Haaretz Article



For more information on this subject, and on the history of ordination of women as rabbis, see Women Who Would Be Rabbis by Pamela S. Nadell (Beacon Press: 1998)