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Women in the Synagogue Congregation

Ad in the Erfurt synagogue precinct weekly, no. 170 / January 13, 1928 © Erfurt Municipal Archives

Women play an important role in Judaism, because it is they who are primarily responsible for passing the religion on to the children. In the traditional conception, if a mother is Jewish, so are her children. Men and women together form the Jewish congregation, but for centuries they celebrated the worship services separately. In the synagogue, women were in a separate room or a screened-off area. The liberal reforms of the nineteenth century introduced a special area for women in the synagogue—the women’s gallery. Nowadays, women and men sit together in liberal congregations and perform the same duties during the services.

Dr. Hedwig Pinthus

In Erfurt, too, women sat here in the women’s gallery. One of them was Hedwig Pinthus, born in 1992. She was a self-confident bourgeois Jewess. When the League of Jewish Women was founded in the early twentieth century, women like Hedwig Pinthus became active in it. They worked to improve education, vocational training, and employment opportunities for girls and women, and championed the cause of women’s suffrage in the synagogue congregations. In 1925, the women of the Erfurt Synagogue obtained the right to vote for the congregation representatives – if not yet the right to be elected themselves. The assembly of representatives was an important body which decided on all congregation matters and elected the synagogue board. Hedwig Pinthus was active on the board of the Jewish Women’s Association in Erfurt. This group discussed issues of the women’s movement. In 1928, for example, they had Dr. Dora Edinger of the Jewish Women’s League give a lecture on "Women’s New Duties in the Congregation". Hedwig Pinthus also headed the sisterhood of the Erfurt chapter of B’nai B’rith. In 1932, during the world economic crisis, this group organized a nationwide donation campaign to help children of impoverished Jewish families in Thuringia.

Hedwig Pinthus was married to Siegfried Pinthus, the congregation chairman from 1926 to 1937. He was also a co-owner and the manager of the "Römischer Kaiser", Erfurt’s largest department store. Today the building houses the Anger 1 shopping center. After her daughters had grown up and left home, Hedwig Pinthus went back to school herself and earned her qualification for university study at the age of 50. She completed her studies at the University of Jena in 1937 with a doctor’s degree in Romance Languages and Literature. A few days later, the Nazis prohibited the conferral of doctorates to Jews.

Her husband died in this period, and in 1939 she fled to Holland where her daughter and family lived. Soon the Germans occupied Holland and began persecuting the Jews there as well. When Hedwig Pinthus experienced the repressive measures and learned of the deportation of her youngest sister in Germany, she took her own life. She was 59.