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Moshe Segal

Chabad Shleimus HaAretz History Section
Moshe Tzvi Segal was born 1904 in Poltava, Russia. He taught Torah in yeshivot that had to go "underground" following the Russian Revolution. He made aliya with his family in the 1920s and registered as the seventh member of Beitar in Eretz Israel. Moshe was a member of the Hagana in the mid-1920s but was ejected for agitating on behalf of a Jewish state.

Organizes Tisha BeAv March To The Kotel - 1929
In 1929, Moshe organized the march to the Kotel (the Western Wall) on Tisha B'Av. During the Arab riots and pogroms of that year he defended Tel Aviv as a member of the Nationalist Hagana, and later helped negotiate the formation of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL). He was also a founder of the Brit Habirionim.

Later Moshe went on to become a member of the Irgun High Command (when Yaacov Meridor was Commander in Chief), and later he joined the Lechi (Stern Group) and was also national commander for a religious semi-underground called: the Brit Hashmonaim. But what gained Moshe Segal notoriety amongst the British and fame amongst the early fighters for Israel was a small but big incident.

First To Defy British Ban On Shofar Blowing At Kotel
The story goes like this:
In 1930, the British in partnership with the Mufti of Jerusalem (who was later the good friend of Hitler and an uncle to Yasser Arafat) came up with a number of humiliating anti-Semitic laws for those who would come to pray at Judaism’s holiest site. At that time there was no plaza in the area in front of the Western Wall, just a narrow passageway behind which were Arab houses. The Arab owners complained to the British who forbade Jews to bring benches, tables or an ark for the Torah to the site. Despite the fact that Jews were the majority population in Jerusalem at that time!

The new rules restricted Jews from blowing the shofar at the Western Wall (Kotel HaMaravi). Any Jew praying had to do it silently, so as not to antagonize the Arabs. Public Torah reading was not allowed; to read the Torah one had to go to a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. Since blowing shofar was out of the question, so Yom Kippur of 1930, the worshipers who prayed at the Wall that Yom Kippur wondered anxiously what would happen when the time came to sound the shofar by Neilah, the holiest prayer of the whole year. This was no question for Moshe Segal who had survived beatings by the vicious Yevseksia the anti religious Jewish Communist arm of the GPU (later the KGB). It was unthinkable in his mind that Yom Kippur could end without the sounding of the shofar! In the Jewish Homeland Yet.

Approaching the rabbi of the Wall, Rabbi Yitzhak Orenstein, appointed by Va'ad Leumi (a Jewish quasi-governmental organization), Moshe asked Rav Orenstein to give him a shofar. Not wanting trouble with the British police, he refused. But Moshe was insistent. Moving away from the Wall in the direction of the nearest prayer house without speaking Rabbi Orenstein motioned with his eyes to a drawer. Following the rabbi's gaze, Moshe opened the drawer, took out a shofar and stuck it under his shirt. Since Moshe didn’t pray with a tallit and was afraid he would be found out he stood alongside a married a man and shared his tallit. In this way the shofar stayed hidden until after the closing prayer of Neilah. He then pulled the tallis way over his head closed his eyes and blew the last set of notes to usher in the new year. The “criminal” was immediately located and arrested. Like wildfire the news got around Eretz Yisrael, reaching the ears of Chief Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook. Immediately, Rav Kook who had not broken his fast, declared that he would not eat until the young man Segal was able to break his fast. Rav Kook called the British High Commissioner and asked that Moshe Segal be released. The British complied with the request at around midnight.

From then on, for many years until 1948, shofar blowing at the Wall to mark the end of Yom Kippur became an annual tradition for Moshe who would train two young men to blow the shofar.

Because they were different young men each year, the British did not know their identities, and therefore could not apprehend them in advance. (see video for stories from the other recruits Moshe got and their stories)
This video shows a number of people Moshe recruited to blow shofar from 1931 until 1948 and their stories of courage.

In the course of his anti-Mandate activities, Rav Segal was arrested and detained in unpleasant conditions several times but he remained adamant in his commitment to continue the struggle for Jewish statehood in the Land of Israel.

After the creation of the state, he and his wife Rachel settled in Kfar Chabad where they raised three sons and three daughters. It would be nearly a quarter of a century passed before would blow shofar at the Wall again.

In June 1967, immediately after paratroopers had captured the Old City, Moshe Segal entered, determined to set up house in the Jewish Quarter! The soldiers on guard were reluctant to allow him in, telling him that they could not take responsibility for his safety. Moshe replied that he relied on a higher power for his safety and reminded them of the risks taken by so many Jews to bring about the reunification of Jerusalem. "We have received a gift from God," he said. "Do you really expect me to remain outside while the Arabs are still inside?" The upshot was that he was escorted through the streets by an armored jeep. It was inconceivable to him, that Jerusalem should be reunited without a single Jew living in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City!

When in May, 1948, the Jewish Quarter was conquered by the Arab Legion, the Jewish survivors of the battle were evacuated to the newer section of Jerusalem, beyond the Old City walls. Within a few days, Jewish holy places were systematically desecrated, looted and destroyed.

Jews living in the Jewish Quarter for some four hundred years and had established synagogues, yeshivas, mikvahs, libraries, the Misgav Ladach Hospital and other institutions. Most were looted and left in ruins. Those that remained were turned into living quarters and stables.

After going to the Wall in the company of 18 veterans of Brit Hashmonaim (the religious arm of the Lechi), blowing the shofar, praying and weeping tears of joy, Moshe Segal went to look at the Beit Menachem Synagogue, named after Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Lubavitcher rebbe and today known as the Tzemach Tzedek synagogue, the name by which this Rebbe is better known.

The shell of the building was still intact .
Moshe immediately set about to restore it to what it had once been. Looking around, he discovered that adjacent to the synagogue was another three-story building that had been Chabad property up to May 1948. It had a basement, a ground floor on which there had been shops and an upper floor in which there were two residential rooms.

The building was in terrible condition with lots of rubble, garbage, shrapnel, broken glass and refuse. He cleaned it up and lived there while engaging in his restoration project.

In this way Moshe became the first Jew to officially take up residence in the Old City!
He wanted to be sure that if anyone came to take a population census, they would be able to say that there is at least one Jew living there. His wife Rachel, A survivor of the Hebron massacre of 1929, could not initially bring herself to join him. She was still traumatized by the thought of being surrounded by Arabs. More than a year passed before Rachel actually decided to live in the Old City.

It was in fact so dangerous that his friends went specially to ask the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn to prevail on Moshe to stop. The Rebbe asked: “What is the concern?” He was told it is too dangerous. “How do you know it is dangerous?” The Rebbe responded. “Why he has to sleep with a pistol under his pillow!” Was the response. “Well”, The Rebbe shot back, “It seems like he’s safe enough…”

And so it was that In 1967, Rabbi Segal became the first Jew to move back to the Old City of Jerusalem after its liberation.

He rebuilt the Chabad synagogue the “Tzemach Tzedek” and later helped organize the rebuilding of the Ramban synagogue. Moshe had once worked for an architect and worked with amazing speed on the restoration of the synagogue so that it was again open after 19 years to worshipers in time for Rosh Hashanah of 1967. The President of Israel Mr. Zalman Shazar was honored guest, being himself from a Chabad background.

Moshe discussed his dream of restoring the Tzemach Tzedek Shul and former Jewish housing complexes with President Shazar. The President arranged meetings with Ya'acov Herzog in charge of the Prime Minister's Office, and Mayor Teddy Kollek. Moshe’s project received $30,000 to restore the historic building.

After his wife joined him in the Jewish Quarter, they lived on Rehov Chabad. During this period Moshe Segal was involved with many organizations. Even though Israel legally obtained and held the land, still the government made many problems for people who tried to live there and in fact had many plans to somehow “return” land they had won in war after being attacked.

Moshe was among the leaders of the Temple Mount Faithful and sought many times to have Jewish prayer services conducted on the Temple Mount leading the campaigns to allow Jewish worship on the Temple Mount; leading campaigns to prevent the withdrawal from Sinai, and to strengthen Jewish settlement in all areas liberated by the Israeli army. He was one of the initiators of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, and founded the Shavei Zion Society there.

Moshe Segal died, ironically, on Yom Kippur, and was buried on the Mount of Olives.

Taken from July 2010 Issue of Chabad4Israel
Adapted from various sources including interview with his son Rav Segel in Kfar Chabad

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