311 (s5764-02 / 5 Tishrei)


"We were forbidden to pray out loud, to read from the Torah, or to sound the shofar."


Rabbi Moshe Segal

In the years that Jerusalem was under British rule, the area in front of the Western Wall did not look as it does today. Only a narrow alley separated the Kotel and the Arab houses on its other side. The British forbade us to place an ark for the Torah scroll, tables or benches in the alley; not even a single chair or stool could be brought to the Kotel. We were also forbidden to pray out loud, to read from the Torah, or to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Policemen were stationed at the Kotel to enforce these decrees.

While praying at the Kotel on Yom Kippur of that year (1930), I overheard people whispering to each other: "Where will we go to hear the shofar? It'll be impossible to blow it here. There are as many policemen as people praying!" The Chief of Police himself was there to make sure that the Jews would not, G-d forbid, sound the single blast that traditionally closes the fast.

I listened to the whisperings and thought to myself: Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar that accompanies our proclamation of the sovereignty of G-d? Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar, which symbolizes the redemption of Israel? True, the sounding of the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur is only a custom, but "a Jewish custom is Torah"!

I approached Rabbi Yitzchak Horenstein, who served as the rabbi of our "congregation," and asked him for a shofar. The rabbi abruptly turned away from me, but not before he cast a glance at the prayer stand at the left end of the alley. I understood: the shofar was in the stand. When the hour of blowing approached, I walked over to the stand and leaned against it.

I opened the door and slipped the shofar into my shirt. I had the shofar, but what if they saw me before I had a chance to blow it? I was still unmarried at the time, and following the Ashkenazi custom, did not wear a tallit. I turned to the person praying at my side and asked him for his tallit.

I wrapped myself in the tallit. At that moment, I felt that I had created my own private domain. Outside my tallit a foreign government prevailed, ruling over the people of Israel even on their holiest day and at their holiest place, and we are not free to serve our G-d. But under the tallit is another domain. Here I am under no dominion other than that of my Father in Heaven; here I shall do as He commands me, and no force on earth will stop me.

When the closing verses of the Neilah prayer were proclaimed, I took the shofar and blew a long, resounding blast. Everything happened very quickly. Many hands grabbed me. I removed the tallit from over my head, and before me stood the Chief of Police, who ordered my arrest.

I was taken to the Kishle, the prison in the Old City, and an Arab policeman was stationed there to watch over me. Many hours passed; I was given no food or water to break my fast. At midnight the policeman received an order to release me, and he let me out without a word.

I then learned that when the Chief rabbi of the Holy Land, Rabbi Avraham-Yitzchak Kook, heard of my arrest, he immediately contacted the secretary of the High Commissioner of Palestine and asked that I be released. When his request was refused, he stated that he would not break his fast until I was freed. The High Commissioner resisted for many hours, but finally, out of respect for the rabbi, he had no choice but to set me free.

For the next eighteen years, the shofar was sounded at the Kotel every Yom Kippur. The British well understood the significance of this blast - they knew it would ultimately demolish their reign over our land as the walls of Jericho crumbled before the shofar of Joshua, and they did everything in their power to prevent it. But every Yom Kippur, the shofar was sounded by men who knew they would be arrested for their part in staking our claim to the holiest of our possessions.


[Excerpted and translated from the memoirs of Rabbi Moshe Segal by Yanki Tauber and first printed in Week in Review (www.meaningfullife.com).]


Biographical note:
Rabbi Moshe-Tzvi HaLevi Segal (1904- 10 Tishrei 1985) was a Lubavitcher chasid who was active in the struggle to free the Holy Land from British rule. He was one of the first Jews to move into the Old City of Jerusalem upon its return to Jewish authority in 1967, while it was still extremely dangerous. Two of his sons-in-law are Rabbi Uri Kaploun and Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, names well known to visitors of this site. Fittingly, he merited to pass away on Yom Kipur.

Editor's note:
I was privileged to eat at the home of R. Moshe Segal on Rosh Hashana twice during the last years of his life. He told me that when he went into the Old City immediately after the Six Day War, he found that "Tsemech Tsedek," the Chabad shul, was the only synagogue not destroyed by the Jordanians from 1948-1967. He dedicated himself to restoring it - frustrated by their inability to knock it down, the Arabs had turned it into a stable - and slept there at night with a gun and a knife under his pillow. -Yrachmiel Tilles

May you and yours be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet 5764.

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

back to Top   back to Index   Stories home page
Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION