THE YESHIVA, the Talmudic college, is the powerhouse of the ultra-Orthodok Jewish community, and the Talmud its beloved and constant object. With its amazing collection of disputations about Jewish laws and customs, the Talmud, its admirers say, provides an inexhaustible storehouse for mental stimulation.
A yeshiva is made famous by its head, known as 'rosh'. An inspiring figure can create an intense fellowship who for the rest of their lives speak of their yeshiva with even greater pride than is customary among alumni of Oxford, Cambridge and Yale. Such a rosh yeshiva was Yehuda Zeev Segal, whose sudden death in Manchester threw the ultra-Orthodox community into mourning.
Unusually for a charismatic ultra-Orthodox rabbinic teacher and leader, Rabbi Segal was born in Britain. Eastern Europe rather than the British Isles has been the birthplace of great Talmudic scholars. London and provincial communities have had to rely on East European rabbis to lead and inspire them. British products have traditionally been seen as too 'cold' to be inspiring by the ultra-Orthodox groups.
However Segal was accepted as the worthy son of a remarkable spiritual leader, Rabbi Moshe Yizchok Segal, who became head of Manchester Yeshiva two years after it was founded. By studying at renowned yeshivot in Eastern Europe such as Mir, and meeting several of the great figures of modern Orthodox Judaism such as Chofetz Chaim, he acquired a deserved reputation for profound learning and humility. He remarked once that Chofetz Chaim was like an angelic figure sent down from heaven to save the soul of the present-day generations.
After marriage Segal settled in Gateshead, a fortress of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, with its own highly regarded yeshiva. In the early 1940s he returned to Manchester where he at first became involved with the yeshiva in an honorary capacity. With the death of his father in 1948, Segal became increasingly attached to the yeshiva, leading Talmudic groups in shiurim (study) and a year later was appointed Rosh Yeshiva.
A man of great kindness and an unusual ability to listen to the woes of his students and members of the Manchester communities, Segal attracted many followers. His face with its long white beard, often smiling, was described as that of a tsadik (saintly figure). Even in his eighties he still taught and gave discourses with enthusiasm and vigour. Though he must have been aware of the veneration in which he was held, he never lost his modesty. He was never seen without a learned book holding the traditional belief that even the greatest scholar must never cease studying. Through his learning and piety as well by his example of kindness, understanding of those who suffered, and charitable outlook, Segal became a focal figure not only in Manchester but in Britain and world Orthodox Judaism.
Thousands of mourners joined the funeral procession, the largest in Britain for a rabbi within living memory. The assistance of the police had to be sought to control the crowds, as they listened to the hespedim (funeral orations).