Rabbi Zev Segal, a Russian-born scholar who served at a Newark pulpit for 33 years, as a communal leader and as a consultant to political leaders and chasidic rebbes, died March 5, the result of an accidental drowning.
The rabbi, a Manhattan resident, accidentally drove his car into the Hackensack River beneath the Pulaski Skyway in New Jersey, on the way to a doctor’s appointment in Livingston, following an appearance on the “JM in the AM” radio show on WFMU hosted by his son Nachum Segal.
Rabbi Segal, 91, was buried in Israel.
His family, descended from the 18th-century sage known as the Vilna Gaon, had moved to Palestine in 1919, and Rabbi Segal studied at the Hebron Yeshiva, the site of a 1929 riot that took at least 64 Jewish lives. He was away from the yeshiva the day of the riot, said Nachum Segal.
Rabbi Segal came to the United States in 1939, earning his rabbinical ordination at the Skokie Yeshiva in Illinois, and serving at the Young Israel of Newark, a now-defunct congregation, from 1945 to 1978. As president from 1968-71 of the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest organization of Orthodox rabbis in the United States, he encouraged Protestant and Catholic colleagues to work together with Jewish organizations against drug abuse. He had a close relationship with leaders of the chasidic community, including the rebbes of the Satmar and Lubavitch groups, and often worked as a liaison between them and with political leaders in Israel.
Active in Zionist causes, he organized a rabbinical pilgrimage to the Western Wall in June 1967, a few weeks after the Old City returned to Jewish control in the Six-Day War.
A tall and a commanding orator, he was “a strong … intimidating figure,” Nachum Segal said. “He had a tremendous ability to explain things, even complicated things, in an easy-to-understand manner. He would stand up and a large crowd got silent immediately.”
Since his retirement, the rabbi did volunteer work for the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and often reached out to the Rabbinical College of America, a Lubavitch institution now located in Morristown, N.J. He “arranged for a bakery to donate fresh bread to the institution,” the Chabad Web site (chabad.org) reported. “He also got a produce vendor to keep the yeshiva stocked with fruit and vegetables,” according to the site. “Every Thursday night, the rabbi let the college use his synagogue for its teen outreach program, and for large Chasidic gatherings on auspicious days of the Jewish calendar.”
“Rabbi Segal was a very deep individual, a very, very bright individual,” said Rabbi Moshe Herson, dean of the rabbinical college. “He was attracted to the truth, to emes.”
In addition to Nachum Segal, Rabbi Segal is survived by his wife, Esther; three other sons, Moshe, of Brooklyn, Yigal, of Jerusalem, and Rabbi Chaim Nate Segal, of Staten Island; two daughters, Leah Aharanov of Tzur Hadasa, Israel, and Peninah Rabin of Petach Tikva, Israel; three brothers, Avram, of Chicago, Yitzchak, of Kfar Saba, Israel, and Zalman, of Phoenix; three sisters, Zahava Sukenik, of Jerusalem, Chana Shapiro, of Beersheva, and Zelda Cohen, of Chicago; 25 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.