Rabbi Jacob ha-Levi Segal, also known as Rabbi Jacob Molin, was born in the city of Mainz in Germany, where his father, Rabbi Moshe Molin, was the spiritual leader of the community. Rabbi Moshe Molin had other sons and daughters, who had distinguished themselves with their piety and learning, but Rabbi Jacob became the most famous of them.

Rabbi Jacob's first teachers were his father and older brother, Rabbi Yekuthiel. While still young, however, Jacob decided to "wander out to a place of Torah," in accordance with the teachings of our Sages. He longed to meet the great Torah scholars of that time and to learn Torah from them. So he went to Vienna, where he became a disciple of Rabbi Sholom ben Rabbi Yitzchok. The young and ardent Torah student was warmly welcomed by Rabbi Sholom, as well as by Rabbi Moshe Neumark of the same city. The latter gave him his daughter for a wife. Soon after his marriage, Rabbi Jacob took leave of his wife and family and again set out to visit other centers of learning. He studied at various Yeshivoth, and soon became known as an outstanding Torah scholar.

When Rabbi Jacob returned to his native town, the community of Mainz elected him to succeed his father as the Rabbi of that important community.

Rabbi Jacob Molin was very highly respected and beloved by the entire community. On one occasion, when the Rabbi was suddenly stricken by a paralyzing malady and lay gravely ill in bed for three days, the whole community proclaimed a solemn period of prayer and fasting every Monday .and Thursday for the remainder of the year, until Rosh Hashanah. The Rabbi became well and came to synagogue, and he was greatly moved to learn that the community had decided to continue carrying out their solemn pledge, even though there still remained several months to Rosh Hashanah.

Rabbi Jacob was a true communal rabbi in the fullest sense. He dedicated himself to spreading the Torah and strengthening the Jewish way of life of the community. He conducted a large Yeshivah, which attracted many brilliant students from far and near. One of his most outstanding students was Rabbi Jacob Weil, who became famous as a great authority on the Talmud and Jewish Law, and as the author of an important work of Shaaloth and Teshuvoth (Responsa).

With fatherly interest Rabbi Jacob cared for his students, and he saw to it that they would be treated with respect and affection by all the members of the community.

Among the many gifts which Divine Providence bestowed on Rabbi Jacob Molin was also the gift of a beautiful voice and melodious feeling. On special occasions, particularly on the High Holidays, Rabbi Jacob was the Sheliach Tzibbur who led the community in prayer. His heartfelt prayers made a lasting impression on the community and his High Holiday melodies and renditions became standard in many congregations.

Rabbi Jacob Molin served this old Jewish community on the Rhine for about forty years. Thanks to his devotion and influence, the community flourished in regard to all the "three pillars upon which the world rests:, Torah, prayer and acts of loving-kindness."

Towards the last years of his life, he received a call from the ancient community of Worms, where the great Rashi and Rabbi Eliezer Rokeach, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg and other great luminaries lived and occupied the Rabbinate. The community invited Rabbi Jacob to become its Rabbi. Rabbi Jacob Molin accepted the invitation and served in his new post for just over one year, until he passed away on the 22nd day of Elul, in the year 5187 (1427).

Rabbi Jacob Molin is best known by the abbreviation Maharil (Morenu ho-rav Yaakov Levi). As a great authority on Jewish Law in general, and on all laws pertaining to the synagogue, prayers and customs in particular, the Maharil frequently received written inquiries from other Rabbis, to rule on various questions of Jewish life. The questions and answers (Shaaloth uTeshuvoth Maharil) were published in Vienna in 1549. They contain 233 chapters, and it became an authoritative source of Jewish law, especially for the Jewish communities of Germany and Poland. Another work, Minhagei Maharil (the "Customs of Maharil") was published in 1556. Both works were reprinted many times.

The Shaaloth uTeshuvoth of the Maharil serve not only as a source of Jewish Law, but also as a source of Jewish history. From them we learn about the many problems which faced the Jewish people in those days; about their personal circumstances as well as about community affairs. We learn of the saintliness of Jewish life, not only during the Sabbath and festivals, but also in their every-day life and relationships.

From the "Customs of the Maharil" which were published by his disciples, we learn of the Maharil's great humility. Thus, for example, he carried with him a little Chumash, so that when people would rise to give him honor, he would consider it as an honor for the Torah, not for him personally.

While the spiritual life of the Jewish communities in Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Poland was on a very high level, their material circumstances were very difficult, often quite critical. Many Shaaloth uTeshuvot of the Maharil deal with problems of orphans, widows, and agunoth (wives, whose husbands' death could not be ascertained), and similar tragic circumstances which came in the wake of the Black Death. The Jews were cruelly accused of having poisoned the wells and causing the Plague. As a result, there were widespread attacks and massacres (in 1349), when many Jews fell victim to this inhuman persecution by their Christian neighbors. Other problems with which the Maharil had to deal included cases of Jews who had been forced into conversion to Christianity, questions of mourning, inheritance, and the like.

During the lifetime of the Maharil, there was yet another great upheaval in Bohemia and Austria, which led to the Hussite War, a bloody religious war between the followers of Jan Huss, who had formed a separate Christian sect, and the ruling Christian Church. Jan Huss (born in Bohemia around the year 1369) was a monk who, at the age of 30, became a professor in the University of Prague, and later its President. He attacked the Christian Church for meddling in politics instead of confining its activities to religious and spiritual matters. The Pope in Rome, as well as the cardinals, branded Huss as a "heretic" and forbade him to preach. Huss took no notice, and continued to attack the princes of the Christian Church for abusing their office and degrading their religion, using it for personal advantages to obtain riches, honor and power. Finally, Jan Huss was tricked to appear for a debate with leading cardinals, which was to take place in Constance. He was assured protection by Emperor Sigismund. However, when he arrived there, he was seized and condemned by the cardinals to be burned at the stake (in 1418). The followers of Huss, the Hussites, began a fierce war against the Pope and the Emperor. The war spread, and as usual in the case of such upheavals, the defenseles Jews were easy prey for both sides in the battle.

At that time, Rabbi Jacob Molin, sent out a call from Mainz to all Jewish communities, proclaiming a solemn fast for a period of three days. All Jews of twenty years and older, except the aged and sick, were to fast for three consecutive days beginning with the day after Shabbos-Bereishis. Boys of 13 and girls of 12, and older, were also to fast for three days, but they could break their fast at night. The Maharil also arranged for special prayers to be said during this period of fasting and repentance. At the same time, he encouraged his brethren to have faith in G‑d, and remain loyal to the Torah.

Special emissaries carried the Maharil's message, and everywhere his instructions were carried out. The religious war lasted for about twenty years. Many Jews bravely faced death in their loyalty to the faith of their fathers. Many Jewish communities were destroyed, but many others were miraculously saved.

In this, as in many other situations, both happy and sad, the Maharil was always with his brethren. His influence extended far and wide, and he was a pillar of strength and comfort for the Jews in a very critical period. The Maharil certainly has a prominent place among the Gallery of Our Great.