Twenty years ago the author became convinced that the State of Israel would soon be reborn and that there would be need for new legislation. He began to study Hebrew tradition in search of its legal significance. Starting with medieval and later sources, which seemed nearest to the problems of our generation, he came to understand that a legal system could be approached only from its foundations.
This book is based on the first part of a course of lectures delivered at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, during the years 1959–62. It is offered to biblical scholars as well as to legal historians interested in the elements of Hebrew law. By giving an account of the earliest stages of Israel's legal practice, a contribution is made to the study of ancient law in general.
Biblical references are made to the Masoretic text, while quotations follow the Revised Version, unless the Hebrew original called for a new translation.
Since this work is a mere introduction, many particulars may have to be treated in greater detail or to be improved upon. Instead of rendering a complete account, the book is intended to stimulate further research in Hebrew law. Such research should keep to the historical order of the sources, examine the social causes, and refrain from apologetics. It is to be hoped that another work, on the Hebrew law in Talmudic times, may follow shortly.
How much the author owes to previous literature is obvious from the footnotes, but mention must here be made of the works of D. Daube, M. David, R. de Vaux, J. Pirenne, besides many others who have made this book possible. For bibliography the reader is referred to S. Eisenstadt, 'En mishpaṭ (in Hebrew), Jerusalem (1931), D. H. Duesberg, Archives d'Histoire du Droit Oriental (1938) 2:143ff., J. Sedlakova, Journal of Juristic Papyrology, 11–12 (1957–58), the Hebrew Encyclopaedia Miqra'it, Jerusalem (1950–88), R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (London and New York: McGraw Hill, 1961), and the juristic sections in the bibliographies of the periodicals Biblica and Internationale Zeitschriftenschau für Bibelwissenschaft und Grenzgebiete.
Warm thanks are hereby expressed to Professor R. Yaron and Dr. S. E. Loewenstamm for their valuable suggestions, to M. D. Gouldman, LL.B., for many stylistic corrections, to Mr. S. Guberman, M. Jur., for the reading of proofs, and to the staff of the Ahva Press for their helpfulness. Finally, by dedicating this book to his wife, the author acknowledges the truth of Ravina's saying cited in Babylonian Talmud Soṭah 21a.