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Analyzes the classical stories of the Hebrew Bible through the lens of modern law

Table of contents

Table of Contents 

Part I: Law and Government
Part II: Judges and Judging
Part III: Human Rights and Social Justice
Part IV: Criminal Law
Part V: Private Law
Part VI: Family and Inheritance Law


Biblical Judgments invites readers to consider today's timeless dilemmas of law and government, social justice, and human rights, through the perspective of a text that has helped shape western society: the Hebrew Bible. By focusing on biblical narratives and literature rather than on traditional interpretations of biblical law, Daphne Barak-Erez is able to look beyond specific legal norms to concentrate on what the stories can reveal about the "big" issues. She discusses questions such as: What can modern-day governmental regulation learn from the exercise of food rationing in Egypt as a response to Pharaoh's dream of a future famine? How does social distancing in the time of Covid-19 compare with people sent outside the camp as a precautionary measure against bible-era plagues? What can promoters of social justice glean from the demands made to Moses that daughters should also inherit from their father when biblical law did not recognize inheritance rights of women? 

Rather than offering a historical study, Barak-Erez draws upon famous court decisions from around the world to root her analysis in modern law. Organized by subject matter, Biblical Judgments analyzes how the themes of law and government, judging and judges, human rights and social justice, criminal law, private law, and family and inheritance law are presented through a number of different stories. In recounting the compelling narratives of the Hebrew Bible, Biblical Judgments exposes their inherent legal tensions and what we can learn from them and with them about legal dilemmas today. 

Daphne Barak-Erez is a Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel. She was formerly Dean and Professor of Law at the Faculty of Law of Tel Aviv University.

“In 127 crystal-clear readings, at once accessible and erudite, Daphne Barak-Erez has given us more than a contemporary guide to reading the Bible, or even a non-fundamentalist handbook for applying the Bible to 21st-century law: this is a textbook in how to think historically, humanely, and honestly.”

- Rabbi Jason Rubenstein, Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale

“Daphne Barak-Erez illuminates our thinking about a myriad of contemporary problems by offering us concise analysis of parallels from the Hebrew Bible. Her clarity, even-handedness, and pragmatic narratives enable readers to appreciate the longevity of the challenges of judging, governance, and fairness and the reasons to know but not be locked into ancient responses.”

- Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law, Yale Law School

“This is an excellent introduction to law through biblical stories. At the same time, it is also a wonderful introduction to the Hebrew Bible through legal thinking.”

- Vered Karti Shemtov, Stanford University

“. . . takes well known biblical stories and trains the attention onto their legal significance, thereby offering a fresh and fascinating way of understanding them. Barak-Erez’ deep and deft analysis challenges us to think about the legal issues as if they happened today, understand their intricacy, and reflect upon the outcome.”

- Pnina Lahav, Boston University

"The Bible, much like the law itself, has always needed learned interpreters to help us navigate our way through the mazes of its myriad meanings. Barak-Erez is one such guide and her book is full of wisdom—and wisdom, as we are told, is worth more than gold (Proverbs 16:16)."

- Adam Tomkins, University of Glasgow, Law and Liberty

"The book takes what could be misunderstood as a polarizing religious text, which “belongs” to some but not to others, and shows how lawyers – all lawyers – can and should read it as lawyers to help address and resolve difficult contemporary challenges. In this way, Barak-Erez has authored an important book that shows how lawyers can play an important role in overcoming religious, political and cultural divides by thinking like lawyers and role modeling commitment to public citizenship, the rule of law, justice and inclusivity."

- Eli Wald, Biblical Insights for Lawyers, JOTWELL - The Journal of Things We Like (Lots)

Read: Review in Law & Liberty | April 2024
Read: Review in Legal Profession JOTWELL - The Journal of Things We Like (Lots) | May 3, 2024