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Faculty of Law Faculty of Law

The History of the Faculty of Law


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The Study of Law in the Land of Israel before establishment of the Faculty of Law


During the Ottoman Period there was no school of law in the Land of Israel, and those interested in an education in law acquired it beyond the boundaries of the Land, usually in the School of Law of the University of Kushta.  With the British conquest of the Land of Israel, the Attorney General of Mandatory Palestine, Norman Bentwich, established a School of Law in Jerusalem in December 1920.  The School was called Law Classes.  A second institution that had law studies in Mandatory Palestine was the School of Law and Economics in Tel Aviv, beginning in 1935.  This School, established at the initiative of Shmuel Eisenstadt and Paltiel Dickstein stressed the cultural and national foundations of law, and its founders strove, within its framework, mainly to train a cohort of persons knowledgeable in the fields of law.


During the Mandate Period, the Hebrew University did not train jurists, however two defined fields of law were taught and researched:  Hebrew Law and International Law.  Among the teachers of Hebrew Law at the University in the years preceding the establishment of the Faculty of Law were the following:  Prof. Asher Goluk who was appointed in 1925 as a Lecturer of Hebrew Law in the Institute of Jewish Studies; Professor Avraham Haim Frieman who taught Hebrew Law and Family Law from 1943 until he was murdered in the attack on the convoy to Mount Scopus in the War of Independence; and Rabbi Professor Simcha Assaf who taught and researched Hebrew Law, among others, and was appointed Rector in 1948 and was one of the five first judges of the Supreme Court. 


As stated, during the Mandate Period also International Law was studied in addition to Hebrew Law.  In 1932 Norman Bentwich, who previously served as Attorney General of Mandatory Palestine, was appointed Professor at the University and held the Chair of "International Peace Law".  Prof. Nathan Feinberg joined the University in 1945 and also taught courses in International Law.  Prof. Feinberg was a central figure in the process of establishing the Faculty of law and was appointed at its first Dean. 


Another jurist at the University during the Mandate Period was Gad (Guido) Tedeschi.  In 1936 Tedeschi received a permanent appointment at the University of Siena but he was fired from his position in 1938 because of the Race Laws enacted by the Fascist Regime in Italy against the Jews.  In 1941 Tedeschi was appointed as a research fellow at the Hebrew University and towards the end of the Mandate Period began to teach a course in Introduction to Legal Theory within the Department of International Relations at the University.  After establishment of the State, Tedeschi played a central role in the life of the Faculty of Law and in Law in Israel in general.

Background for the Establishment of the Faculty of Law

The idea of establishing a Faculty of Law arose in discussions about the establishment of the University, which were held during the second decade of the twentieth century.  So, for example, a draft of a program for the University, drafted by Chaim Weizmann in March 1913, speaks about establishment of a Faculty of Law and Political Science within the University framework.  Also the program prepared in 1919 by Schmuel Hugo Bergmann, of the Department of Education of the Zionist Administration in London, included the establishment of a Faculty of Law within the framework of the University.  In accordance with this, the Department of Education asked Norman Bentwich to prepare a detailed plan for establishment of the Faculty.  Bentwich, together with Judge Gad Frumkin and Zeev Jabotinsky, proposed establishment of a Faculty that would combine modern studies with research of Hebrew Law, finding new applications "for the socialistic principles that originate in the Torah of Moshe" and providing commentaries "for the liberal English and American principles in the Eastern countries".


However in 1920 the Zionist Executive Committee decided that the establishment of the University would begin with opening research institutes in science and the establishment of a "Hebrew Institute" in the field of Humanities.  At the same time Bentwich, who was appointed Attorney General of Mandatory Palestine, initiated the establishment of the Colonial British School of Law in Jerusalem, "Law Classes", and that greatly decreased the need and desire to establish a Faculty of Law at the University.


The issue of law studies arose again in the middle of the thirties within the framework of discussions of the Hartog Committee.  The Committee's Report discussed the idea of establishing a Faculty of Law; some of the witnesses that the Committee heard (especially students) called on it to recommend the establishment of the Faculty of Law.  However the Committee decided not to recommend the establishment of such a Faculty since "Law Classes" in Jerusalem "meets the need for professional training" of jurists, and since it opposed any step that would bring about an increase in the number of lawyers in Israel.  However the Committee recommended that the teaching of Hebrew Law be expanded.


In the summer of  1939, at a meeting of the Board of Governors that was held in Geneva, the Board of Governors decided, apparently at the initiative of Judge Gad Frumkin, to ask the University authorities to examine the possibility of creating a system of supplementary studies in law for the graduates of "Law Classes".  Following this decision by the Board of Governors, a Committee was established and it submitted its proposals in May 1940, including a recommendation to establish an institute for advanced training within the framework of the University, its target population would be graduates of the Law Classes and immigrants, graduates of law faculties abroad.  In 1941 the plan for establishment of the institute was cancelled.


After the end of World War II attempts began again to expand the teaching activities in the field of law.  One step in this direction was taken at the beginning of 1946 when two sub-departments were established with links to studies of law within the framework of the Faculty of Humanities.  One was the Department for Hebrew Law which dealt with Hebrew Law with the emphasis on "special attention to law customary in Israel".  The other department was the Department of International Relations which dealt mainly with matters relating to international law.


About a year after the establishment of the Departments of Hebrew Law and International Relations, in the summer of 1947, activity began again to establish the Faculty of Law.  This activity stemmed mainly from the apprehension that the “Law Classes” would be closed upon the anticipated departure of the British from the country.  Furthermore was the recognition that the University would have to play an important role in the preparation of jurists in the country that would be established in the future.


In February 1948 the Standing Committee made a decision to set up a Committee to prepare a proposal for a “department” of law due to the “political changes” and that submitted its report in July 1948.  The Committee proposed creating a system of studies that would combine “theoretic scientific” studies and professional studies. The study of law was planned as a compulsory study without choice.  The jurists among the staff of the University and other leading jurists supported the idea of establishment of the Faculty of Law, including Dr. Moshe Zmora (later he become the first President of the Supreme Court), and Dr. Pinchas Rosen (then Rosenblit) (later he became the first Minister of Justice of the State of Israel).


The First Years of the Faculty

The studies in the Faculty of Law began in the year 1949/1950, on November 28, 1949. The teaching staff of the Faculty included Prof. Benjamin Akzin (invited from the United States), Prof. Gad Tedeschi and the Dean, Prof. Nathan Feinberg.  In addition, Norman Bentwich, Z. A. Becker, Dr. Moshe Zilberg (later a Justice in the Supreme Court) and Dr. Zerach Warhaftig (later a member of the Knesset) taught in the first year of studies in law.  Courses in the fields of Social Sciences and Humanities that were included in the study program were given in the Fauclty of Humanities by S. N. Eisenstadt, S. H. Bergman, D. Patinkin, and Ch.Y. Roth.  Before the studies opened, it was decided to include Avigdor Levontin, who was in the United States at that time on a mission for the Faculty.


Until September 1949 the number of persons registering for the Faculty stood at 198, and in October it already rose to 300.  Eventually it was decided to limit the number of students to about 200 for the first year.   The inaugural ceremony for the Faculty of Law was held on November 28, 1949 in the Ratisbonne buildings which served as the Faculty’s home until the end of 1958.  At the opening ceremony speeches were given, among others, by the President of the University Prof. S. Brodetsky, the President of the Supreme Court Dr. Zmora, the Rector of the University Prof. Simcha Assaf, the first Dean of the Faculty Prof. Nathan Feinberg, and the Minister of Justice Dr. Pinchas Rosen.  The speakers emphasized the ties between law and the teaching of law and the founding of a just society, and the importance of acquiring legal training in an academic institution that places foremost importance on the research of law.  The Minister of Justice stressed the importance of the Faculty in the building of a developed civil society in the young State of Israel.


The generation of the Founders of the Faculty included a series of jurists of world renown who immigrated to Israel before World War II or after it.  Among them are Gad Tedeschi, the father of Civil Law in Israel, Benjamin Azkin and Yitzhak Klinghoffer who laid the foundations for Public Law and in doing so contributed significantly to the development of the young Israeli Democracy, Nathan Feinberg who founded the International Law studies and others.  Joining them later, at the beginning of the sixties was also Shneur-Zalman Feller who immigrated from Romania and laid the foundations for the modern Israeli Criminal Law.  Alongside the generation of the Founders, a generation of young teachers developed, graduates of the Faculty, who quickly earned it an academic reputation in the world and it became the one to set the tone for the world of law in Israel.


After the Six Day War the Faculty of Law was the first among the University's units to move its home to Mount Scopus.  This swift move enabled it to be housed in the historic buildings of the University which served it before Mount Scopus was cut off from the territorial strip of the State of Israel in the War of Independence.  For 25 years, until 1969, the Faculty was the only institution authorized to teach law in Israel.


From 1959 to 1969 the School of Law and Economics operated as a branch of the Faculty of Tel Aviv.  In 1969 this arrangement was cancelled, and the School won independence as the Faculty of Law of Tel Aviv University.  Later on two more Faculties of Law were established for the study of law in Israel, at Bar-Ilan and at Haifa, and alongside these today there are also a number of law schools in private colleges. 


Note:  This review is based on the following sources, and for more information please see these:


Nathan Feinberg,"The History of the Faculty of Law", Mishpatim VI 231 (1976);
Assaf Likhovski, "The Study of Law at the Hebrew University during the Mandate Period", History of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, volume B 543 (Hagit Lavsky, editor, 2005). 


Additional Sources:
Natan Baron, Judges and Jurists in the Land of Israel: Between Kushta and Jerusalem, 1900-1930 (2008);
Gad Frumkin, Derech Shofet B'Yerushalayim, (1956)
Norman Bentwich, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 1918-60 (1961)
Uri Cohen, The School of Law and Economics in Tel Aviv, 1935-1948,
Law Research  XXV  179 (2009)


Deans of the Faculty of Law
Yuval Shany   2012 -
Barak Medina   2009 - 2012
Yoav Dotan   2005 – 2009
Eyal Zamir   2002 – 2005
Israel Gilead   1999 – 2002
Uriel Procaccia  1996 – 1999
Mordechai Kremnitzer 1990 – 1993
Stephen Goldstein   1987 – 1990
Izhak Englard    1984 – 1987
Joshua Weisman  1981 – 1984
Claude Klein    1978 – 1981
Itzhak Zamir    1975 – 1978
Shneur Feller   1971 – 1974
Reuven Yaron   1967 – 1971
Shalev Ginossar   1963 – 1967
Benjamin Akzin  1961 – 1963
Yitzhak Hans Klinghoffer  1959 – 1961
Avigdor Levontin   1958 – 1959
Benjamin Akzin   1956 – 1958
Shalev Ginossar   1954 – 1956
Benjamin Akzin   1951 – 1954
Nathan Feinberg   1949 - 1951


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