This book is a study in the law that exists before a founding
moment of law giving. More specifically, it looks at one
foundational moment, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and
examines how Hebrew commentators have envisioned what existed prior
to receiving the commandments. How do legal systems treat law
before their founding? The Law Before the Law looks at near two
millennia of responses by commentators to this problem. Pre-law, as
it might be called, became the repository of an alternative legal
tradition. Scattered, often fragmentary discussions of the law
before the law were a commonplace in the Jewish legal tradition.
Often involving conjecture and imaginative reconstructions of legal
arguments, these discussions were a laboratory to work out the
jurisprudential problems found in ordinary Jewish law. The law
before the law was often envisioned as different from law after the
founding moment, a legalism more oral, more customary, more
discretionary, and above all, more concerned with the psychological
question of how a norm bearing person is created.
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