Gypsy Law and Jewish Law
The essay on Gypsy law by Walter Weyrauch and Maureen Bell is a pioneering attempt to describe the role of law among the Roma (Gypsies).1 Because there is no written law, Weyrauch and Bell are not in a position to give an account of the development of Romani law over its approximately one-thousand-year history. This lack is in striking contrast to Jewish law. Although there are eras when we know little or nothing about Jewish law, we can nonetheless give an account of its development over a very long period of time.
Jewish law has existed for about three thousand years and is observed in some parts of the world today. It is virtually impossible to say much about its historical beginnings. There is a sense in which many rules (prohibiting murder, stealing, e.g.) in every culture are without origin. The laws of the Bible share features with legal material familiar from other cultures in the ancient Near East. The question of how to evaluate the overlap is much debated and no convincing link has emerged. Hammurabi'S code existed well into the first millennium. It constituted an academic body of law and the biblical lawgivers may have shared its intellectual stance by setting out theoretical constructions focused on topics of their own concern (the release of debts every seven years, returning land to its original possessors every forty-nine years).2____________________