Laws regulating intercourse among citizens, and embracing the care and preservation of the public peace, health, safety, morality, and welfare. The prevention of crime is the main object of the police laws, although there are many other points not strictly involved in the popular definition of crime, but materially affecting the security and convenience of the public, which are recognized as lying within their province.

In Biblical Times.

It is a moot question whether the cities of Judeahad a regulated police force during Biblical times. There are many terms in the Bible which have been translated to denote magistrates or police officers; but the correctness of the translation is questioned in almost every instance by modern scholars (see Government). The Deuteronomic code (Deut. xvi. 18) enjoins the appointment of "shoṭerim"(A.V. "officers"; LXX. γραμματοεισαγωγεὶς; Targum, ; and almost all Jewish commentators, "police officers" whose duty it was to execute the decisions of the court; comp. Rashi and Ibn Ezra, Midr. Tan. and Midr. Leḳaḥ Ṭob ad loc.; Pesiḳ. R., ed. Friedmann, p. 149b; Maimonides, "Yad," Sanhedrin, i. 1, and "Leḥem Mishneh" ad loc.; comp. Prov. vi. 7) alongside the "shofeṭim" (judges) in every town (comp. Ezra vii. 25, A. V.; LXX. γραμματεῖς). As far as can be gleaned from the Biblical records, the duties of the "shoṭerim" were to make proclamations to the people, especially in time of war (Deut. xx. 5, 8, 9; Josh. i. 10, iii. 2), to guard the king's person (I Chron. xxvii. 1), to superintend public works (II Chron. xxxiv. 13; comp. Ex. v. 6, 10, 14, 19, where the same term is applied to Pharaoh's taskmasters), and other similar services. The frequent mention of the shoṭerim together with the judges (Deut. xvi. 18; Josh. viii. 33, xxiii. 2, xxiv. 1; I Chron. xxiii. 4, xxvi. 29), or with the elders of the community (Num. xi. 16; Deut. xxix. 9, xxxi. 28) who acted as judges in earlier times (see Elder; Judge), would seem to indicate that these officials were attached to the courts of justice, and held themselves in readiness to execute the orders of the officiating judge. Josephus relates ("Ant." iv. 8, § 14) that every judge had at his command two such officers, from the tribe of Levi. That Levites were later preferred for this office is evident also from various passages in Chronicles (I Chron. xxiii. 4, xxvi. 29; II Chron. xxxiv. 13). Besides officers of the town there were also officers for every tribe, similar, probably, to the modern district police (Deut. i. 15; Sifre, Deut. 144; Sanh. 16b). The chief of the judicial department established by Jehoshaphat seems to have had also chief jurisdiction over the police (II Chron. xix. 11; comp. ib. xxvi. 11). Mention is also made of watchmen who patrolled the city at night and attacked all suspicious persons (Cant. iii. 3, v. 7).

Temple Police.

The Temple had a police force of its own, most of its officers being Levites. These were the gatekeepers ("sho'arim"; I Chron. ix. 17, 24-27, xxvi. 12-18), the watchmen that guarded the entrance to the Temple mount, and those that had charge of the cleaning of its precincts (Philo, ed. Cohn, iii. 210). Levites were stationed at twenty-one points in the Temple court; at three of them priests kept watch during the night. A captain patrolled with a lantern, to see that the watchmen were at their posts; and if one was found sleeping, the captain had the right to beat him and to set fire to his garments (Mid. i. 1, 2). The opening and the closing of the gates, considered to be a very difficult task, and requiring, according to Josephus ("B. J." vi. 5, § 3; "Contra Ap." ii. 10), the services of at least twenty men, was also one of the watchmen's duties; and a special officer was appointed to superintend that work (Sheḳ. v. 1; comp. Schürer, "Gesch." Eng. ed., division ii., i. 264-268; see Temple).

The Mishnah (Ket. xiii. 1) mentions two judges of "gezerot" (lit. "prohibitions," "decrees"; see Gezerah), Admon ben Gaddai and Hanan ben Abishalom (Hanan the Egyptian), who were in Jerusalem during the latter part of the second commonwealth, and the baraita quoted in the Gemara (Ket. 105a) adds one more, named Nahum the Mede. The meaning of the term "gezerot" in this connection, and the significance and functions of these judges, have been variously explained by modern scholars (see Frankel, "Darke ha-Mishnah," p. 61; idem, in "Monatsschrift," 1852, p. 247, note 5; Weiss, "Dor," i. 193; Sidon, "Eine Magistratur in Jerusalem," in Berliner's "Magazin," 1890, pp. 198 et seq.; Grünwald, ib. 1891, p. 60); but it is safe to assume that the functions of these judges were similar to those of modern police magistrates (comp. Yer. Ket. xiii. 1), although they may have had also some judicial authority in petty cases. These, unlike the judges of courts of justice, received a stipulated salary from the Temple treasury ("Terumat ha-Lishkah," Sheḳ iv. 2). Each of them was allowed ninety-nine manahs per annum, which sum, if not sufficient for his support, might be increased (Ket. 105a; comp. "Yad," Sheḳalim, iv. 7, where the annual salary is given as ninety manahs).

Local Police Officials.

Mention is made in the Talmud of various police officials that held office in the Jewish communities of Palestine and Babylon. The Greek names by which most of them were known indicate that they were introduced during a later period, after Hellenic influence had become strong among the Jews. Most of these officials received their authority from the local courts, and were appointed by them as adjuncts to the communal organization. Officers were appointed for the following duties: to supervise the correctness of weights and measures (, a corruption of =ἀγοράνομος; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, viii. 8; B. B. 89a); to regulate the market price of articles (B. B. 89a; according to another opinion, it was unnecessary to appoint officials for this purpose, since competition would regulate the price; in Yer. B. B. v. 11, Rab is mentioned as having been appointed to this office by the exilarch); to allot land by measurement, and to see that no one overstepped the limits of his field (B. B. 68a and RaSHBaM ad loc.; in B. M. 107b, Adda, the surveyor [] is mentioned as holding the office; comp. 'Er. 56a). Besides these, mention is made of watchmen who guarded the city (B. B. 68a, according to the interpretation of Maimonides in his Commentary of the Mishnah, and of R. Hananeel, quoted in RaSHBaM ad loc.; comp. Giṭ. 80b; Sanh. 98b; Yer. Ḥag. i. 7; Sheb. iv. 2, end) and of mounted and armed watchmen who maintained order in the suburbs. (B. B. 8a; comp. Yeb. 121b). There were also officers in charge of the dispensation of charity (B. B. 8b). Permission was given to the authorities of every town to supervise the correctness of weights and measures, to regulate the market price of articles and of labor, and to punish those who did not abide by the regulations (ib.). The salaries of all these officers were drawn from the town treasury,to which all the inhabitants had to contribute (see Domicil).

Special Police Laws.

The police laws of the Bible and of the Talmud are very numerous. The Biblical commandment to build a battlement around the roof of a house, "that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence" (Deut. xxii. 8), was regarded by the Rabbis as a general principle, from which were derived many regulations the object of which was to insure public safety. Thus, it was forbidden to harbor a vicious dog or to keep a broken ladder on one's premises (B. Ḳ. 15b), or to keep a pit or a well uncovered or unfenced (Sifre, Deut. 229; "Yad," Roẓeaḥ, xi. 4). Dogs had to be kept chained; they might be let loose during the night only in places where a sudden attack of an enemy was feared (B. Ḳ. 83a). Untamed animals, especially cats that might injure children, might not be kept; and any one was permitted to kill such an animal found on the premises of a Jew (ib. 80b; comp. Ḥul. 7b). A ruined wall or a decayed tree was not allowed to remain in a public place. The owner was given thirty days' notice to remove it, but if the danger was imminent he was compelled to remove it forthwith (B. M. 117b; "Yad," Nizḳe Mamon, xiii. 19; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 416, 1, and Isserles' gloss). No one was permitted to throw stones into the street (B. Ḳ. 50b) or to build a tunnel under the public thoroughfare (B. B. 60a), except by special permission of the city authorities and under their supervision (Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 417, 1, Isserles' gloss, and "Pitḥe Teshubah" ad loc.). Weapons might not be sold to suspicious persons ('Ab. Zarah 15b; "Yad," Roẓeaḥ, xii. 12, 14; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 151, 5).

Another set of police regulations was based on the Biblical expression "Neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor" (Lev. xix. 16). The Rabbis made it obligatory upon any man who saw one drowning, or in danger of an attack by robbers or by a wild beast, to endeavor to save him (Sifra ad loc.; Sanh. 73a). The court was obliged to furnish safe passage to travelers in dangerous places; so that, when a murdered man was found, the elders of the nearest town could conscientiously say, "Our hands have not shed this blood" (Deut. xxi. 7; Sifre ad loc.; Soṭah 45b, 46a; "Yad," l.c. ix. 3; ib. Ebel, xiv. 3). The court was obliged also to provide wide avenues, furnished with posts and directions, leading to the cities of refuge, so that one who had committed murder unwittingly might have easy access to them in his escape from the hands of the go'el (B. B. 90a; Mak. 10a; see Asylum; Avenger of Blood).

Sanitary Laws.

Numerous laws were instituted by the Rabbis with the view of preserving the health of the community (see Health Laws). The laws tending to the preservation of the life of dumb creatures, and to the considerate care of them, also formed a large portion of rabbinic legislation (see Cruelty to Animals). The care of the poor and the proper distribution of charity were also regulated by law (see Charity). Many provisions are found in the Talmud the purpose of which was to guard free commercial intercourse. Roads leading from one town to another had to be at least eight cubits wide; so that two wagons, going in opposite directions, might pass without difficulty. Roads leading to commercial centers were to be at least sixteen cubits wide (B. B. 100a, b; RaSHBaM ad loc.). Balconies or other extensions of houses projecting to the public thoroughfare and trees in the public streets whose branches might obstruct the passage of a rider mounted on his camel were also prohibited (B. B. 27b, 60a.). Trees growing near the bank of a river, if they impeded freight-laborers in their work, might be cut down with impunity (B. M. 107b). Building-materials might not be prepared in the public street. Stones and bricks brought for immediate use in a building might be deposited in the street; but the owner was held responsible for any injury caused thereby (ib. 118b). One who broke a vessel left in the public street was not required to pay any damages; but the owner of the vessel was held responsible for any injury caused by it, or even by its sherds, if he intended to make use of them (B. Ḳ. 28a; see Baba Ḳamma). During the summer months no water might be poured into the street; and even in the rainy season, when this was permitted, the one who poured the water was held responsible for any injury resulting from it (B. Ḳ. 6a, 30a). The pious used to bury their potsherds and broken glass three "ṭefaḥim" (fists) deep in the field in order that they might cause no injury to any one nor impede the plowshare in its course; others burned them; and others, again, threw them into the river (ib. 30a). Among the ten ordinances that applied especially to Jerusalem were the prohibitions against any projections from private houses to the street, against the establishment of potteries, against the planting of gardens (except rose-gardens that were supposed to have existed since the times of the early prophets), against keeping chickens, and against dunghills within the city limits (B. Ḳ. 82b).

Laws Relating to Liberty.

Provisions were also made by the Rabbis with the view of guarding the personal liberty and honor of the members of the community. Stealing a person and selling him into slavery was punishable by death, according to the Mosaic law (Ex. xxi. 16). "They are My [God's] servants, but not servants to servants," was a principle often enunciated by the Rabbis (B. M. 10a: Ḳid. 22b, based on Lev. xxv. 42). Imprisonment as a punishment is not mentioned in the Bible, although later it was employed in the case of certain transgressions (see Imprisonment). The payment of damages for the infliction of a personal injury included also a fine for the shame which was caused by such an injury (see Damage). In inflicting the punishment of flagellation no more than the prescribed number of stripes might be given, "lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee" (Deut. xxv. 3; see Corporal Punishment). Posthumous indignities at the public execution of a criminal were prohibited; and when hanging after execution was enjoined, the body was not allowed to remain onthe gallows overnight (Deut. xxi. 23; see Capital Punishment).

Public Morality.

The laws of morality and chastity were elaborated by the Rabbis in greatest detail (see Chastity; Ethics), The gambler was regarded as an outcast: his testimony was not admitted in evidence (see Evidence), nor was his oath believed (see Gambling; Perjury). The Rabbis took especial care in interpreting and elaborating the laws touching upon the property rights of individuals. The boundaries of fields were accurately marked; and a curse was pronounced upon him who should remove his neighbor's landmarks (Deut. xix. 14, xxvii. 17; see Boundaries). Special officers were, therefore, appointed, as stated above, to measure the fields and to determine the situation and limits of every one's land. It was forbidden to keep animals that might injure the crops of another (B. Ḳ, 79b). Dove-cots were to be fifty cubits distant from a neighbor's land, in order that the birds might cause no injury to the seeds (B. B. 23a). Wells, pits, and caves might not be dug in the vicinity of a neighbor's property (ib. 17a). An oven might not be constructed in one's house, unless it was so built as to guard against any danger from fire (ib. 20b). Windows and doors might not be constructed so as to face the windows and doors of a neighbor's house (ib. 11a; see Easement; Ḥazaḳah).

It was not permissible to buy stolen goods or such as might be suspected of having been stolen. No milk, wool, lambs, or calves might be bought from a shepherd (B. Ḳ. 118b), nor wood or fruit from a hired gardener (ib. 119a). Nothing might be bought from women who had no personal property, nor from minors or slaves, except such objects respecting which there could be no suspicion (ib.), nor might anything be taken from them for safe-keeping (B. B. 51b).

Not only was cheating in business forbidden (Lev. xxv. 14, 17), but even dissimulation in speech and misleading statements were prohibited (B. M. 58b), even when a non-Jew was concerned (Ḥul. 94a). Objects might not be "doctored" or ornamented with the intention of deceiving the buyer, nor might the finer parts of an article be prominently displayed in order to attract the eye (B. M. 60a, b). If water was accidentally mixed with wine, the wine might not be sold unless the buyer was notified of the accident (ib.). Special officers were appointed to test the quality of wine in order to guard against adulteration (Tosef., Kelim, B. Ḳ. vi. 10; comp. 'Ab. Zarah 58a, and Rashi, s.v. "Agardemin"). After an animal had been slaughtered a butcher might not arrest the free flow of the blood in order to make the meat weigh more (Ḥul. 113a).

Weights and Measures.

The prohibition against false weights and measures applied not only to their use (Lev. xix. 35, 36), but also to the mere presence of them in one's house (Deut. xxv. 13-16; B. B. 89b). R. Levi declared that the sin of using false weights and measures was greater than that of the breach of the laws of chastity; for the latter could be atoned for by repentance, while the former could not, unless the transgressor returned to each one whom he had deceived the amount lost by the deception, which was almost impossible (B. B. 88b). Weights might not be made of lead, iron, or any other metal liable to accumulate rust, but only of stone or glass (ib. 89b). They might not be left in salt; for this might increase their weight (ib.). Ample space was to be allowed to admit of the scales swinging freely (ib. 89a). The measures were to be cleaned at least twice every week; the weights, at least once every week; and the scales, after every time that they were used (ib. 88a). The measures were to be so graded that each one, whether dry or liquid, should be one-half of that preceding it (ib. 89b, 90a). The seller was required to add 1/100 in liquid and 1/400 in dry measures to the actual amount required, in order that he might be certain that the measure was correct (ib. 88b). In places where the custom was to sell by level measures one was forbidden to sell heaped measures and raise the price accordingly, and vice versa (ib.; see Weights and Measures).

Market Laws.

Raising the market price by speculation was regarded with disfavor by the Rabbis; and he who practised it was classed together with the usurer and with him who used false weights and measures, to all of whom they applied the words of Amos viii. 4-8 (B. B. 90b). It was forbidden to export from Palestine, even to the neighboring land of Syria, necessary articles of food (ib.). In times of famine one was not permitted to store up necessary articles of food, even the products of his own field, but was required to put them on the market. At other times the storage of foodstuffs was permitted to the farmer, but not to the speculator (ib.). Middlemen were not tolerated, unless they improved the product either by grinding the grain into flour or by baking the flour into bread (ib. 91a; comp. RaSHBaM, s.v. "En"). The retail storekeeper might not derive for himself a gain larger than one-sixth of the cost of the article (ib. 90a). The inhabitants of a town had the right to bar outsiders from its market, although much freedom was exercised by the town authorities when the question of allowing a learned man to sell his goods was brought before them (ib. 21b, 22a). Pedlers might not be debarred from selling their goods; for there was an ancient tradition that Ezra had permitted pedlers to sell cosmetics to women in all places (B. Ḳ. 82a, b); they might, however, be prevented from settling in a town (B. B. 22a; see Hawkers and Pedlers).

The property of a person unable to defend himself was protected in the following ways: (1) In the case of minors, the court appointed a guardian (Ket. 18b, 20a); (2) in the case of the insane, the government took charge of their property (Ḥag. 3b; Yoreh. De'ah, i. 5); (3) in the case of an absent defendant, the court appointed a curator, provided he had left because his life was imperiled; otherwise, the court intervened only if he had died during his absence and his property was about to be divided among his relations (B. M. 38b, 39a).

The only material permissible for legal documents was material of a kind that would render erasures or changes easily recognizable (Giṭ. 23a; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 42, 1).

  • Bloch, Das Mosaisch-Talmudische Polizeirecht, Budapest, 1879;
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. ii., s.v. Polizei;
  • Hastings, Dict. Bible, s.v. Magistrate and Officer;
  • Saalschütz, Das Mosaische Recht, ch. v., Berlin, 1853.
E. C. J. H. G.