With resonant timing, Moshe Landau, the fifth president of the Supreme Court and an Israel Prize laureate, died on Sunday, only two days after his 99th birthday, and 50 years after presiding at the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

Born in Danzig, Germany, on April 29, 1912, Landau came to British Mandate Palestine in 1933, almost immediately after completing his law studies at the University of London, where he graduated cum laude.

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Admitted to the Palestine Bar in 1937, he rose rapidly in the judicial system, and in 1940 was appointed a judge in the Haifa Magistrate’s Court. This was followed by a promotion to the District Court in 1948, and the Supreme Court in 1953.

He put in more than 20 years of service at the Supreme Court, before becoming its deputy president in 1976. He then had to wait another four years until his appointment as president, a position he held for only two years before reaching retirement age.

He was also the first chairman of the Yad Vashem Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Other posts he held include chairman of the World Zionist Congress Tribunal, chairman of the Advisory Commissions on Israel Land Laws Reforms, Criminal Procedures and Administrative Tribunals, and honorary chairman of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Board of Governors.

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The Eichmann trial in 1961 could well be considered the most significant in his career, which he treated with characteristic cautious methodology.

A Time magazine account of the trial offered this testament to Landau’s no-nonsense style: “The crowd expected to hear first a detailed, legalistic defense of Israel’s right to try Eichmann. Instead, Presiding Judge Moshe Landau (like his two colleagues, a refugee from Nazi Germany) ordered Eichmann to attention in his glass, bulletproof cage, and bluntly told the accused: ‘The court finds you guilty.’” Landau also delivered several important rulings which were regarded as groundbreaking in their time.

In 1957, he had to determine what constituted lawful orders when sitting in the Criminal Court of Appeals at a court martial of soldiers who killed 30 Arabs in the village of Kafr Kasim.

In 1962, he overruled a censor’s decision, thereby setting a precedent for freedom of information and the public’s right to know.

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