Moshe Smoira was born in Koenigsberg, then the capital of East Prussia in Imperial Germany, in 1888, his parents having moved there from Russia. While still young he studied Hebrew and was attracted to Zionism. His future wife had some influence in this respect; she was Esther Horovitz from Minsk, a relative of Zalman Shazar, who was later to become a President of the State of Israel.
Moshe Smoira was 26 years old when World War I broke out, and about to finish his studies in Jurisprudence at Heidelberg University; but he joined the army and was later wounded in action.
After the war, he organised Hebrew courses in Berlin and, somewhat later, received his doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of Giessen. In 1921, he immigrated to Palestine, where he discovered, to his surprise, that there were already more than enough Jewish lawyers in the country (seven altogether). However, he opened a practice in Jerusalem and soon became one of the most eminent lawyers there. He was invited to teach at the Jerusalem Law School and was a lecturer there for many years.
Moshe Smoira became the lawyer for the General Federation of Jewish Labour in Eretz Israel (the Histadrut). He specialised in Labour law and became one of the initiators and drafters of the Mandatory Law of compensation to dismissed workers.
In the 1930s he was appointed President of the Court of Honour of the World Zionist Organization and President of the Association of Jewish Lawyers in Eretz Israel. After the establishment of the State of Israel he was appointed President of the Supreme Court and served for six years.
As first President of the Supreme Court, Moshe Smoira left his mark on the administration of justice in Israel. One of the things he put special emphasis on was lucidity of language. He was very particular concerning the revitalisation of judicial language in Hebrew so that it was clear and precise. He was well versed in the Hebrew sources from the Bible to the Rambam (Maimonides). He not only enjoyed poring over and studying these writings all his life, but also spiced his judgements with quotations.
He was very well acquainted with European culture and literature too, from his younger days, and with the modern Hebrew writers, especially Shai Agnon, who was a visitor to his home.
Moshe Smoira introduced into the Law Courts a spirit of fellowship which still exists today among the judges. He safeguarded justice, whilst rejecting formality and exaggerated adherence to procedure. He did not regard the upholding of the law as an aim in itself, but as an instrument for doing justice.
Moshe Smoira died in 1961 after a long illness.