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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Puberty, Age of

  1. More than half of a given number or group; the greater part: applied to opinions. In their endeavor to find a Biblical basis for every principle of law the Rabbis interpreted Exodus 23:2 so as to derive the majority principle from it (Sanh. 3b). But since this passage stands in connection with laws regulating the administration of justice, the principle was applied only where a definite number () was concerned, as when a difference of opinion arose among the judges constituting a court of justice (see Acquittal); or as in the case, frequently quoted in the Talmud, where a piece of meat was found in a street that contained nine shops for kasher meat and one for ṭerefah, in which case it was held that the meat came from one of the kasher shops, since they were in the majority. Other Biblical passages and laws had to be employed in order to find a Mosaic basis for the majority principle where the numbers were not definite ( ; Ḥul. 11a, b). The principle was followed in all legal and ritual enactments and gave rise to a number of maxims, by which the Rabbis were guided in the decision of various cases. For instance, the majority of women marry when they are virgins (Ket. 16a); most children are born after nine months of pregnancy (Yeb. 37a); most women give birth to healthy children (Yeb. 36a); the majority of idolaters are loose in their moral conduct (Ket. 13b); most of those engaged in the ritual slaughtering of animals are expert (Ḥul. 3b); most of the actions of minors are of no value (Ḥul. 86a); the majority of animals yield milk only after they have borne young (Bek. 20b); most sick people recover, while most of those who are dangerously sick ("goses") do not recover (Giṭ. 28a).These and many similar maxims scattered throughout the Talmud were valuable not only in the decision of a doubtful case (see Ḥazaḳah), but also in determining the state of an object. There were, however, some rabbis who would not be guided entirely by the majority principle, holding that the case under consideration might belong to the exceptional minority (). R. Meïr (Yeb. 61b) forbade a minor from performing the levirate rite or the ḥaliẓah, declaring that he might later be found to be impotent, although the majority ofpersons are not impotent. R. Jose (Yeb. 67a, b), R. Akiba (Bek. 20b), R. Ṭarfon (Mak. 7b; comp. Ḥul. 11b; Tos. Ḥul. 11b, s. "Laḥosh"), and many other tannaim and amoraim also, were careful to provide for the minority. But the consensus of opinion among the Rabbis was to follow the majority in all cases, even where capital punishment was involved (Sanh. 69a).

"Majority" of an Act.

The performance of the greater part of an act was sometimes counted, on the majority principle, as equivalent to the performance of the whole act. If, in slaughtering an animal, one cuts through the greater part only of the esophagus and the windpipe, although the Law requires that both these be severed, the animal is ritually fit for food (ḥul. 27a; see see SHEḤIṬAH). Similarly, after the greater part of a child's body protrudes from the womb, the child is considered as born (Nid. 29a).

When the principle of majority conflicted with the principle of ḥazaḳah the former took precedence (Ḳid. 80a). The same is the case when it conflicts with the principle of proximity ("ḳarob"; B. B. 23b). The principle of majority does not apply to monetary cases (B. B. 92b; B. Ḳ. 27b; Tos. B. Ḳ. 27b s. "Ko."). While in the case of a disagreement among the judges the opinion of the majority is followed (Acquittal), in the case of disagreeing witnesses majority is entirely disregarded. If a hundred witnesses testified to a certain fact and two witnesses refuted their testimony the testimony of none was believed (Mak. 5b; Maimonides, "Yad," 'Edut, 18:3; see EVIDENCE).

  • Goitein, Kesef Nibḥar, s. , Lemberg, 1895;
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. s. Mehrheit;
  • Yad Malaki, 2:157, Berlin, 1857;
  • Jalish, Melo ha-Ro'im, s. , Halberstadt, 1859.

  1. The age at which the law permits one to manage his own affairs; full age; maturity. No definite age of maturity is given in the Bible. To the army, only those above twenty years of age were admitted (Numbers 1:3). This was also the age-limit for those who had to pay the half-shekel when the people were counted (Exodus 30:14). The Levites were admitted to service at the age of thirty (Numbers 4:23; comp. 8:24, where twenty-five is given as the age-limit; in 1 Chronicles 23:27 and in Ezra 3:8 the age-limit is put at twenty; comp. Ḥul. 24a), and were dismissed from service at the age of fifty (comp. ib.). In the case of vows to the sanctuary ("'arakin"), mention is made of various ages with regard to determining the assessment value of the individual (Leviticus 27:1-8; see Estimate; Vow).

The Age of Maturity.

The Rabbis, however, reckoned the age of maturity from the time when the first signs of puberty appear (Nid. 52a), and estimated that these signs come, with women, about the beginning of the thirteenth year, and about the beginning of the fourteenth year with men. From this period one was regarded as an adult and as responsible for one's actions to the laws of the community. In the case of females, the rabbinic law recognized several distinct stages: those of the "ḳeṭannah," from the age of three to the age of twelve and one day; the "na'arah," the six months following that period; and the "bogeret," from the expiration of these six months. In the case of males, distinction was made in general only between the period preceding the age of thirteen and one day and that following it, although, as will be seen below, other stages were occasionally recognized.

The attainment of the age of majority, however, did not of itself render one an adult; the prescribed age and the symptoms of puberty together were necessary to establish the majority of a person. If there were no signs of puberty at the age of majority (e., at the beginning of the thirteenth year in a female and at the beginning of the fourteenth in a male) the person retained the status of a minor until the age of twenty. If after that period signs of impotence developed, thus explaining the absence of the signs of puberty, the person was admitted to the status of an adult; if such signs did not develop, the person remained in the status of a minor until the age of thirty-five years and one day—the greater part of the time allotted to man on earth (comp. Ps. xc. 10). In the case of a woman, the bearing of children was regarded as sufficient to establish her majority (Yeb. 12b; Maimonides, "Yad," Ishut, 2:9; comp. "Maggid Mishneh" and "Leḥem Mishneh" ad loc.; for the whole subject see Nid. 5:3-8; 6:1,11-12; "Yad," c. ch. ).

Marriage of Minors.

The ḳeṭannah might be given in marriage by her father, and the marriage was valid, necessitating a formal divorce if separation was desired. Her earnings and her findings, also, belonged to her father, and he could annul her vows and accept a divorce for her (Nid. 47a; Ket. 46b). In the absence of her father, her mother or her brothers might contract a marriage for her, but such a marriage might be annulled by her without any formality before she reached the age of maturity (see MI'UN). Illegitimate intercourse with her carried with it the regular punishment for the transgressor, although she could not be punished (Nid. 44b). The na'arah, however, although still under the control of her father (Ḳid. 41a), was considered a responsible person; her vows were valid (Nid. 45b). The bogeret was regarded as entirely independent of her father's will and was looked upon as an adult in all respects (Nid. 47a).

The Rabbis recognized in males a stage similar to that of the ḳeṭannah. A boy nine years of age was regarded as being of a nubile age, so that if he had illegitimate intercourse with a woman forbidden to him she would be liable to punishment, although he could not be punished until he reached the age of maturity—thirteen years and one day (Nid. 44a). His marriage, however, was not valid (Ḳid. 50b; "Yad," c. 4:7), although he could acquire a "yebamah" through intercourse (Nid. 45a; B. B. 156b). A stage similar to that of the na'arah was recognized by the Rabbis in the case of the rebellious son (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The period during which one might become liable to the punishment inflicted upon the rebellious son was extended to include the three months (six months in Yer. Sanh. 8:1) immediately succeeding the age of maturity (Sanh. 69a). After a boy had reached the age of maturity he was regarded a responsible person in all ritualand criminal matters, and the court inflicted punishment upon him for any transgressions. The Rabbis entertained the belief that heavenly punishment was not visited for sins committed before the age of twenty (Shab. 89b; comp. B. B. 121b; Maḥzor vitry, ed. Hurwitz, p. 550; Ḥakam Ẓebi, Responsa, § 49; but comp. "Sefer Ḥasidim," ed. Wistinetski, § 16, where the opinion is expressed that the heavenly punishment does not depend on age but on the intelligence of the transgressor; see also Asher ben Jehiel, Responsa, 16:1).

Business Transactions of Minors.

According to the Mosaic law minors are unable to enter upon any business transaction. The Rabbis, however, provided that those who are above the age of six and manifest an appreciation of business dealings should be able to dispose of movable property (Giṭ. 59a, 65a). After they had reached the age of maturity they might dispose even of real property that came into their possession through gift or purchase, but they could not dispose of inherited immovable property until they reached the age of twenty (B. B. 155a, 156a; see CONSENT; see GIFTS; Infancy). The same principle was followed with regard to their testimony. After the age of thirteen and one day their testimony was admitted, though in general only when the disposition of movable property was involved. If, however, they showed signs of intelligence and of an appreciation of the value of their testimony, they might testify also in cases involving immovable property (B. B. 155b; "Yad," 'Edut, 9:8). Minors were disqualified from testifying in any case, although the testimony of an adult with regard to incidents that he had witnessed in his minority was in some cases admitted into evidence (Ket. 28a; B. Ḳ. 88a; EVIDENCE). For the age at which one might become a judge see Judge in Rabbinical Literature.

Although the minor was considered not responsible for any act of his and could not be summoned to court for any injury caused to another by him or by his property, still when one of his animals showed signs of viciousness (see GORING OX) the court was obliged to appoint some one to take charge of the animal. There is a difference of opinion among the Rabbis as to what should be done if it caused damage after that, some thinking that the damage should be collected from the minor's property, and others that the trustee should pay the damages (B. Ḳ. 39a).

Religious Majority.

On arriving at the age of maturity the boy is obliged to observe all the commandments of Judaism (Ab. 5:21; comp. Maḥzor Vitry, c.; see BAR MIẒWAH). From that time on he may be counted as one of the ten needed for public worship (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 55, 9), and he may even act as ḥazzan in case of emergency, although, as a rule, the ḥazzan is required to have a full beard (Ḥul. 24b; Shulḥan 'Aruk, c. 53, 6-8). While the minor is regarded in many respects as incapable of performing religious observances (Kil. 17:15; Ṭoh. 8:6; Maksh. 6:1) and is placed in the same category as the deaf-mute and the idiot (see Deaf and Dumb; INSANITY) still parents are enjoined to train their children in the observance of religious duties and customs even before they reach the age of maturity. On the Day of Atonement children of nine years of age should be made to fast part of the day, and those who have reached the age of eleven and are healthy should fast the whole day (Yoma 78b, 82a). In all other religious observances, as in making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on every festival (Ḥag. 2a, 6a), in attending the general assembly on Sukkot following the Sabbatical year (Ḥag. 3a; see Deuteronomy 31:12), and in wearing ẓiẓit or tefillin ('Ar. 2b), the father is expected to train his child during various stages of its minority.

  • Löw, Die Lebensalter in der Jüdischen Li-teratur, Szegedin, 1875;
  • Mayer, Die Rechte der Israeliten, Athener und Römer, 2:126, Leipsic, 1866;
  • Mendelssohn, Ritualgesetze der Juden, pp. 83-85, Berlin, 1793;
  • Mielziner, Jewish Law of Marriage and Divorce, pp. 71-74, Cincinnati, 1884.
J. H. G.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Puberty, Age of'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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