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It was estimated that puberty, defined by the appearance of two pubic hairs, began in women early in the 13th year, and in men about the start of the 14th year, and for that reason maturity was regarded as beginning legally from the age of 12 years and one day in the case of females and 13 and one day in the case of males (Nid. 5:6; Nid. 52a). The rabbis reckoned religious responsibility to begin with the onset of puberty. From this period onward one was recognized as an adult, responsible for the observance of the precepts and the discharge of communal obligations. In the case of females, the rabbis delineated several distinct stages: ketannah ("minor"), from the age of three to the age of 12; the na'arah ("young woman"), for six months following the initial period; and the bogeret ("adult"), which begins at the expiration of these six months (Nid. 5:7). No such distinctions were made for the males who were simply ketannim ("minors") before 13 and gedolim ("adults") after their 13th birthday.

The attainment of the age of maturity did not automatically render one an adult, since the physical characteristics of puberty were also necessary in order to establish adulthood. However, when an examination for the signs of puberty was not made, it was presumed that a minor who reached the age of maturity had also developed the necessary signs (Nid. 46a). A young man past his *bar mitzvah is therefore counted for a *minyan even without an examination (Isserles to Sh. Ar., OḤ 55:5). A woman's maturity was deemed sufficiently established if she bore a child (Yev. 12b). In the event that signs of puberty did not appear by the age of maturity, the person retained the status of a minor until the age of 20. After that age, if signs of impotence developed, thus accounting for the absence of secondary sex characteristics, the person was considered an adult (Nid. 5:9). If such signs did not develop, the person retained the status of a minor until the age of 35, which was considered the major portion of a person's life-span (Nid. 47b).

After attaining the age of maturity, young adults were held responsible in ritual, civil, and criminal matters, and were held punishable by the courts for their transgressions or breaches of contract. It was believed, however, that heavenly punishment was not forthcoming for sins committed before the age of 20 (Shab. 89b, cf. BB 121b) and only those above the age of 20 were liable for military service (Num. 1:3) or obligated to pay the half-shekel when the people were counted (Ex. 30:14).

See *Child Marriage for marriages entered into by minors or arranged for them.


Krauss, Tal Arch, 3 (1911), 23f., 449f.; J. Preuss, Biblisch-talmudische Medizin (19233), 146–8; M. Perlmann, Midrash ha-Refu'ah, 1 (1926), 36–38; ET, 5 (1953), 137–52, 168–79.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.