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Adult at Twenty

Nidah (5:8) | Yisrael Bankier | 5 days ago

The fifth perek discusses the halachot that begin to apply at different stages of development of a girl or boy. The final Mishnah (5:8) discusses a boy or girl that has not matured; they have not grown sheti se'arot (pubic hairs) despite reaching an advanced age. That age is the subject of debate whether it is eighteen or twenty. In any case, once the individual reaches that age, the Mishnah teaches that if they provide proof of age and present physical indications that they are an ailonit or saris (female or male unable to reproduce), then they are treated as adults. The Gemara (47b) explains that if they do not develop these indications, then they would only be considered adults at the age of thirty-five.

The Gemara (Yevamot 80a) presents a debate regarding the case in our Mishnah. Once they are confirmed as an ailonit or saris, from what age are they considered adults? Rav understand that they are retroactively considered adults from the age of twelve or thirteen. Shmuel however argues that it is from that point forward, from the age of twenty, that they are considered adults. A practical difference between these two opinions is if, e.g., he inadvertently ate chelev (forbidden fats) between the age of thirteen and twenty. According to Rav, once it is determined that he is a saris, then it would mean that he was an adult at the time he ate the chelev and be required to bring a korban. According to Shmuel however, he would be considered a minor at that time and exempt from all punishments. How do we understand this debate?

The Grach (Ishut 2:9, s.v. ve'hinei) explains that they have different understandings of the role that age and the simanim (indications) play in establishing this person as an adult. He explains that according to Rav the individual becomes a gadol on their own. Age and simanim are not like shtei se'arot that establish the individual as a gadol. Instead, they simple reveal the fact that this individual is unable to produce shtei se'arot. Consequently, since it is clear he was also unable at the age of thirteen, Rav understands that we treat him as an adult retroactively from that age.

Shmuel however understand that the simanim are equivalent to the shtei se'arot. The simanim are required to establish this individual as a gadol. Consequently, it is only once the simanim have been produced (with age) that the individual is considered a gadol, and only from that point forward.

The Grach however continues that it is also possible that both Rav and Shmuel agree that that the simanim are necessary to render the individual a gadol. Furthermore, once they appear, and she is twenty, then it can imply that she was fit to be a gadol from the age of twelve. Nevertheless, they debate whether her status as a gadol can be applied retroactively.

The Grach continues that the Gemara challenges Rav's position. R' Meir understands that the fine that the applies in the case of ones (rape) and pitui (seduction) only applies to a na'ara -- a girl during the six months after she is no longer a ketana (minor). R' Meir maintains that the fine would not apply to a ailonit. The Gemara however asks that according to Rav, since she would retroactively be considered a ne'ara from that age of twelve, the knas should apply.

The Grach continues that the same question could be posed to Shmuel. According to Shmuel she could be defined as a naarah from the six months after she turned twenty. Why then does the Gemara only pose the question according to the opinion of Rav?

The answer is found is in the second explanation above. The reason why Shmuel maintains that she is a gadol from this point onwards, is because he argues that the status cannot be applied retroactively. Nevertheless, he agrees that we now understand that she could have been considered a gadol from that early age. That being the case, the period of na'artut has already passed and she would immediately be considered a bogeret.

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