Nisan 5
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Nisan 5

At the age of thirteen, one becomes obligated to perform "the mitzvos (Ethics of the Fathers 5:25).

Jewish law does not recognize any such entity as adolescence. A child is a minor until the age of legal majority, which is the twelfth birthday for a girl and the thirteenth for a boy. One moment prior to the sunset of the eleventh or twelfth year, the person is a minor; the next moment, she or he is an adult. Parents and teachers still must provide guidance of course, but the "child" is no longer a child, and must assume responsibility for him or herself.

Parents take responsibility for their children's behavior, but once those children reach the age of majority, they are accountable for their actions. A Jew never has a single moment of diminished responsibility; he or she always advances.

In the general culture, however, adolescence constitutes a "no man's land," a period of diminished responsibility. Adolescents are too old for their behavior to be dismissed as childish, yet too young to be held accountable for their actions.

The problem is that once youths experience a period of diminished responsibility, they may never advance to a sense of full responsibility. Similarly, Western legal systems abound with legal factors that diminish individuals' culpability for misbehavior. It stands to reason, therefore, that once people have a window of lessened responsibility, they have even less reason to take full responsibility for themselves. This may be one factor in Western civilization's worsening problem of individuals and groups blaming others for their problems and shortcomings.

Today I shall...

hold myself accountable and responsible for everything I do or have done.

With stories and insights, Rabbi Twerski's new book Twerski on Machzor makes Rosh Hashanah prayers more meaningful. Click here to order...

Published: May 21, 2009

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