Adolescence in Jewish medieval society under Islam
Continuity and Change 16 (2), 2001
Adolescent experience has been the subject of an intensive interdisciplinary discourse for the last century; a subject whose roots go back to the basic issue of ‘nature versus nurture’. In examining this topic in Jewish medieval society under Islam, an incongruity is revealed between the normative attitudes at the time and the reality. The normative attitudes, as exhibited in religious law (halakha) and in the moral literature represent man’s life as a journey which peaks upon reaching full adulthood. The different stages of life along the way are acknowledged but they are perceived as subsidiary, sometimes even dangerous. But the reality does not concur: adolescents were far from invisible during this period. Indeed, their presence was prominent and reflected in the poetry and the prevailing images of youth from the time. Jewish society had developed an efficient system for socializing its adolescents, which included an apprenticeship system, higher education (the beit midrash) and early marriage.