Deuteronomy 21 gives a rule regarding rebellious sons.

When a man has a wayward, rebellious son, who does not obey his father and mother, they shall have him flogged. If he still does not listen to them, then his father and mother must grasp him and bring him to the elders of his city, to that area's supreme court. [The parents] must declare to the elders of his city, 'Our son here is wayward and rebellious. He does not listen to us, and is an [exceptional] glutton and drunkard.' — Deuteronomy 21:18–20 (Kaplan's Translation)

Like the two preceding rules, its purpose seems to be to put restrictions on what I presume used to be standard practices, in this case, parents unilaterally making the decision.

I'm not asking about anything related to ethics, morals, etc., but I'm curious as to the circumstances where parents could follow this route.

A 1-year-old could meet all the criteria, except "drunkard"; a 50-year-old with 75-year-old parents could meet all the criteria; but I doubt they were intended to be covered by this situation.

So exactly what age range was it meant to cover?

I see that Kaplan's has foot notes that are extremely restrictive:

  • This rule applies only to a boy between the ages of 13 and 13¼ (Sanhedrin 68b; Yad, Mamrim 7:5). It does not apply to a girl (Yad, Mamrim 7:11).
  • The boy is flogged only if he eats the 'meal of a rebellious son', which is forbidden by Leviticus 19:26 (Hagahoth Maimonioth ad loc.; Sanhedrin 63a)
  • There must be two witnesses to the 'meal of the rebellious son' besides the parents (Yad, Mamrim 7:7).
  • glutton: This alludes to the 'meal of the rebellious son.' By tradition he must steal money from his father, and buy 50 dinars of meat, eating it rare outside his father's property and in bad company. This is the act that must be witnessed for the son to be put to death (Yad, Mamrim 7:2; Sanhedrin 70a).
  • drunkard: He must also drink ½ log (5oz.) of wine with the meal (Ibid.). It is therefore forbidden for a boy of this age to eat such a meal at any time (Sefer HaMitzvoth, Negative 195).

These are so restrictive that the boy would have to be suicidal to explicitly meet all the requirements.

What ages would have been considered at the time, 3000 years ago?


TALMUD - JewishEncyclopedia.com says:

Those who professed Judaism felt no doubt that the Talmud was equal to the Bible as a source of instruction and decision in problems of religion, and every effort to set forth religious teachings and duties was based on it …

I mean no disrespect to this position, but for my question I was looking for an answer as to how this law was understood 3000+ years ago. The Talmud explains how one should interpret it, but I was hoping for more of an historical answer, how it was interpreted, say before the time of King David.

  • 9
    You cite a footnote which answers your question. Between 13 and 13.5
    – robev
    Feb 28, 2020 at 18:13
  • 1
    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/99279 and judaism.stackexchange.com/q/84904. A more thorough treatment of this topic remains a desideratum on Mi Yodeya, however.
    – Fred
    Feb 28, 2020 at 20:28
  • You’re right, it is extremely restrictive. So restrictive, in fact, that the Talmud says that such a case has never occurred and never will occur.
    – DonielF
    Mar 1, 2020 at 4:41
  • @Doniel The Talmud also says that R Yonatan saw one and sat on his grave
    – Double AA
    Mar 1, 2020 at 14:01
  • @DoubleAA You're correct, I should have said that according to one opinion in the Talmud it can never happen.
    – DonielF
    Mar 1, 2020 at 15:52

1 Answer 1


The very long list of conditions which must apply is listed in the Rambam's Mishne Torah, Hilchot Mamrim chapter 7. In 7:6 the Rambam writes

The entire period for which a "wayward and rebellious son" is liable is only three months from the time he manifests signs of physical maturity.

In 7:5 he writes the age of maturity is 13 and then explains the period could be even shorter (see end of 7:6).

So the answer is from 13 to a maximum of 13 and 3 months.

  • Yes, I included those details in my quotation of Kaplan's footnotes. But I was more interested in hearing a non-Talmudic, historical answer (see my recent EDIT). Mar 1, 2020 at 4:53
  • The Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a) writes "There has never been a stubborn and rebellious son and there will never be one in the future". The Talmud records the way the Law was understood and interpreted from the time of the giving of the Torah to the time of the Talmud. As such you are not likely to find different answers elsewhere. So are you asking for non-Jewish sources proving the contrary? If yes this might not be the right site.
    – mbloch
    Mar 1, 2020 at 5:21
  • "The Talmud records the way the Law was understood and interpreted from the time of the giving of the Torah to the time of the Talmud.". Thank you. Given that some of it appears to be intellectual deduction and learned opinion, and that not all contributors are in agreement, I wasn't aware that all of Judaism shared that view of it. Mar 1, 2020 at 14:35
  • I just reread my comment, and notice that it could easily be seen as sarcastic. It wasn't. Mar 1, 2020 at 16:10
  • @RayButterworth which contributor disagrees?
    – mbloch
    Mar 1, 2020 at 19:35

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