Sometimes I wonder what a retirement age might be. Of course, writers, unlike many others, never really retire but merely take short breaks, like my recent one. Our Torah portion for this week, Behaalotcha, speaks about retirement, providing a very generous, by modern standards, the age for it, albeit for a limited group of people.
“…but at the age of 50 they shall retire from the workforce and shall serve no more,” says Numbers 8:25. “They” are the Levites, who, in the previous verse, are commanded to start their duties at the age of 25. The Torah explains that after the retirement age, the Levites may assist in the Tent of Meeting, but “they shall perform no labor.”
This rule is unusual for an ancient society. In fact, the concept of statutory retirement age was Germany in 1889. As Emperor, William the First wrote to the German Parliament: “. . . those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state.”
The commentators agree that the age limit for the Levites’ active service refers to their participation in strenuous physical activities, and they were still allowed to carry on with the lighter tasks of their choice, In other words, the perfect retirement.