A few months back, I wrote a blog post exploring the word “onen”, someone who is in a state of deep grief immediately following the death of a loved one, before the burial. After I published the blog I learned that the word had another meaning in modern Hebrew: “someone who masturbates”. This led to me falling down a rabbit hole around how the character in the Torah, Onan, grew to a word with two very different meanings.
Two of my favorite takeaways from this very fun conversation:
- The Torah links life and death in ways that are obvious and also in ways that are so subtle we might miss them
- There are “in-between spaces” in life when we exist in a suspended state, not fully grounded in this world and this can be from joy or from grief. Being an Onen is one of those spaces and it might be connected to another one via a story from the Torah about orgasm and Onan.
I’m realizing that when I open one door, there are two more on the other side that lead to two more and so on. There are endless and beautiful connections tracing back through Jewish tradition. Hopefully, this wisdom can serve us as we reimagine what a modern approach to Jewish end of life can look like.
I hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed recording:
About Rabbi Jessica Minnen:
Rabbi Jessica Minnen is an educator, writer, and Clubhouse enthusiast. Part of the founding team of OneTable, she now serves as the organization’s Rabbi in Residence. Originally from Paducah, Kentucky, she is an alumna of Washington University in St. Louis, the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Paideia: The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, Baltimore Hebrew University, and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Jess lives in Denver, Colorado with one little kid and one little pup. Continue the conversation: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hebrew and Jewish References Explained:
Onen: Someone who is in a deep state of grief immediately following the death of a loved one but before a burial. After a burial the mourner becomes an “aveil” or “aveilah“
Halacha: Halakha is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the written and Oral Tora
Karet: A biblical term for someone who has been “cut off” from the community as punishment
Mikvah: A pool of natural waters for Jewish ritual immersion
Niddah: Laws surrounding purity and particularly referencing a menstruating person
Torah: The Hebrew Bible, the first five books of Moses
Tikva Frymer-Kensky: Was a professor and scholar of biblical studies, Jewish studies, and women and religion
Sefaria: an online open source free content digital library of Jewish texts