Language says so much about a people. For instance, I learned the word "sh''khol" (שכול) the other day. Sh''khol translates to "bereavement," but its meaning in Hebrew is much more specific. It''s an adjective used to describe a family member that loses someone at a young age, or prematurely. Oftentimes it is used to describe parents that lose children in war or terror related incidents.
My Hebrew teacher noted that as far as she knows, this word does not exist in any other language— and she knows eight. It certainly doesn''t in English.
It made me remember an episode from Six Feet Under, a show about a family-owned funeral home, where a family has to bury a child. After Nate, the funeral home''s director, describes this horrific story to his girlfriend Brenda and Brenda''s brother Billy, she reflects, "If you lose a spouse, you''re called a widow or a widower. If you''re a child and you lose your parents, then you''re an orphan. But what''s the word to describe a parent who loses a child? I guess that''s just too f--king awful to even have a name." (To watch the full scene, you can look at the video from minutes 5:00 to 7:15)
But it does have a name in Hebrew: Why?
Jewish rituals around death are traditionally more "down to Earth" than many cultures. Rather than salting a grave, each person attending the funeral pours dirt on it, putting a piece of Earth above the deceased.
Bodies are not supposed to be viewed by an open casket. If you are a close family member that sees the deceased before the funeral, you see the dead person with little, if any, modeling. With this realistic mind set, which is more comfortable with death than other cultures, it could also explain the existence of the word sh''khol.
Another sad but obvious answer could be the word was born out of necessity. Words are created when a culture needs to use them. In this case, the Jewish people have seen so much death, particularly young people dying, that they needed to create further specifications.
Then, is it a privilege to be able to consider a young person''s death taboo? Or is the word sh''khol a healthy adaptation to the realities of life?
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