By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 28, 2008

Balaboosters are rather out of fashion these days, victims of feminism and women's magazines. Still, at least according to family myth, all of our grandmothers were balaboosters - heroic homemakers who raised large numbers of children in straitened circumstances and made real gefilte fish from a carp that swam about in the bath tub.

The balaboosta is married to a balaboos, that is a home-owner, a lay person, one who works for a living - the backbone of Jewish communities. The word is a Yiddishised running-together of the Hebrew words ba'al ha'bayit, meaning owner of a house. One of my professors at Hebrew University suggests that the English word boss is related to balaboos, but this sounds unlikely to me.

Balaboos can be turned into an adjective, balabatish, which means solid, homely and dependable. In certain haredi circles it has slightly pejorative connotations. A balabatish sevarah is a plodding or pedestrian line of talmudic argument, lacking the originality and analytical precision to which those in full-time yeshivah learning aspire. (However, the phrase does reflect the impressive reality that religious balabatim did, and still do, devote significant time to Torah study.)

In Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers (2:20), God is described as a ba'al habayit in the following homely metaphor for life: "The day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is much, and the ba'al habayit is urgent."

Last updated: 10:26am, October 28 2008