Balabusta (pronounced ba-la-BUST-ah) is the Yiddish term for “homemaker,” generally denoting a woman who is exceptionally skilled at maintaining her home.

The (imaginary) balabusta can host 20 guests for Shabbat dinner in an immaculately clean home, while keeping her kids entertained and well-behaved, simultaneously maintaining a calm composure and a perfectly clean outfit.

The Etymology of Balabusta

To understand the meaning of balabusta, we must first learn some Hebrew words:

Baal (בעל) is Hebrew for “master.”

Bayis (בית), or bayit in modern Hebrew, means a house.

Put them together and you get a baal habayis.

The Talmudic Baal Habayis

The baal habayis is the master of the house. A classic example in Talmudic parlance can be seen in the opening paragraph of Tractate Shabbat. Discussing instances where passing from a private home to public domain are prohibited on Shabbat, the example used is a baal habayis passing charity to a pauper outside his door.1

Beyond the context of home ownership, the baal habayis can refer to an employer,2 a host,3 or an amateur.4

The Yiddish Balabos

In Yiddish, baal habayis was contracted into a balabos (pronounced ba-la-BUSS).

In this context, the balabos can also refer to a layperson (as opposed to a learned scholar), or a well-heeled individual (in contrast to the poor schnorrer), or a married man (no longer a yeshiva student). (Something pertaining to a balabos is balabatish. Thus, the unsophisticated logic of a layperson would be balabatish, as would be the creature comforts of the bourgeoisie.)

The Balabusta

In Yiddish, masculine Hebrew words are often made feminine by adding the suffix “te.” Thus, a shadchan (matchmaker) becomes a shadchante, and a balabos becomes a balabuste (or balabusta, as it is often spelled in English).5

Like balabos, balabusta can refer to a landlady or female employer.

By far the most common application of this word (among English-speaking Jews) is in reference to a homemaker who has mastered her craft—ably running her household in the most optimal manner.

At times, balabusta can be a euphemism for a wife. So if a man is unsure if there is room at the table for one more guest, he may say that he needs to consult his balabusta.

The True Balabusta

Most of us may never master the many skills known to the balabustas of yesteryear (do you really want to know how to pluck a chicken?). At the same time, natural competitiveness and one-upmanship (or is that womanship?) have made the ideal balabusta an unrealistic goddess of feminine skill. Yet, there is an element of balabatishkeit we can (and should) strive to achieve—mastering ourselves. We control our thoughts, speech, and actions, and in that way, each and every person is the ultimate balabos or balabusta.