I recently became married, and in setting up my first home, my elderly grandmother keeps referring to me as a "balabostah." Is that a compliment? Exactly what is a "balabostah"?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
I wish I could show your question to my dearly departed grandmother. She was a real balabostah!
Balabustah is one of those jerry-rigged linguistic anomalies – two Hebrew words welded together with a Yiddish suffix. "Bal" means boss, "bayis" means house, and "tah" is an endearing suffix.
So there is nothing negative at all. Balabustah connotes a woman in charge of her domain. In fact, the Dutch language has incorporated the word "bolleboos" to mean someone who is very talented, clever, and a master of his/her domain.
I travel a lot for business to small towns. I usually stay at a hotel that does not have a kitchen, so I am unable to prepare my own food. Also, these hotel rooms usually don't have a refrigerator, so I can't get kosher food from the store to keep and eat there. As for kosher restaurants – forget about it!
In fact, right now I’m in Butte, Montana. I don't think there are more than 10 Jews in the entire state, which must be 8 times the size of Israel. I don't know what to do and I'm starving! Maybe I'm missing something obvious, since I am new to this. Do you have any advice?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
In general, eating kosher on the road may be easier than you think. Since so many national products have rabbinic supervision, most local grocery stores carry a large percentage of kosher products, even though there are no Jews within hundreds of miles.
In general, the key to kosher travel is easy-to-use, non-perishable food like peanut butter, tuna fish and salami. There are also dry kosher soup mixes that come in a Styrofoam cup – just add hot water. Also, matzah is a good substitute for bread, because it doesn't spoil.
To balance your diet, you can go into any store and buy an unlimited amount of fruits, vegetables, raw nuts and berries. Just be aware that some of the leafy vegetables – like lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. – need to be thoroughly rinsed and checked for bugs, which of course are not kosher! Most stores sell bags of fresh salad, which come with a kosher symbol to tell you they've been thoroughly washed to remove any bugs.
For cooked food, a good option is to bring a small heating element and a pot, which would enable you to cook vegetable soup, rice, or eggs – all of which are readily available in Anywhere, USA. By carrying a few utensils and plastic dishes, an electric skillet and a West Bend "Hot Pot" (a 2-quart electric pot with a temperature control), one can cook almost anything in a regular hotel room. For example, a packet of pilaf cooks up just fine in the "Hot Pot" if foil is used to seal the top. Break an egg on top the last few moments of cooking and enjoy a raw carrot, and you've got a complete meal.
Alternatively, before you leave home, pack-and-freeze your own meals. Transport them frozen in your suitcase (the altitude keeps things cold in the luggage compartment of a plane), and then stick them in your hotel fridge when you arrive. Travel guides can direct you to hotels which have rooms with kitchenettes. And if you’re traveling by car during the winter, your car's trunk makes a good freezer for prepared foods, cold cuts, etc.
A company called La Briute makes kosher self-heating meals, using a special "flameless" food heater. When the enclosed salt water packet is opened and poured onto the heating element, it produces real heat and steam right inside the box, creating a hot meal in just minutes. Also, there are many companies who allow you to order scrumptious meals, which are delivered overnight to any location.
There are many kosher Jews traveling the countryside – and no one has starved to death! It absolutely can be done. It just takes planning. I recommend using the wonderful online resource www.kosherquest.org.
Good luck, and remember that even if things get difficult, one mitzvah performed under challenging conditions is worth 100 regular mitzvahs!
We are expecting a baby and are having trouble picking a name. What general guidelines are there in Jewish tradition? How come the name of the father is never given to the son – e.g. Isaac Levy III or Jacob Cohen Jr.? If it's a boy, can we name him after a female relative? Is there any prohibition against announcing the name before the Bris?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
First I would like to wish you "Bisha'ah Tova" – may the birth go smoothly and at the right time!
The Talmud says that parents receive one-sixtieth of prophecy when they pick a name. But that doesn't seem to help parents from agonizing over which name to pick!
Ashkenazi Jews have the custom to choose a name after a relative who has passed away. This keeps the name and memory alive, and in a metaphysical way forms a bond between the soul of the baby and the deceased relative. This is a great honor to the deceased, because its soul can achieve an elevation based on the good deeds of the namesake. The child, meanwhile, can be inspired by the good qualities of the deceased – and make a deep connection to the past. (see Noam Elimelech – Bamidbar)
Sefardi Jews also name children after relatives who are still alive.
It is also customary to name a child based on the Jewish holiday coinciding with the birth. For example, a girl born at Purim time might be named Esther. Similarly, names are sometimes chosen from the Torah reading the week of the birth.
The Torah emphasizes how parents took great care in picking the names of their children. For example, Leah chose to call her fourth son Judah (in Hebrew, Yehudah). This name comes from the same root as the word "thanks." The letters can also be rearranged to spell out the holy Name of God. The significance is that Leah wanted to particularly express her "thanks to God." (Genesis 29:35)
In Hebrew, names are not merely convenient conglomerations of letters. Really, the name of something reveals its essential characteristic. The Midrash (Genesis Raba 17:4) tells us that the first man, Adam, looked into the essence of every animal and named it accordingly. The donkey, for example, is characterized by carrying heavy, physical burdens. So in Hebrew, the donkey is named CHAMOR – from the same root as CHOMER, which means physicality. The donkey (chamor) typifies physicality (chomer). Contrast this with English, where the word "donkey" doesn't reveal much about the essence of a donkey!
When naming a child, it is important to pick a name that will have a positive effect, since every time the child hears it they will be reminded of its meaning (Midrash Tanchuma – Ha'Azinu 7). The child who is called Judah is constantly reminded of how much gratitude we should have toward God! Another example of a popular name is "Ari," which is Hebrew for lion. In Jewish literature, the lion is a symbol of a go-getter, someone who sees the opportunity to do a mitzvah, and pounces on it. (see Shulchan Aruch OC 1)
Of course, there are bad names, too. You wouldn't want to name your child "Nimrod," since the very name means "rebellion." In Biblical times, when Abraham was teaching monotheism, Nimrod was the man who threw Abraham into a fiery furnace – out of rebellion against God.
You can name a baby boy after a female, however you should try to keep as many letters the same as possible. For example, if the woman's name was Dina, call the child Dan. If the woman's name was Bracha, name him Baruch.
I think it's a good idea to give your child a Hebrew name that can also be used in English – e.g. Miriam, David, Sarah. This way, your child not only has a Hebrew name, but he'll use it, too! This can be an important hedge against assimilation; the Midrash (Bamidbar Raba 20:21) says that the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt, partly in the merit of having kept their Jewish names amidst the assimilationist society of Egypt. As a child, I had one uncle who always called me by my Jewish name ("Shraga" means candle). I believe that being reminded of my Jewish name all those years was instrumental in maintaining my Jewish identity.
As for announcing name of a baby before the Bris, it is not forbidden to announce. However, in a metaphysical sense, the child does not actually "receive" his name until the Brit. This is because a Jewish boy only receives the full measure of his soul at the Bris, and a person cannot truly be "named" until attaining that completion. (see Zohar Lech Lecha 93a, Taamey Minhagim 929) This is based on the fact that God changed Abraham's name in conjunction with his Bris – at age 99! (Genesis 17:15)