Amelia Bedelia and Shalom Bayis: A Primer


(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times)

Yes, it is true.  Long before Peggy Parish first published Amelia Bedelia in 1963, there was, lehavdil, a similar situationn that appears in the Talmud (Nedarim 66b.)  That fascinating passage in the Gemorah can also be very instructive to the about-to-be married, the newly married, the long-time married, and the divorced.  The passage reads as follows:

There was a certain person from Babylonia who left to Eretz Yisroel.  He married a woman there.  He said to her, “Cook me two lentils (which in Babylonia means some lentils).  She went and cooked him two lentils (exactly).  He boiled in anger at her.  The next day he said, “cook for me a geriva (a large amount).”  She cooked for him an excessive amount.  He said to her go and bring me two betzini (which in Babylonia means melons.)  She brought him two lamps (the meaning of Betzini in Eretz Yisroel).  He told her (apparently in frustration), “Go and break them on the head of the Bava (which means “wall in Babylonian Aramaic).  She went and broke it on the head of the great sage Bava Ben Buta who was sitting on the wall issuing judgements.  He asked her, “What is this that you have done?”  She told him, “This is what my husband had said to do.”  He said, “You fulfilled the will of your husband – may the Omnipresent bring from you two sons like Bava Ben Buta.


There are a number of questions on this Gemorah.  First and foremost – why is Bava Ben Buta giving her a blessing in reward of an act that was clearly wrong?  We do not break anything over the head of a Gadol hador – no matter who tells us to do it.  Why then did he bless her?  What is the reason the Gemorah is citing this story?  Why does it start with someone who emigrated from Babylonia?


Clearly, Bava Ben Buta was highlighting her desire to keep peace even in light of the fact that there was a huge language barrier for her to overcome.  The Gemorah is also highlighting the fact that when there are language barriers there are huge hurdles to Shalom Bayis – maintaining peace in the home, but that we must make every effort that we can to maintain that Shalom Bayis.  This answers the questions posed above.

The Midrash (Aicha Rabasi 2:17) tells us, “chochma bagoyim taamin.”  Gary Chapman, an author of several books on marriage, has stated that effectively communicating with each other in a manner that expresses love is essential in maintaining a good relationship.  It must be expressed in a manner that is important to the spouse.  Proper communication and speaking the same language are necessary components in maintaining a healthy marriage.  The import of this passage of the Gemorah in Nedarim indicates as well that the secret to Shalom Bayis lies in effective communication.

A good mnemonic that could effectively help us remember the varied methods of communication of that love is “Da Zman – Know Time.”  We must keep in mind, however, that if our spouse does not speak that language – it will be ineffective.


These five letters, dalet, ayin, zayin, mem, nun – are five different categories that can be quantified as languages.  Dibur, Avodah, Zman, Matana, Negiyah.

The Dalet – stands for Dibur – words.  This means that we should use words that make deposits in the spouse’s emotional bank account.  We should express our love verbally and we should relay our appreciation for what he or she does or may have done.

The Ayin stands for Avodah – service, or work.  This means doing the dishes, taking out the garbage.  Essentially, it is assisting the spouse in various ways.

The Zayin stands for Zman – time.  This means making the effort to spend quality time with the spouse.

The Mem stands for Matana – which means gift.  This means being thoughtful and buying a gift for one’s spouse that shows that you have them in mind.  The gift should be something that the spouse would like and enjoy.

The Nun stands for Negiyah which means expressing love and warmth through touch.  The Ramah, of course, forbids public expressions of love in this manner, but in private, expressing love physically is proper.


Just because the husband speaks one of these five languages does not mean that the wife speaks the same one.  If the husband is constantly expressing his verbal love and admiration through Dibur – words, but does not do a stitch of Avodah, and the wife speaks AVodah but not Dibur – then there is a huge problem.  She could be thinking, “If you really loved me then why aren’t you helping me??”

The same is true with all of DA ZMAN.  Each spouse must learn the language that the other spouse speaks.  At times, this can be extraordinarily difficult.  Change is very hard for some – especially if it is the Avodah language that one member of the couple speaks – but not the other.  Nonetheless, this concept is one of the most important ideas that a person should get into before he or she steps into a marriage.


The RaN addresses why it is that the Gemorah cited this narrative.  The RaN suggests that the Gemorah cites it in order to help us appreciate the greatness of Bava Ben Buta.  In this article, however, an alternative understanding is being presented.  The reason that the Gemorah cites it is to illustrate how very important it is to try to maintain Shalom whenever there is a deep lack of the ability to truly communicate.  This is what Bava Ben Buta tried to do.

It could very well be, however, that this alternative answer is not, in fact, disagreeing with the RaN.  It could be that this message demonstrates the greatness of Bava Ben Buta.  He, as well as the Gemorah, is demonstrating the importance of maintaining Shalom in all circumstances.  He did so, even under the circumstances where a woman busted two lamps over his head.

This can be very instructive to the about-to-be married because it can illuminate the path that they are about to take.  It can be instructive to the divorced because it can help shed light on what my have gone wrong.  It can then inform them about how to proceed the next time.

The author can be reached at

(YWN World Desk – NYC)


  1. Beautiful article. In any relationship, be it spouse or kids, it’s important to use as many languages as possible. Don’t get stuck expressing care and affection in only one language.