NAOMI (Heb. נָעֳמִי; probably from nuʿmay (Ugaritic, nʿmy), "pleasantness"), the wife of *Elimelech the Ephrathite from Beth-Lehem in Judah who, because of famine, immigrated to Moab with his wife and his sons Mahlon and *Chilion (Ruth 1:1–2). Her husband and her two sons, who had married Moabite women, died in Moab. When she heard that the famine in Judah had ended, Naomi returned there. Her daughters-in-law wanted to accompany her, but she tried to dissuade them from binding their destiny to hers. Chilion's widow, *Orpah, was persuaded, but Mahlon's widow, *Ruth, clung to her mother-in-law (4:10). Naomi, in return, looked after the interests of her faithful daughter-in-law so that Ruth was taken in marriage by *Boaz, a relative of the family. Naomi adopted and nursed the son born to Ruth and Boaz and so achieved a measure of consolation in her old age.
In the Aggadah
Naomi was of outstanding beauty. She and Elimelech were cousins, their fathers being the sons of Nahshon son of Amminadab. From this the rabbis taught, "even the merit of one's ancestor is of no avail when one emigrates from Ereẓ Israel" (bb 91a). Naomi was so anxious to return to Ereẓ Israel that she set out on her journey barefoot and in rags. She did not even stop to rest on the Sabbath (Ruth R. 2: 12). On the way she taught Ruth the laws concerning proselytes (ibid.). She arrived in Beth-Lehem on the day of the funeral of Boaz's wife (bb 91a). In her youth Naomi had been a nurse to Boaz as she later became a nurse to Ruth's son, Obed (Lekaḥ Tov on Ruth 4:16). Proverbs 31:19 is interpreted to refer to Naomi who brought Ruth under the wings of the Shekhinah (Mid. Hag., Gen. 23:1). She is thus included in the 22 women of valor enumerated by the rabbis (ibid.).
Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1913), 31–32; 6 (1928), 189–92.