Every Friday night religious Jews light candles for Shabbat, the Sabbath or Shabbos. Guest poster Debra A. Waldoks sends us this tip in “light” of Earth Day today. Jewish or not, consider the ramifications of earth-friendly candles.
My husband called me out on it: He claims that I am “green” when it affects my personal health but I couldn’t care less when it is “just” about the environment. For example, we use Nature Babycare diapers because they are chlorine-free, made from 100% natural material (not petrochemicals) and they did not cause diaper rashes on our children.
The fact that they are biodegradeable is, of course, a plus, but my husband alleges that the environment was not my primary concern in choosing a diaper. And I admit it, sort of. It is true that I first became interested in doing more “green” things as I learned that our family’s health would be affected. However, most green changes not only affect your health but also the health of the environment. Chemicals that are bad for our personal health are also more likely to release toxic chemicals, greenhouse gases, and carbon dioxide into the air and water. And I’ve grown to appreciate that as well. Which brings us to our home-made beeswax Shabbat candles.
Store-bought Sabbath candles are generally made from paraffin wax; paraffin oil is also commonly used. Switching to beeswax candles or olive oil may be better for your health and for the environment. For health considerations, here are some excerpts from this article from the BBC:
South Carolina State University experts analysed the fumes released by burning candles in lab tests. They found paraffin wax candles gave off harmful fumes linked to lung cancer and asthma – but admitted it would take many years’ use to risk health.
Researcher Amid Hamidi said people who frequently used candles, for instance to help them relax in the bath or provide the right ambience for dinner, were most at risk.
Although there is no direct evidence that parrafin candles cause cancer, the scientists suggest switching to candles made from beeswax or soy, which do not release significant levels of the chemicals.
It is unclear where Shabbat/holiday candles fall on the spectrum of everyday vs. occasional. Shabbat is only once a week, but there are at least 2 candles per family and the room may not be well-ventilated.
In my family, we have a tradition to light one additional candle for each child in the family. For my immediate family, that currently totals 4 candles, but when I spend Shabbat or Yom Tov (a Jewish holiday day) with my parents and sisters, that can add up to as many as 17 candles.
If we have a 3-day holiday/Shabbat together, as will be the case in the fall, you can see how the candles really add up. Add a weekly Havdalah candle (the candle lit to mark the end of the Shabbat) to the mix, and we are inhaling a potentially significant amount of toxic chemicals.
And since I am generally interested in the health of women and children, I would also speculate that the fumes are potentially worse for fetuses and small children than for adults, because the concentration of the fumes in their bodies is greater. And their lungs, which help filter out the toxins that we breath in, are not fully developed.
So prior to getting pregnant with my second son (now five months old), I decided to purchase sheets of beeswax and a roll of wick to make our own candles.
We make a very simple candle- I cut the beeswax sheet into eight right triangles (only four get used each shabbat), line up the wick along the vertical leg of the triangle, and create the first roll for each of the 4 candles.
My three-year-old son rolls the rest of the candle (click here on Chadis Crafts for directions that I learned from). Each sheet of beeswax makes 8 candles; each candle costs me about $0.15. Making the candles with my son has been a tremendous source of joy for both of us.
My husband also makes a fair amount of the candles now, and I like that he gets to participate in the mitzvah as well. But my favorite memory of this whole experience was when our three year old prepared his baby-brother’s first Shabbat candle and placed it into his new candlestick. It was truly special to give my older son a healthy, environmentally friendly, Jewish way to welcome his brother to the family.
Green Prophet guest poster Debra A. Waldoks, MPH, RD, CLC is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Lactation Counselor and holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Columbia University. She is currently on maternity leave from implementing part of a city-wide breastfeeding initiative in the South Bronx, NY and she is an adjunct nutrition professor at Queens College. Her nutrition specialties include pre-conception, perinatal, and pediatric nutrition. You can find her blog at www.BeyondPrenatals.com. She lives in NYC with her husband and two children.
Top image via psyberartist