Observant husband sabotages efforts to be green at home

I love my husband, but he is one of the least environmentally conscious people I know. No matter how much I stress recycling and composting in our house, he continues to deposit trash carelessly wherever he wants. He puts recyclable containers in the trash and compostable material in the recycling bin. Every week before trash pickup, I have to dig through the bins to make sure everything is in its rightful place. What’s more, he makes fun of my conservation efforts in front of our kids when I think we should be teaching them to reuse, recycle and treat Mother Earth with respect. Because my husband is an observant Jew, I am wondering if there is anything in Jewish teaching that might convince him to be more green.

— Debby in Hillsborough

Dear Debby: You are in luck! Mensch, who shares your green orientation and would like his wife and kids to be a little more vigilant, did not have to look far to find a wealth of opinion equating Jewish life with environmentalism. Rabbi Lawrence Troster, rabbinic scholar-in-residence at GreenFaith and a lecturer at the Jewish Theological Seminary, is an environmental activist who writes widely on the imperative of Jews to be committed stewards of God’s creation. He cites a particularly convincing bit of Midrash, which reads: “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are — how excellent! For your sake, I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it’ ”(Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13). Can we hear an “amen”?

If you are as proud as Mensch is of American Jewry’s legacy of social activism and justice, you should be able to convince your husband to join you in including environmentalism in Judaism’s best practices. Wikipedia’s entry under “Judaism and environmentalism” is a good place to start exploring the surfeit of resources dedicated to this connection.

My husband played football as a boy and through college. He says it taught him toughness, perseverance, sportsmanship, teamwork and humility. He is adamant that we start our 9-year-old son in a local youth football league and give him the opportunity to play through high school and beyond if he wants. I am equally adamant that our son not play football. I am not fond of the violence in the game, and I am very worried about him getting injured. I also don’t want to be viewed by my son as the overprotective mom who took away his fun.  — Worried in Orinda

Dear Worried: For starters, Mensch does not think you are being overprotective. No sane parent would disregard the mounting evidence that links the repeated blows to the head that are a constant in football with the potential for debilitating, degenerative brain damage later in life. And it’s not just the big NFL hits causing the problems. A study published last year in the journal Neurology demonstrated that even a season’s worth of small bodily impacts (such as those occurring most often in football and ice hockey) can lead to changes in the brain that cause problems with memory, cognition and mood later in life. We always knew football to have an element of danger, but now we have evidence that it can ruin your life.

On the other hand, Mensch does not think your husband is entirely wrong in wanting your son to play. Competitive team sports can indeed provide developing boys and girls with incredible benefits, including all those your husband attributes to his football playing. The good news is that football is scrambling at all levels to make the game safer. Perhaps you can find a flag-football league in which to start your son. If he advances to tackle, make sure the coaches and league officials involved are employing the latest techniques and equipment to put safety first. Ask questions and keep a vigilant eye at practices and games. If the play looks too rough and the hits seem too hard, they probably are.

Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. He can be reached at advicemensch@gmail.com.