Gay Jews – Movie Trembling before G-d
Trembling Before G-d
Directed by Sandi Simcha Dubowski
“Trembling Before G-d” is an unprecedented feature documentary that shatters assumptions about faith, sexuality, and religious fundamentalism. Built around intimately-told personal stories of Hasidic and Orthodox Jews who are gay or lesbian, the film portrays a group of people who face a profound dilemma — how to reconcile their passionate love of Judaism and the Divine with the drastic Biblical prohibitions that forbid homosexuality.
Trembling Before G-d interviews and follows several gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews, many only seen in silhouette, and also interviews several rabbis and psychologists regarding their views on homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism. The film repeatedly returns to several characters:
David is an observant Orthodox Jewish doctor from Los Angeles who has spent a decade trying to reconcile his homosexuality with Judaism. He has tried numerous forms of “treatment”, from eating figs and praying to wearing a rubber band on his wrist to flick whenever he thinks of men, but to no avail. During the course of the film, David decides to visit the Chabad rabbi to whom he first came out.
Israel is a 58-year-old New Yorker who decided he couldn’t be gay and Orthodox, and turned his back on his religion, though not before his family forced him into electroshock therapy to try to cure him. Now a tour guide in the Haredi neighborhoods of New York, the film follows him as he gives a tour, psychoanalyzes himself and decides, on the 25th anniversary of being with his life partner, to call his 98-year-old father, a rabbi, whom he has not seen in over twenty years.
Michelle is another New Yorker, in her forties, who believed she was the only Hasidic lesbian in the world and as a consequence allowed herself to be pressured into marriage. However, she got divorced and was subsequently ostracized by her family and community when they discovered she was homosexual. The film shows her visiting her old neighborhood and an Orthodox fair.
Rabbi Steven Greenberg, one of the founding members of the Jerusalem Open House, a gay rights organization in Israel which provides support to gay Orthodox Jews and their families, who is sometimes called “the world’s first openly gay Orthodox rabbi”, discusses parents’ reactions to their children coming out, as well as traditional interpretations of the prohibitions on homosexual acts in the Torah.
Shlomo Ashkenazy is a gay psychotherapist who has run a confidential support group for Orthodox gay men for nearly 20 years. He is interviewed about the effects of Orthodox attitudes to homosexuality and the reactions of rabbis to gay Jews.
Mark is the English son of a Haredi rabbi. Coming out at 15, he was expelled from seven yeshivas for homosexual activity before becoming a drag queen, and is now dying of AIDS-related illness. He visits several yeshivas and other religious sites throughout the film. He remains upbeat, at one point saying, “Being a Jew is such a nice present to receive.”
“Malka” and “Leah” are two observant Orthodox lesbians who have been together for ten years, which has destroyed Malka’s relationship with her family. They speak frankly about their lives in the film and discuss their fears that they may not end up in heaven together. They are shown preparing for Shabbat, and Leah gives advice to a married Hasidic lesbian who is terrified her husband will find out and take away her children.
“Devorah” is a married Hasidic lesbian living in Israel. She only appears in silhouette with an electronically modified voice. She considered her twenty-year-long marriage a lie, and can only cope by taking antidepressants. The film follows her as she attends her first gay pride parade, where she is offended by the anti-Orthodox sentiment of its speakers.
All the rabbis agree that the only way in which one can reconcile one’s sexual orientation with the Torah is to remain celibate. They still believe homosexuality is a choice and a religious person must battle the perversion.
At one stage, a senior rabbi gets confused when the gay man consulting him does not do anal sex. The gay man tells the rabbi that there are many forms of gay sex. He is puzzled by oral sex and wonders, “why would you put your penis in someone’s mouth?”