Trembling Before G-d
New Yorker Films / Year: 2001
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New Yorker Films / Year: 2001
|We're sorry, but this title is currently unavailable.|
A very special documentary peek into the previously unknown world of gay Hasidic and Orthodox Jews.
Trembling Before G-d is a film that challenges and opens up our world view, through this film it becomes possible now for all people, even members of a very traditional religion, to be gay. The ultra-fundamentalist Jewish sects believe in the Biblical punishment of death for homosexuality. The men do not trim their beards or sideburns, wear black and pray many times a day. The women are not allowed into the main level of the sanctuary, shave their heads and wear a wig, wear long dresses and are relegated to cooking and cleaning. How gay men and lesbians find their identity in these communities is the subject of Trembling Before G-d, a haunting new documentary.
Through interviews with the first openly gay Orthodox Rabbi, therapists, and gay and lesbian Jews we learn the story of people who have been shunted aside by their families and pushed out of a religion they still love and practice. Judaism is a tradition practiced for thousands of years that has evolved in many paths. The Hasidism are the most traditional path, the community doesn't integrate into American culture, where corruptions like homosexuality have been festering. To see these Jews, even in silhouette, is stirring - showing us brave people who have taken a few steps out of the closet door in a community that will almost certainly reject them. A sensuous and hypnotic score that calls on traditional Jewish song and electronica by John Zorn shines. Sandi Simcha Dubowski has given us an immensly watchable film that has created a movement of change in the Orthodox Jewish community. Bravo.
-- Scott Cranin
Amos Lassen wrote on 02/03/2009:
“Hear O Israel”
One of the outstanding and most meaningful documentaries I have ever seen, Sandi Dubowski’s “Trembling Before G-d (New Yorker Films) stands in a class all it’s own. It is a provocative look into the lives of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews who struggle to reconcile their sexual orientation with their firm and devout religious beliefs. The film sheds light on a group of people who were not eager to be photographed but felt that they had an important story to tell.
Orthodox Judaism has a strict code for homosexuals; in fact it prohibits their way of life. Those that are gay and lesbian are forced into living hidden lives and this is why we see so few faces in this film.; If they were to be found out, they would not only face ostracism but very certainly would be asked to leave their religion. Most of the people in the film are not willing to give up their strong religious beliefs and therefore choose to live a life of hiding and silence. Several of those that appear in the film do so in silhouette or with faces obscured. But there is also Mark, who is openly gay and the son of a rabbi who was shipped to Israel because his parents mistakenly believed that there are no gay men there. (Little did they know that Israel is rapidly becoming an oasis for freedom for gays in the area). We also meet Michelle (a divorced woman) who is firmly convinced that she is the only Hassidic lesbian in Brooklyn and “Leah” and Malka”, a lesbian couple who observant the Judaic laws and deal with non-supportive parents. David from Los Angeles, has been battling his inner demons as he wants to remain an observant Jew but cannot reconcile what the rabbis tell him with the way he is. For ten years he underwent various cures and instructions to attempt to subvert his attraction to his own sex. There is also Israel from Brooklyn who underwent shock therapy in the 50â€™s and wants to reunite with his centenarian father whom he has not seen for more than two decades.
For over five years, Dubowski followed these people’s lives traveling form America to Israel and back again in order to get the material he needed and wanted for his film. Because of the nature of the secrecy of those that participated in the film it was impossible to get a complete picture because in many cases the parents were unwilling to participate. But no matter, what we have is enormous and heartbreaking as well as uplifting. Even with the admonitions of the religion, the people we meet here continue to live religious lives.
”Trembling”is an extraordinary documentation of what we know so little about. The Bible, according to one of the interviewees is abundantly clear on the matter and it is quoted as “hey shall be put to death”. It hurts so much to see the people longing for acceptance and not finding it and yet maintaining and continuing their religious way of life. What is especially interesting is that specificities about religion and sexual orientation disappear into the larger universal theme of family and acceptance. The subjects want their religion but they also want to find a place where their religion will accept the way they live.
We learn from the film that Orthodoxy is dogma that requires the banning of homosexuals at best and physical reeducation at worst. The dilemma of Orthodox life and the refusal to deny one’ sexuality and the fear of expulsion if discovered is the overriding motif of the film. I cannot imagine having to live a life like thisâ€”living n fear of discovery and dreading the results. “rembling” arfully captures this crisis. Instead of an out and out indictment against Orthodoxy, the director allows both sides to have their say and their some moments that we see that are heartbreaking.
But there is optimism. Openly gay Orthodox rabbi, Steve Greenberg argues that religion is an adaptable institution and he feels that this too will happen with time. Judaism is a religion that is responsive to the human condition and if it does not respond then it is not the same religion of which the Torah (the Pentateuch) writes. But time is passing and we see no changes. We can only hope.
Mark D R Stern (RyanSternMD@sbcglobal.net) wrote on 08/16/2003:
As president of Congregation Beth El Binah, Dallas' predominantly gay and lesbian synagogue, I have seen Sandi Simcha DuBowski's film 5 times from 1997 to 2002. And, I have had the opportunity to meet and have lengthy conversations with Sandi Dubowski and the gay orthodox rabbi featured in the film. I have seen the film in a number of venues with different audiences and each audience has recieved it well.
This film is not just for Traditional Jews, or Jews, but for anyone who has dealt with the issues of orthodox or fundamendalist religious views against homosexuality or the people who hold them. This film will appeal to any person of faith who has had to reconcile acceptance of their homosexuality with religious dogma.
There is a profound impression that being both homosexual and having a traditional deep religious faith is very possible.
Jed (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote on 01/14/2003:
Tackling a difficult subject which was long overdue for exploration, "Trembling Before G-d" takes a look at the difficult issue of balancing devotion to your religion, and being an out-and-proud gay man or lesbian. The film takes a look at the lives of several gay and lesbian Orthodox and Hasidic Jews (For those unfamiliar with these groups, Orthodox and Hasidic Jews are two of the strictest, most traditional divisions within Judaism, as opposed to the less strict Reform Jews) in the U.S., Israel, and London."Trembling Before G-d" is unique in that director Sandi Simcha DuBowski manages to avoid the heavy-handedness that goes along with the territory of so many documentaries. He presents the diverse subjects-- which include a young, HIV-positive Hasidic man in London who's also an avid drag enthusiast; an out middle aged man who tearfully still yearns for acceptance by his elderly father; and a Brooklyn woman who divorced her husband to come out as a lesbian-- in such a manner that the audience doesn't need the benefit of a "who's-right-and-who's-wrong" debate. Rather than being angry and seeking to "fight the system," almost all of these subjects face sadness resulting from the internal conflict of being gay but also being unflinchingly dedicated to their religion, which is so engrained in their childhood, family history, and daily lives. In one segment, a Jewish lesbian wife-- filmed in silhouette-- speaks about her depression resulting from what she feels is a failure to please her husband. In another, a young Orthodox lesbian receives the perfunctory Sabbath phone call from her parents, knowing that her parents disapprove of her relationship with her partner but feel obligated to make the weekly call. The call brings her to tears. DuBowski avoids giving too much background information about the history of Judaism and homosexuality. With the emphasis on real-life human experiences, narrative isn't even necessary-- the subjects' words and faces make the big picture as clear as can be. However, the director does give the audience the benefit of translating the occasional Yiddish and Hebrew expressions used in the film into English, through the use of subtitles.
Ultimately, "Trembling Before G-d" is enlightening and provocative. But the film doesn't offer any concrete solutions-- after all, with this difficult subject, there are no easy answers. What does emerge is the need to continue to study and explore religious teaching-- more specifically, balancing traditional theories with the very real subject of modern human emotions and lives. This will definitely be a challenge for our community in the future.
Oxford-Dan wrote on 05/11/2002:
This movie is a potent reminder about the role that religion plays in the lives and struggles of Jewish Orthodox gays and lesbians. From the beginning, one senses the constant underlying tension between the spirituality and the daily lives homosexual Jews lead. Done in a documentary-interview format, several lives are examined in painful detail as their lives conflict with their religion. A very moving and thought-provoking film. Seen on 11 May 2002 in Columbus, Ohio.
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