What do you know about Judaism? If youíre like most non-Jews in the United States, especially those who donít live in the Northeast, the answer is precious little. The frightening truth is, non-Jewish Americaís primary sources of information about Judaism are news about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the unfortunate views expounded by Christian fundamentalists, and Joe Liebermanís vice presidential campaign. Not a lot to work with.
Well, prepare to have your information vacuum filled and be moved nearly to tears in the process. Dubowskiís Trembling Before G-D explores the conflicted world of Ultra-Orthodox and Hassidic Jews who, against their earnest desires, find that they are gay or lesbian. You see, Jewish orthodoxy and its various stringent cousins ban homosexuality as a sin, much like their fundamentalist Christian counterparts. But instead of abandoning orthodoxy, as many reportedly do, Dubowskiís subjects earnestly desire to stay Orthodox or Hasidic and remain connected with the religious community so important to their lives.
We meet gays and lesbians who seem polar opposites of the flamboyant rebels of popular culture. These are people who would do anything to be heterosexual, who have tried psychoanalysis and prayer, reading the Torah and aversion therapy, all to try to conform to not only their religionís but their own idea of how they should be and feel.
Trembling Before G-D takes us from Brooklyn to Miami to Israel to London, to meet the subjects in their homes, their neighborhoods, and their religious meetings. Their stories moved me, enlightened me, and no few times made me angry. But all showed the human face of the struggle, even from the point of view of the rabbis who love the confused members of their flocks, but cannot deny the Jewish law, much as it pains them.
Donít think itís all doom and gloom. The heavy issues only make the comedic moments funnier, and there are a lot of scenes with tragicomic elements as well, where you laugh but you want to cry afterward. These elements keep the film from becoming bogged down, and help make the subjects three-dimensional in ways an entirely heavy documentary would not have done.
Everyone on the planet should see this movie and might be surprised by how enjoyable it is. Trembling Before G-D opens up a world that few non-Jews will ever have the opportunity to see, and shows the human, doubting side of Orthodoxy that those who have grown up in or chosen Reform Judaism may not have glimpsed either. The closet was never so conflicted as when it hides people trying to not only be true to themselves, but also to the Divine.