This thought-provoking documentary about gay Orthodox Jews opens with two rather brutal quotations. The first is the infamous line from Leviticus that prescribes death for any "man who lies with a man." The second is a lesser-known passage from the Shulchan Aruch, a compendium of Jewish religious law, forbidding "women to rub against each other." Lashings,...read more
This thought-provoking documentary about gay Orthodox Jews opens with two rather brutal quotations. The first is the infamous line from Leviticus that prescribes death for any "man who lies with a man." The second is a lesser-known passage from the Shulchan Aruch, a compendium of Jewish religious law, forbidding "women to rub against each other." Lashings, it goes on to say, are the only appropriate punishment for such behavior. One hopes that few people today really advocate either penalty, but filmmaker Sandi Simcha DuBowski uses these quotes to underscore persistent attitudes that bring serious anguish to those gay Orthodox men and women who are unable to deny their sexuality but wish to remain religious. DuBowski profiles a number of gay Orthodox Jews, both in the United States and Israel, who face just that moral dilemma. After years of counseling from both rabbis and therapists, 35-year-old David knows there's no "cure" for homosexuality, but can't reconcile himself to either celibacy or life apart from his faith. Brooklynites "Malka" and "Leah" have been together for over 10 years and lead relatively open lives as Orthodox lesbians, but the revelation effectively destroyed Malka's relationship with her very conservative family. Mark, a Hasidic Englishman, boldly stepped out of the closet when he was 15. Though he's been tossed out of several yeshivas (religious schools) for his "activities," David remains determined to practice his faith. And even though Israel says that he turned his back on the Orthodox Brooklyn community into which he was born, insisting that queerness and Orthodoxy don't mix, he returns to the old neighborhood leading tourists on his "Big Knish" tours. Their voices are full of courage, strength and inspiration, but, sadly, not one remains untempered by regret or doubt. Israel admits that he still pines for the rabbis and the father he lost when he came out, Malka and Leah worry that the happiness they share in this world will be denied them in the next, and Mark is certain he wouldn't be HIV+ if he'd only stayed at yeshiva and gotten married. Nevertheless, this is a brave, groundbreaking film. We learn at the end that the silhouettes of men and women seen participating in traditional shabat celebrations throughout the film are actually members of recently formed gay Orthodox organizations underground groups one hopes won't have to remain underground for very long.
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