Sandi Dubowskis sensitive and intelligent documentary, TREMBLING BEFORE G-D takes an intimate look at lesbian and gay Orthodox and Hassidic Jews who do not want to turn their back on their religion. Unfortunately, their religion turns its back on them with such abrupt finality, that one can only marvel at the tenacity of faith and conviction that leaves these outcasts still yearning for the depth of spiritual experience that they can only find in the traditions in which they were brought up.
Dubowski profiles a variety of gay and lesbians caught between two worlds. David, the gay orthodox doctor who, at the behest of a rabbi trying to change his orientation, ate figs and recited psalms. Michelle, who fulfilled her Hassidic familys expectations by marrying, only to divorce and leave the community. Leah and Malkah, who met in Hebrew school, left their community to be together and now counsel closeted orthodox and Hassidic lesbians. Mark, a yeshiva student who was sent to Israel to straighten him out, as it were, only to find that that, instead, it was the perfect place to come out. Israel, who hasnt spoken to his Orthodox father in twenty years and whose bitterness is tempered with resignation. Gary, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi who walks a difficult line every day. Plus there are many seen only in silhouette, those who have not come out, who are living the life expected of them in their communities, and whose souls are dying a painful death as they deny who they are and watch the anguish of spouses who they feel are being cheated of a real marriage.
The moments of pain in each persons struggle, great and small, are almost too raw to bear, from Leah and Malkah who live an orthodox, deeply religious life together, but question if they will be together in the next life, to the quiet catch in Davids voice when he talks about is fear that having the child-filled family life he always dreamed of may not be possible.
Throughout the question asked by many is how can you be gay and still be orthodox or Hassidic? Its a question without an easy answer for anyone brought up to believe in a strict and unbending view of the Torah and the Talmud, the holy commentary on the Torah. Still, drawing on the Jewish tradition of discussion about the law, Dubowski does an excellent job of presenting the arguments pro and con, from rabbis and psychologists and the subjects themselves, as well as the spectrum of reaction within the orthodox and Hassidic community, from overt hostility to compassionate disapproval. He also does something remarkable in conveying the sense of community, of continuity, and of comfort that these people find in the rituals and the meanings behind them even as they are exiled because of their sexuality. It is eminently clear why they cannot and do not want to leave this behind.
TREMBLING BEFORE G-D focuses on homophobia within a particular community, but the human face it puts on the objects of intolerance speaks to discrimination at large in all its ugly forms. Its a moving and important piece of filmmaking.