Trembling Before G-d (documentary)

“If a man lies with a man as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death.”

That quote, from Leviticus 20:13, soberly opens “Trembling Before G-d,” a documentary about Orthodox Jews who also happen to be homosexual.

The participants in the documentary, believe me, find it just as dichotomous as you do. We meet many of them, men and women, of various age groups and various circumstances, but what they all have in common is that they were brought up believing homosexuality is completely unreconcilable with Judaism. They love their religion, yet they cannot deny their feelings. “I don’t want to be a less-than Jew just because I’m gay,” says one man, summing up the feelings of everyone else in the film.

The different ways in which they deal with this struggle is the focus of the film, which was directed by Sandi Simcha Dubowski. Malka and Leah have been together 10 years and still practice their religion faithfully. Israel, age 58, misses his father and holds mild resentment against his religion for making him feel unwelcome. Ditto Marc, a younger man whose rabbi suggested he seek aversion therapy 20 years ago and never recovered from it. And so on.

Though the stories are compelling in their humanity and the striking quandaries they present, even for straight viewers, they develop a sameness after a while. None of the stories are outrageous or especially moving; in fact, most of them are not stories so much as case studies. There are no coming-out scenes, no major battles with parents or friends, no significant developments of any kind. They are portraits of people, and good ones, but the film falls into a rut long before it’s over.

That said, it offers several interesting insights into the seemingly incongruous matters of homosexuality and orthodox religion. “Human loneliness was the first problem of creation,” says gay rabbi Steve Greenberg, citing the Genesis scripture, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” What are homosexuals who believe in their religion but don’t want to be alone supposed to do? “Trembling Before G-d” doesn’t claim to have answers, and that’s the part that’s most troubling to the men and women depicted in it.

B- (1 hr., 24 min.; Not Rated, probably PG-13, some discussion of sexual activity.)