(NR) 3 stars
Trembling Before G-d opens with a series of silhouetted scenes of Orthodox Jews performing the daily rituals of religious life: praying, singing, lighting Shabbat candles. Many of the subjects of this documentary, the first of its kind, remain in shadow throughout the film because they are closeted gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews who fear ostracism from families and religious leaders if their identities are revealed.
Orthodox Jewish law expressly forbids gay and lesbian sexual relations, and until recently, homosexual Orthodox Jews largely chose to remain closeted. That is slowly changing, as small numbers of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews step forward to embrace both their religious convictions and their sexual identities. In Trembling Before G-d, shot over a period of five years in the 1990s, director Sandi Simcha DuBowski documents the beginnings of this movement through the experiences of a handful of Jews living in the U.S. and Israel - some are out, some are not, but all are trying desperately to find a middle ground.
David was advised by his rabbi to rid himself of homosexual urges by eating figs and saying certain prayers. He tried this and numerous other remedies for more than a decade before estranging himself from the Orthodox community. "Malka" and "Leah" are high school sweethearts from Brooklyn; though they"ve been together for 12 years, Malka is still not out to her parents. The couple continues to observe Orthodox traditions, and provides informal support services for other lesbian and gay Jews, but won"t show their faces on-camera. Mark is a yeshiva student who dreams of becoming a great rabbi, but has been kicked out of numerous religious schools because of his homosexuality. Although he is struggling with worsening AIDS, Mark retains his passion for Orthodox Judaism. Israel is a former Hasidic Jew who was given shock therapy treatments as a boy in an attempt to "cure" him of homosexuality. He now gives tours of Brooklyn"s Hasidic neighborhoods in an attempt to come to terms with the culture he has rejected.
These stories and others are woven throughout the film. Its emotional climax occurs when David travels to Jerusalem to confront the rabbi who rejected him 20 years earlier. Trembling Before G-d deals with intensely emotional scenes in a matter-of-fact manner that serves to highlight the complexities of each subject"s search to reconcile their faith tradition with their love lives. The film has won several awards, including Best Documentary at the Berlin Film Festival.