The normally hidden world of gay
Hasidic and Orthodox Jews has been uncovered in Trembling Before God –
a controversial documentary that has just opened at the US box office.
Many of the film’s subjects appear in
silhouette, with their voices disguised, because they feared
repercussions if their identities were revealed.
This is how an article on BBC.co.uk on a movie called "Trembling before G-d" begins. This movie, recently released in South Africa, examines homosexuality in the orthodox Jewish communities. It has evoked considerable debate and, in many cases, outrage. The Sunday Times has reported that local leaders of the South African Jewish Community have banned the movie in South Africa and have taken active steps to prevent it being screened.
A SHOCK decision by Jewish leaders to
ban a gay Orthodox rabbi from speaking at several venues this week has
torn the local community apart.
The Jewish Board of Education and the Beth
Din, the Jewish ecclesiastical court, this week banned talks by gay US
Orthodox Rabbi Steven Greenberg along with screenings of the
controversial documentary Trembling Before G-d.
The film, by US director Sandi Simcha
DuBowski, looks at the struggle gay Jews have finding a place for
themselves in Orthodox Judaism. It features Greenberg, who is also here
to promote his book Wrestling With G-d and Men.
This decision has outraged the community although parents seem to be more outraged at the fact that they were not consulted at all about these decisions and about the Board of Education’s apparent narrow views.
Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein said in a
written statement to Metro: “This film is intellectually shallow and
its one-sided caricature of Orthodox Judaism does not stimulate
meaningful intellectual debate.??
I was particularly impressed to see the headmaster of the my old high school, amoung others, become an advocate for the screening of this movie.
The headmaster of King David Victory
Park has defied the ban. And parents are threatening to start a
petition against the SA Board of Jewish Education.
Greenberg was billed to talk at the school on Monday as part of its Week of Tolerance.
However, the Jewish Board of Education cancelled the event.
In response, headmaster Joseph Gerassi went
ahead and organised that the film be screened at the Beaconsfield Club,
opposite the school, which is run by the Beth Din.
This was also cancelled. Eventually the event was hosted at Wits University.
Another screening at the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre in Oaklands was also cancelled by the Beth Din.
In a letter to parents, Gerassi said: “As headmaster I feel that this was the wrong decision.
“If we are educating our students about
tolerance, I feel we should have allowed Rabbi Greenberg the
opportunity to discuss his life and the difficulties he has encountered
reconciling his homosexuality with Orthodox Judaism.
“Whether we approve or disapprove of his sexual orientation, our students should have the right to hear his point of view.??
Another source of great pride for me (no pun intended there) is that my friend David Bilchitz was heavily involved, if not instrumental, in bringing this movie to South Africa. Well done Dave!
Quite a bit has been said in the blogosphere about this movie. A couple blogs I came across which have posts about this movie are here, here and here.
In all the reaction here in South Africa has been less than a model of tolerance. The orthodox Jewish community in South Africa (and I am sure in other parts of the world as well) has hardly been the bastion of transparency and tolerance. I have a few friends who are gay and who have experienced great pain and hardship in their struggles for acceptance of their orientation by their families. It is ironic that people who claim to be such devout followers of what is really a beautiful religion would ostracise their children so readily.
What do you think?