Screened as part of NZIFF 2001

Trembling Before G-d 2001

Directed by Sandi Simcha DuBowski

Israel / USA In English and Hebrew with English subtitles
84 minutes 35mm

Production Co

Simcha Leib Productions
Turbulent Arts
Keshet Broadcasting
Pretty Pictures


Sandi Simcha DuBowski
Marc Smolowitz


David Leitner


Susan Korda


Bill Seery
Alex Noyes


John Zorn


This ground-breaking documentary brings to light the intractable dilemma of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews struggling to reconcile sexuality with deeply held religious beliefs. Though modern perceptions of sexuality continually challenge Western religions, Orthodox Judaism is immovably opposed to homosexuality and refuses to view it as anything other than a regrettable perversion. The Holy Books are unequivocal in their prohibitions against men lying with men, women with women.

Secular audiences may be astounded at gay and lesbian persistence in adhering to a faith that so bluntly rejects them, but the religion of the men and women we meet here is as ineradicable as sexual preference. There is something intensely human about what we witness in this film: the excruciating struggle to embody irreconcilable differences.

DuBowski’s film is built around the intimate testimonies of his brave subjects, most of whom are vividly articulate and several of whom are bitterly funny. Those who cling the most intently to conventional life, like Devorah, a lesbian in a sham marriage to an Israeli man, are seen in silhouette. Others wear their conflicted identities brazenly, like the voluble, Brooklyn-born Israel, who has not seen some members of his immediate family since 1971. In one of the film’s most moving sequences, a man who has found some measure of self-respect is accompanied by the filmmaker to revisit an evidently compassionate rabbi who once advised him to ‘eat figs and say psalms, and snap a rubber band on his wrist’ every time he thought of sex with a man. Hoping that his hard-won new assurance will move his old mentor, he is gently admonished that he can never be granted the acceptance he craves.

Though Dubowski’s film amounts to a daunting assessment of the obstacles, it’s also an integral part of the tentative liberation movements he reveals amongst younger Orthodox Jews, unimpressed by the millennia-old dogma. — BG