Trembling Before G-d is a documentary directed by Sandi Simcha DuBowski about Gay Jews in Orthodox Judaism. Released in 2001, it consists primarily of interviews with Gay male and Lesbian Jews, many of whom conceal their identities. This material is intercut with home movies, travelogue-style footage of Israel, and re-enactments of religious rituals filmed in silhouette. Trembling was used as a means for creating dialogue between Gay Jews and Orthodox communities in several nations, and DuBowski and Rabbi Steven Greenberg traveled with the documentary to speak to those communities after showings.
Reconciling Orthodox Judaism with Homosexuality
Several of DuBowski’s collaborators describe how they have been unable to reconcile their sexuality with Orthodox Judaism because most Orthodox Jewish authorities regard homosexual behavior as an abomination. Many interviewees are identified only by first name, some use pseudonyms, and some are filmed in silhouette and use a voice distorter to conceal their identity. Some were driven out of the community.
People in the documentary include Mark, a drag queen who recalls repeated expulsions from yeshivas (religious schools); Michelle, expelled from her Hasidic community and ostracized by her family when they became aware of her sexual orientation; and Malka and Leah, an Orthodox Lesbian couple estranged from family and community.
Others choose to try to suppress their sexuality, such as David, who reports that he has tried everything from prayer to diet to cure his desire for men, and Devorah, an Israeli Lesbian who feels that her Hasidic marriage requires that she conceal her sexual orientation.
Others have been able to reconcile Orthodox Judaism and their orientation, at least within themselves. Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first openly Gay Orthodox rabbi, discusses Biblical passages interpreted as prohibiting homosexual behavior. Schlomo Ashkenazy, a Gay psychotherapist, discusses a support group he runs for Gay Orthodox men.
DuBowski was born in Brooklyn in 1970 and had a secular upbringing within a Conservative Jewish household. He says he became interested in the subject of homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism after attending a meeting of Gay Jews who had been raised Orthodox and had either left that world, or remained within it by hiding their sexual orientation. He previously directed the film Tomboychik (1994), a 15-minute film about his relationship with his grandmother, Malverna DuBowski, and the documentary Missionaries Form Militias Unholy Alliance (1996) for Planned Parenthood.
Most recently, Dubowski co-produced the documentary A Jihad for Love (2007) with Parvez Sharma, the documentary’s director. A Jihad for Love explores the lives of Gays in the Islamic world.
Recognition, Education, and a Second Documentary
Trembling Before G-d provided the inspiration for the Trembling Before G-d Orthodox Education Project, partially funded by Stephen Spielberg, which teaches Orthodox rabbis and educators about homosexuality and the Gay Community.
Although it has also been strongly criticized by some Orthodox religious authorities, Trembling Before G-d has been screened at many synagogues and religious schools. Dubowski and Greenberg took the film around the world and held discussions, sometimes heated, in Orthodox communities in several nations. A second 40-minute documentary, Trembling on the Road, is about their travels with Trembling Before G-d.
Friedman, Jonathan C. Rainbow Jews: Jewish and Gay Identity in the Performing Arts. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2007.
Longsdorf, Amy. “Unscripted: Sandi Simcha Dubowski.” Philadelphia Weekly, Jan. 9, 2002.