17th March 22:57
THINK AGAIN: Half the story on homo***uality
THINK AGAIN: Half the story on homo***uality
By Adam Jessel
(September 6) The hottest buzz at the recent Jerusalem Film Festival
surrounded Sandi DuBowski's Trembling Before God, a do***entary about
Jews from Orthodox backgrounds dealing with their homo***uality. The
film has become the subject of a massive international promotional
No one would deny the film's power. DuBowski captures the pain and
loneliness of his subjects in a series of intense, heart-wrenching
interviews. Those interviewed desperately miss the lifestyle,
community and family closeness of the traditional Orthodox world.
Had DuBowski sought only to sensitize us to the torment of those torn
between their religious beliefs and their same-*** attractions, he
would have performed a valuable service.
But DuBowski does more than that. Trembling Before God is a polemic
arguing that the Orthodox community should not just be more accepting
of people with homo***ual attractions, but that it should also be more
accepting of homo***ual behavior.
The film assumes that same-*** attraction is irreversible, and
therefore cannot be morally proscribed.
DuBowski conveys the impression that those with same-*** attractions
are uniformly rejected by a cold, unsympathetic Orthodox society. Yet
two lengthy interviews he conducted with Rabbi Aharon Feldman and
Rabbi Nathan Cardoza, both of whom have had extensive contact with
Jews struggling with same-*** attractions, are each reduced to a
While it is true that the Torah and halacha unequivocally prohibit
homo***ual acts, there are a growing number of Orthodox rabbis,
educators and therapists who offer encouragement and support to
struggling homo***uals. Anyone who doubts this should read "Letter to
a Homo***ual Ba'al Teshuva," published in Jewish Action by a prominent
rosh yeshiva and distributed widely on the Internet.
DuBowski denigrates the possibility that people can change the nature
of their ***ual attractions. The therapies mentioned in the film range
from the draconian to the ridiculous - electric shock treatments,
libido-controlling drugs, snapping oneself with a rubber band, and
eating figs. Ignored are all the conventional tools of psychotherapy.
Many individuals have benefited greatly from such therapy. In a paper
presented at this year's annual convention of the American Psychiatric
Association (APA), Columbia University professor Robert Spitzer
presented a study of 200 men and women who have experienced a
significant shift from homo***ual to hetero***ual attraction and have
sustained that shift for more than five years. At the time of the
study, three-quarters of the men and half the women were married.
Spitzer's conclusion: "Contrary to conventional wisdom, some highly
motivated individuals, using a variety of change efforts, can make
substantial change in multiple indicators of ***ual orientation."
Lest Spitzer be suspected of being a homophobe, it was he who
spearheaded the 1973 removal of homo***uality from the APA's list of
SPITZER'S message, however, was not one DuBowski was interested in
presenting. Jewish support groups that help people deal with and
overcome homo***uality, such as JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives
to Homo***uality), are not even mentioned in the film, and are
conspicuously absent from the resources listed in the film's credits
and at the film's promotional web site.
"The film was done completely out of a love of Judaism," DuBowski told
an interviewer. "Let the film open heartsÉ There's no ideology being
served that you have to follow."
But if so, why did he not show us those who seek to overcome their
same-*** attractions - those who have grown disillusioned with
homo***ual relationships, those who wish to marry and have children,
those who are already married and wish to eliminate the interference
of same-*** attractions? What about those who simply feel that ***ual
desire is not a license to ignore a Divine imperative? The voices of
these strugglers appear to have been censored out.
DuBowski claims that he was unable to find any who have overcome their
same-*** attractions, or who are striving to do so, who were willing
to be interviewed. Yet I attended the movie with one such person, now
married. He told me that DuBowski interviewed him, but that the
interview was cut from the final product.
Another man, Sam, who describes himself as a recovering homo***ual,
explained, "I spoke with DuBowski on the phone when he was making the
film, and he told me he doesn't believe in change. He didn't seem
interested in meeting any Jews who were in the process of change
either. I feel disappointed," says Sam, "because everyone in the film
equates homo***ual attractions with engaging in homo***ual activities.
Even worse, the film gives the mistaken impression that there is no
hope for those who want to change, and that there is nowhere for us to
"My feeling is that the film was very one-sided, not really
with homo***uality for decades before discovering a therapist who was
willing to help her overcome it.
"I can't help but wonder why you didn't present this side of the
homo***uality issue," she wrote. "It's a long, arduous and very
painful journey, but I've never in my life felt better about myself."
Trembling Before God includes many scenes designed to make Orthodox
practice look strange and exotic. While they make the film
entertaining, the inclusion of so many such scenes does not justify
the film's glaring omissions.
Where are the stories of all those who don't view acting on their
homo***ual attractions as an option? Are their struggles not heroic
and inspiring? A film including their stories should be shown together
with DuBowski's. Much of that footage may, in fact, have already been
shot. It's lying on DuBowski's cutting room floor.