In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, a devoutly Jewish man named Tevye raises five daughters in early 20th century Russia. Tevye works hard to stay true to God, often having “conversations” with God throughout the show. One of the main conflicts of the show is the battle between Tevye’s traditional views on a Jewish marriage and the wishes of his three eldest daughters, who want to choose their own husbands. One daughter chooses a poor tailor to marry, another chooses a radical stranger, and a third chooses a Christian. Each concession that Tevye makes takes him further from his traditional values.
But what if one of his daughters had been a lesbian? Throughout the musical, Tevye asks God where the line is drawn. After watching Trembling Beofre G-D, it seems that a hard line gets drawn against homosexuality.
The main question of the film Trembling Before G-d seems to be that of how to be gay while remaining faithful to Judaism. The idea of the family acting as a building block to the community as a whole leaves no place for a homosexual couple. Like we read earlier in “Theology of the Body” and in many other texts this semester, procreation is the ultimate goal of a marriage. The family binds the community together, not just social, but in a religious sense. There is a solidarity to be found in a community of Jewish families. This can be said for any religion. Therefore, theoretically, a gay couple who cannot procreate would not be working towards the good of the community, and by extension the religion.
Again, we find the idea of family and having many children as the center of a marriage. As one young Jewish man relayed in the film, “I have to accept that I will not have children through a marriage.” This statement nearly brought him to tears, as he goes on to say that he had always dreamed of having kids. The film goes on to bring the parents of gay Jewish children into the matter, further highlighting the importance of family. One rabbi noted that he has had parents with gay children come up to him and ask what can be done to help their child remain faithful: “They want their children to remain in love with the Torah.” It seems that God becomes part of the family, and is an essential piece that must always remain at the center of that family.
Throughout the film, we come across many men and women who are caught in the struggle between Judaism and their homosexuality. A young Jewish man discusses the methods by which some have tried to “cure” themselves of their homosexual urges. He cites aversion therapy (such as snapping a rubber band against his skin whenever he saw a man), or drugs, and he even told his parents, “I’m gay but don’t worry I’m in therapy to change.” It seemed as though turning straight was the hope.
However, when all else seemed to fail, many believed that God was the answer. By diving deeper into Judaism, some believed that they could find answers for their apparently sinful urges. Gay men and women were pushed to pray and fast and find comfort in God. Greater faith would somehow save these people. “I belong to God,” one young man says in the film. Another says, “I live in my faith!” They seem to recognize that humans are far from perfect, and hope for a merciful, understanding God who will save them because of their good works despite their sexuality.
I think that is a beautiful thing that comes out of such a struggle. I think someone can just be a good person in the things they do for others, whether they are Christian, Jewish, straight, or gay. Parts of the film Trembling Before G-d were heartbreaking, as we see so many people who were rejected for their sexuality. A lesbian couple in the film hoped that they would have a place together in the Next World, and prayed that their good works would be enough to get them there. I think it’s sad that people feel abandoned not only by their family and their people, but their God as well.