Eyes Wide Open reveals the homophobia of Orthodox Judaism

Published: May 27, 2010

Eyes Wide Open reveals the homophobia of Orthodox Judaism

The important yet depressing Eyes Wide Open is true to life: it shows a Hassidic community that preaches sexual intolerance and a terror of difference

Eyes Wide Open may be sensitively filmed and movingly narrated, but it is also profoundly depressing. Set in a fundamentalist religious community in Jerusalem, it tells the story of two men who fall in love and embark on an illicit affair. Same-sex relationships within any conservative religious community are generally forbidden. Orthodox Judaism, for its part, teaches that men and women should marry young, have lots of babies and live as purely and God-fearingly as possible. This film follows on the heels of Sandi Simcha DuBowski’s fascinating 2001 documentary Trembling Before G-d, which interviews lesbian and gay Orthodox Jews trying to come to terms with their sexuality. The fascination for me was the subjects’ allegiance to their religion rather than their sexuality. Why do they stay wedded to a set of beliefs that interprets their lifestyles as an abomination? What pull does fundamentalist religion have for these people, who, unlike many others, could walk away into the arms of another community?

My partner, Harriet’s brother, Daniel, is a Hassidic Jew living just outside Jerusalem. Two years ago, Harriet and I – out and proud lesbians – attended the arranged marriage of Daniel’s 17-year-old daughter. As I stood talking to Harriet’s parents, the father of the groom approached me, thinking I was Harriet. I braced myself. When Harriet’s father introduced me as his daughter-in-law, the father of the groom blanched and turned away, not out of rudeness or open hostility, but because of his inability to cope with the knowledge of my lesbianism.

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