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Eyes Wide Open

September 19, 2015

EWOHomosexuality in the Orthodox community is the subject of a very dark and disturbing Israeli film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. It is set during a dark and wet winter in Jerusalem. Rain and the darkness of night are used as metaphors for the ritual of cleansing and the omnipresent pressure to conform in the Orthodox community. It has a strong cast and delivers a powerful message in a country divided by debates about the growing influence of the Orthodox Jewish community.

The way Aaron’s community deals with misbehaviour is illustrated by a woman who works nearby, who continues seeing a man she loves even though her father has promised her to someone else. Aaron is called upon to go with a group to threaten the man and the woman. Aaron warns them that if the matter fell into the hands of the “purity police” they’d be roughed up and the flat would be turned upside down.

You can see the closeness and security of the life, the simple joys of celebratory meals (at Aaron’s house, where Ezri is invited for them), of joining hands and singing there or in Talmud class, where the men chant and bang on the table. Aaron’s physical pleasures with Ezri are equally simple, and intense, with a passion lacking in his ritual under-the-sheets couplings with Rivvka.

We are in a Jewish community in Jerusalem lives by the Torah, a life totally locked up in that logic. A man gets married, has children, works all his life, goes to the synagogue every single time it is necessary, celebrates Sabbath, dresses the proper way, speaks proper language, kisses the mezuzah on the door when he is coming in or going out of a house, apartment or store. That’s a very routine-like life that does not accept anything that goes against this routine, these rules, this pre-formatted life. If the man is a butcher his whole life and his family’s depend on the community that must be convinced that he is pure, he is no sinner. And sin is all-pervading in this community.

There’s contradiction with the famous Lot story that brings God’s fire onto Sodom: the people in Sodom did not respect the law of hospitality, and history repeats itself. The people of this community did not respect the law of hospitality either, but God seemingly brought his fire down onto the host and the guest. Sodom upside down in a way, though in perfect order according to the Torah in another way. There could be a third way but it would mean to leave the community, wife, children.

Aaron Fleischman: [translated] A young man must work and pray. Rest brings about idleness. And idleness causes madness.

Rabbi Vaisben: [translated] He who dwells in abstinence is a sinner. A man who prevents himself from drinking wine is a sinner. He makes a sacrifice. Why? God doesn’t want a man to suffer. He shouldn’t cause himself sorrow. Why has God created the world? To make good for us, to ease our souls.

Aaron Fleischman: Rabbi, this doesn’t satisfy me. He who drinks wine doesn’t want to deal with the challenge. Worshipping God is an everyday duty. It means loving the difficulties. Being a slave of God means loving the hardship.

Aaron Fleischman: [translated] Restrain yourself. Restrain yourself. We have an opportunity to rise, to overcome, to fulfil our destiny in this world. This challenge wouldn’t have come to us if we couldn’t face it.

Head of Yeshiva Student in the Butchery: [translated] Look, Reb Aaron, the boy that works for you doesn’t belong here.

Aaron Fleischman: What do you mean?

Head of Yeshiva Student in the Butchery: Nothing good can come out of this. There are rumours. He is a curse to righteous men. Butcher, don’t bring him to our home. Don’t take him to the synagogue, and not to our neighborhood.

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From → Film, Inter Faith

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