Keep Not Silent

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

This film explores the difficult subject of orthodox Jewish women living in Israel who try to reconcile their deep religious belief with (the forbidden) homosexual practice. The genre was more fly on the wall documentary than feature film and focused mainly on the real life stories of two lesbian women living in the ultra orthodox religious communities in Jerusalem.

The first, a single woman, seeking understanding tolerance and acceptance from her family and permission from her rabbi to live as a lesbian women and practice her religion. Her parents rejected her, the rabbi equated her need to sleep with other woman to that of a murderer needing to kill people and advised that in both cases these tendencies are clearly a test from God that must be controlled and suppressed.

The film charted her story from her struggle to acknowledged the fact she is unlikely to be accepted by her parents and the religious community all the whilst she chooses to live actively as a lesbian to her partaking in a ring ceremony with her partner which was a joyful yet emotional event. Happily she was supported by her siblings in her endeavours.

The second woman, married with six children, had struggled for many years with her sexuality when she met the woman she was now in a relationship with.

She confided in her husband who predictably consulted his rabbi. The rabbi explained that although male homosexuality was explicitly forbidden in the bible no such edict applied to women so technically his wife was not committing adultery!

The couple chose to take this interpretation as an endorsement for the wife to continue the relationship. The couple have effectively arranged their lives to accommodate both the lesbian relationship and the marriage.

It seems like a practical solution. However, it is not perfect. The eldest daughter has rejected her mother and left home. The eldest son questions his mother’s motivations and treatment of his father. The husband appears perversely to enjoy the arrangement as the sex has definitely improved since the new arrangement began – that and looking after the children being the wife’s compromise in return for the freedom to see her girlfriend, who is not best pleased that `marital relations’ continue! And of course it all has to be handled discretely under the cover of darkness.

Theses stories are not isolated and indeed a group of orthodox Jewish women have formed themselves as `orthodykes’ and meet regularly. Their debates centre on the right of man to interpret God’s will and practising a religion that does not acknowledge their natural tendencies. They believe they have every right to worship god and practice Judaism as well as sleeping with women.

The film portrays the worst of Jewish fundamentalism and as a liberal Jewish lesbian it concerns me that the casual observer would assume that we are all treated like this. I applaud these women’s efforts and struggle to live their lives as `God intended’ and to try and overcome the intolerance and bigotry and be good Jews. Sadly, the reality is that they will never be able to do so openly and be accepted by their community. As with other fundamentalist interpretations of religion, the rights of women sit very low on the list of (male religious) priorities and their sexual fulfilment most probably is not even a consideration.

Nikki Sinclair saw “Keep Not Silent” at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival