The film EyesWide Open takes place in Mea Shearim which is an area in Jerusalem wherestrictly Orthodox Jews live in a tight community with minimal connections tothe outside world. The main characters in the movie are Aaron who is a butcher,married man, and father to several children, and Ezri who is a Yeshiva studentand a stranger to the community. Theprotagonist, Aaron, hires the stranger to work in the butcher shop, and Ezribrings Aaron to the Yeshiva to study the Torah. As the men cut chicken andpray, they become sexually attracted to each other which is strictly forbidden perJewish beliefs. Over time, Aaron and Ezri’s’ desires for each other become amovement as it ruptures the normative masculine ways of the community.Accordingly, the movie does an excellent job at exploring the masculinity ofOrthodox men and the factors that shape it such as work, clothes, family, community,and desire, while demonstrating the negative beliefs of other characters.
Inthe movie, there are numerous rituals that take place for variousfunctions. Firstly, Aaron and Ezri performa cleansing ritual before communal prayer. The function of this ritual is to cleansethe sins of both men before reading the Torah. The second ritual performed inthe film is the wearing of a tallit and the tefillin which represents their devotionto Judaism’s practices.
Thirdly, the men pronunciation of prayers and bodily movements duringtheir studies is very evident as the men read from the Torah, drink red wine,and interpret scripture. Through these rituals, the men’s masculinity and bodygestures are given meaning because the rituals provide structure for theirlives and empower a movement. Furthermore, the main point of these repeatedrituals and images such as communal prayer, kissing, and bathing functions as aproduct of exoticism to educate secular Jewish communities. Hence, the menbelieve homosexuality is normal as lust and desire is a human behavior; theywere born attracted to each other.
Rabbi Steven Greenburg, who wrote Wrestlingwith God and Men, expanded upon the Ultra-orthodox idea of morality as he presentsthe biblical stories of David and Jonathon, destruction of Sodom, and Leviticus(Greenburg 4). In doing so, he questions why homosexuality is not accepted,looks as relationships as sacred, and opens the idea of same-sex relationships.Despite the characters’ lust for each other, the men never attempt to interpretthe Torah differently or give evidence to why same-sex relationships should beallowed; in contrast, Greenberg argued that Ultra-Orthodox communities shoulddiscuss Jewish laws relating to morality and homosexual love. Inthis community, Orthodox masculinity, laws, religious practices, and obligationsare based on the Torah. As we learned from Kessler, there are numerousdenominations of Judaism such as segregationists, Ultra-Orthodox, Hasidic,Yeshiva, and non-segregationists which are reform, conservative, and OrthodoxJews (Kessler 87). In the Haredi community, the norm is to devote one’s life tolearning the Torah, and Ultra-Orthodox Jews attempt to realize this belief forall men which can is evident with the Yeshiva. As a result, these Jewsemphasize homosexuality as a sin, but Ezri and Arron through the rabbiinterpret the Torah differently which leads to religious competition betweensexuality and religious obligation.
Forinstance, there is a clear discussion of pleasure vs. sin and loving vs.hardship when the rabbi states: “Goddoesn’t want men to inflict pain upon themselves” (Eyes Wide Open). In doing so, the rabbi surprisingly defends theideas that man should accept bodily pleasure in the things created by God, sinis not a reason for despair, and one should welcome new challenges. This Torahdiscussion is evident when Aaron accepts Ezri’s beauty, but he perceives theirdesires as a challenge which can be purified.
It is not until the end; Aaronaccepts the pleasure from another man as a gift from God as he states to therabbi, “I was dead, Now I’m alive” (EyesWide Open). Hence, there is a clear competition between sexuality and theTorah’s ideas of pleasure, sin, love, and hardship. Despite the men’s desires for eachother, there are consequences to violating the community’s sexual norms. First,the rabbi gives a disapproving look towards Aaron and warns him about Ezri’snegative influence. Second, when Ezri kisses Aaron, Ultra-Orthodox Jews closetheir windows implying they are not welcomed.
Third, Ezri is characterized as”gay man which is a curse to a righteous man” and he is forbidden to enterthe synagogue (Eyes Wide Open).Fourth, the community accuses Aaron of selling unholy meat, his shop isvandalized, and he is threatened to leave town. Lastly, posters classify Enzias a sinner, and Aaron is left with the choice of his family or Enzi. Clearly,one who violates the community’s sexual norms is mistreated, isolated, andconsidered a detriment to society.
Comparingthis to Christianity and Islam, I am not surprised about how homosexuals wereviewed and treated in the film. As welearned in class, the stories of Leviticus (18) and Genesis (19), story ofSodom, view homosexual acts as sins, but this depends on interpretation. Forinstance, modern scholars argue God punished Sodom because the residents lackedhospitality while past intellects viewed homosexuality as a sin and consequencesresulted (Greenberg 5).
Islamic law condemned homosexual acts per the Quran,but there is still debate about proper penalty for these acts. Thus, theconsequences vary per religions and locations, but homosexuality remains a nationwidedebate. Finally, gender segregation isevident throughout the film as it is used to reinforce masculinity in the Haredipatriarchal society. Torah study is only for men as women are obligated topartake in household chores, educate children, and sometimes work for money.Furthermore, the community’s strict sexual norms are related to gendersegregation because homosexuality can be viewed as a detriment togender-segregated structures and represent a threat to social powerrelations.
Thus, the community sustainsfrom same-sex relationships by enforcing consequences indirectly related to theTorah.