The film Eyes Wide Open takes place in Mea Shearim which is an area in Jerusalem where strictly Orthodox Jews live in a tight community with minimal connections to the 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 student and a stranger to the community. The protagonist, Aaron, hires the stranger to work in the butcher shop, and Ezri brings Aaron to the Yeshiva to study the Torah. As the men cut chicken and pray, they become sexually attracted to each other which is strictly forbidden per Jewish beliefs. Over time, Aaron and Ezri’s’ desires for each other become a movement as it ruptures the normative masculine ways of the community. Accordingly, the movie does an excellent job at exploring the masculinity of Orthodox men and the factors that shape it such as work, clothes, family, community, and desire, while demonstrating the negative beliefs of other characters.
In the movie, there are numerous rituals that take place for various functions. Firstly, Aaron and Ezri perform a cleansing ritual before communal prayer. The function of this ritual is to cleanse the sins of both men before reading the Torah. The second ritual performed in the film is the wearing of a tallit and the tefillin which represents their devotion to Judaism’s practices. Thirdly, the men pronunciation of prayers and bodily movements during their 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 body gestures are given meaning because the rituals provide structure for their lives and empower a movement. Furthermore, the main point of these repeated rituals and images such as communal prayer, kissing, and bathing functions as a product of exoticism to educate secular Jewish communities. Hence, the men believe homosexuality is normal as lust and desire is a human behavior; they were born attracted to each other. Rabbi Steven Greenburg, who wrote Wrestling with God and Men, expanded upon the Ultra-orthodox idea of morality as he presents the 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 interpret the Torah differently or give evidence to why same-sex relationships should be allowed; in contrast, Greenberg argued that Ultra-Orthodox communities should discuss Jewish laws relating to morality and homosexual love.
In this community, Orthodox masculinity, laws, religious practices, and obligations are based on the Torah. As we learned from Kessler, there are numerous denominations of Judaism such as segregationists, Ultra-Orthodox, Hasidic, Yeshiva, and non-segregationists which are reform, conservative, and Orthodox Jews (Kessler 87). In the Haredi community, the norm is to devote one’s life to learning the Torah, and Ultra-Orthodox Jews attempt to realize this belief for all men which can is evident with the Yeshiva. As a result, these Jews emphasize homosexuality as a sin, but Ezri and Arron through the rabbi interpret the Torah differently which leads to religious competition between sexuality and religious obligation. For instance, there is a clear discussion of pleasure vs. sin and loving vs. hardship when the rabbi states: “God doesn’t want men to inflict pain upon themselves” (Eyes Wide Open). In doing so, the rabbi surprisingly defends the ideas that man should accept bodily pleasure in the things created by God, sin is not a reason for despair, and one should welcome new challenges. This Torah discussion is evident when Aaron accepts Ezri’s beauty, but he perceives their desires as a challenge which can be purified. It is not until the end; Aaron accepts the pleasure from another man as a gift from God as he states to the rabbi, “I was dead, Now I’m alive” (Eyes Wide Open). Hence, there is a clear competition between sexuality and the Torah’s ideas of pleasure, sin, love, and hardship.
Despite the men’s desires for each other, there are consequences to violating the community’s sexual norms. First, the rabbi gives a disapproving look towards Aaron and warns him about Ezri’s negative influence. Second, when Ezri kisses Aaron, Ultra-Orthodox Jews close their 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 enter the synagogue (Eyes Wide Open). Fourth, the community accuses Aaron of selling unholy meat, his shop is vandalized, and he is threatened to leave town. Lastly, posters classify Enzi as 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, and considered a detriment to society. Comparing this to Christianity and Islam, I am not surprised about how homosexuals were viewed and treated in the film. As we learned in class, the stories of Leviticus (18) and Genesis (19), story of Sodom, view homosexual acts as sins, but this depends on interpretation. For instance, modern scholars argue God punished Sodom because the residents lacked hospitality while past intellects viewed homosexuality as a sin and consequences resulted (Greenberg 5). Islamic law condemned homosexual acts per the Quran, but there is still debate about proper penalty for these acts. Thus, the consequences vary per religions and locations, but homosexuality remains a nationwide debate.
Finally, gender segregation is evident throughout the film as it is used to reinforce masculinity in the Haredi patriarchal society. Torah study is only for men as women are obligated to partake in household chores, educate children, and sometimes work for money. Furthermore, the community’s strict sexual norms are related to gender segregation because homosexuality can be viewed as a detriment to gender-segregated structures and represent a threat to social power relations. Thus, the community sustains from same-sex relationships by enforcing consequences indirectly related to the Torah.
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