My Big Gay Jewish Conversion


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My Big Gay Jewish Conversion

Following Simon Atkins, a gay Catholic man, as he considers converting to Judaism. He travels to Israel to experience views in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, before making a decision.


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This programme contains some scenes which some viewers may find upsetting

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My name is Simon Atkins and I'm Catholic.

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I was raised in the west of Ireland on a diet of Communion,

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confession and chastity.

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The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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That was until I realised I was gay

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and could never get married in the eyes of God.

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-I'm a celibate man.

-Yeah.

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-I'm a single man.

-Yeah.

-Just because you are not married

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does not mean that you have a life without love.

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But I want sex and marriage with the love.

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Being Catholic doesn't seem relevant to my life any more.

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Then I met this guy -

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Matthew. He's Jewish, and I realised they might be a better option

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-for me.

-Every human being is a creation in the image of God.

-Mmm.

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Male, female, Jew, non-Jew, gay, straight.

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Nobody should ever be treated as if they weren't a full human being.

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To find out if Judaism is more tolerant of gay men, I'm travelling

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to the Middle East and its birthplace, Israel.

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I love the fact that I can feel free here.

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The whole city is a gay club.

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But as I delved deeper I uncover another side to Judaism...

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-Just...

-Camera down.

-Camera down.

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A man who sleeps with another man knows he must die,

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he shall die.

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It's an abomination, that's all.

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And that's all I have to say.

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..where being gay can be a matter of life or death.

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SCREAMING

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He pulled out a knife and started running and stabbing.

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It angers me that that is the way that they think,

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that I need to be cured.

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-Oh, my God, the smell.

-Doesn't it smell good?

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Delicious.

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Matthew and I have been together for two years.

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These are particularly excellent.

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Almost immediately,

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I started to feel more at home in his religion than my own.

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What's all this stuff?

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-We're not having a party.

-OK.

-You don't need a party platter.

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Well, we're having a Friday night dinner.

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He's accepted as a gay man by his rabbi

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and can get married in his place of worship.

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As a Catholic, I can't do that.

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I feel like I've given a lot to Catholicism over, like, the years.

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And I feel like that it has not served me particularly well now

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that I'm, you know, older, and...

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-Gayer.

-Gayer.

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And in a relationship.

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So I'm thinking about changing my religion.

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Do you think it would be easy for me to convert to Judaism?

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Coming from my Catholic background.

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The thing about conversion is, it's not...

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You can't just be like, "Oh, I want to be Jewish today."

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It's a really long, personal journey,

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-where you really have to engage with the question of faith.

-Yeah.

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When you were a little altar boy,

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-singing your heart out in the west of Ireland...

-Yeah.

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..were you singing your heart out to Jesus Christ?

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Jews don't believe Jesus was the son of God.

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So the key difference, it is a different person you're praying to.

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It soon becomes obvious I know very little about Judaism.

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Come, come with me.

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-What are you doing?

-You can see.

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Come. Come here.

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-INAUDIBLE SPEECH

-OK, sure.

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Matthew's been accosted by some

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holy-looking people and asked to pray in a caravan, which is, er...

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..slightly odd.

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Oh, my God. You need... You need to get a shot of this.

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Like, they're binding him in something.

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Now he's, like, praying from a leaflet.

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That is just the strangest thing.

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-OK, good Shabbos.

-Good Shabbos.

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-Have a happy New Year.

-The same to you.

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Happy New Year.

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-Same to you.

-I literally haven't done that since my Bar Mitzvah.

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-What was that?

-It's because it's nearly New Year,

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it's like a mitzvah. It's like...

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It's like a good deed.

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I personally find it a very intense way of praying.

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It just actually looked a bit scary.

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-Oh, it's not scary.

-Well, it's scary for me cos I've never seen it

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before. Someone grabbed you, pulled you into a caravan and started...

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-Yeah.

-..wrapping you up in leather.

-Yeah, well...

-Like, come on.

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Not that kind of leather!

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Tonight we're celebrating one of the most sacred Jewish traditions,

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Friday night dinner...

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You put the challah on the table and you need to find the challah cover.

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..when friends and family come together to celebrate the Sabbath,

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the day God rested from creating the world.

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-You've done a good job.

-Yes, I know.

-Have I?

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-You've done nothing.

-No!

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Matthew has invited two close gay friends, James and Gabriel,

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who's come with his partner, Connor.

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Let's get you guys over there.

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It's the community, the structure

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and the rituals that first attracted me to Matthew's faith.

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Can I have a sparkly one?

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Yes!

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Tonight we're wearing a kippah...

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This looks quite Irish-y.

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..lighting the Sabbath candles...

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HE SPEAKS HEBREW

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..washing our hands from a cup...

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..and finally, breaking the bread.

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And we say Shabbat shalom.

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Shabbat shalom.

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Am I the only person at the table who's trying the gefilte fish?

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Mmm!

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Yeah? Really?

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The hot goss tonight is Connor,

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who's converting from Christianity to Judaism.

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-There's, like, so many questions I want to ask.

-Yeah.

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How did the whole idea of conversion come around in the first place?

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It was never a requirement, it was kind of, just like,

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"I think you're ready to start doing this."

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I thought it would be difficult for Connor to integrate into my family

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and with my friends if he didn't know something about Judaism.

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-Right.

-Tell them what you have to do.

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So, there's this weird ritual.

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Basically, you, like, have a circumcision,

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without getting the full operation.

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So they have to draw blood.

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-A prick.

-With, like, a needle.

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The rabbi sticks a needle in your cock?

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-Yeah.

-Yes. In your cock.

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Whilst you're where, in synagogue or something?

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-Yeah, in front of the whole community.

-What?

-Not in front

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-of the whole community!

-He sticks a needle in the head of your cock?

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To Connor, it's a sign of his commitment

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and he plans to marry Gabriel next year in a synagogue.

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A huge part of Judaism is moving with the times.

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You have to find new ways of being able to live in the modern era.

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We're not... At no point does it say live exactly how you lived 2,000

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-years ago.

-Do you, like, feel like, "Oh, I'm Jewish.

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"I can get married in the synagogue. I'm accepted in my faith."

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At our synagogue, definitely.

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That's something you never, ever have in the Catholic faith.

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You don't ever want to feel like you don't belong, which is why I think,

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I don't know, in my interpretation of what you're going through is

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to a certain extent that feeling of not belonging.

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Coming away from that table,

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I feel like I could be part of that community.

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I see the boys tonight and they're getting married in the eyes of God

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and I can't help thinking that, yes, it is important.

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It's like somebody's standing behind you, you know,

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with the Olympic torch and that legacy behind you

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and they're handing you that torch and they're saying, "Go.

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"Go forward with that and keep that legacy going."

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They're able to do it. I'm not able to do it.

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To find out what it would take for me to become Jewish, I'm off to meet

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Matthew's family rabbi.

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-Hello.

-Hi, Simon, come in.

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-How are you?

-Good, good.

-Nice to meet you.

-Welcome, welcome.

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Thank you very much. I've never been to a synagogue before.

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Here we are.

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Come in. I'll show you round.

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Thank you.

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-I mean, you know, you can probably see pews, bit like a church.

-Yeah.

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Altar, do you call it an altar?

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Yeah, we call it a bema, which means, literally, a raised place,

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like a platform.

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Centre stage in all synagogues is the Torah, the Jewish Bible.

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-I'll take this one out.

-Are they chained?

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-Oh, no, they're not, so they're not locked up.

-Actually, the big issue

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is if they fall. It's not that they're chained, it's just we don't

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-want them to fall out.

-HE LAUGHS

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OK.

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The Torah contains the word of God,

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passed down to Moses 3,000 years ago.

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To us Christians, it's known as the Old Testament.

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Judaism goes from right to left.

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So what do you do if you want to read something at the very end of

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-this?

-It's called rabbinic aerobics.

-Scroll it the whole way across.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, you kind of start rolling it out like this and you get a bit of a workout.

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I just want to really find out where the Torah stands, and Judaism,

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on homosexual men and women, really.

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-You know, every human being is a creation in the image of God.

-Mm.

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Male, female, Jew, non-Jew, gay, straight, you know,

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nobody should ever be treated as if they weren't a full human being in

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that sense. As someone who's married, you know,

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I absolutely get that someone might really, really kind of

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-feel that need.

-Yeah. You know, like,

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I'm trying to figure out what I would have to do if I was ever

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-to convert to Judaism.

-It's an 18-month formal programme.

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Do you have to go to class?

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-Yeah.

-Do you have to do exams?

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-Yeah, we have classes.

-OK.

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You've got to know what Judaism really is.

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It's a religion which is built around this idea of covenant.

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Which means that you have to accept the terms of the covenant set out in

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here, understood by the rabbis.

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The Torah is the contract between God and Jews.

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It has 613 rules laying down the law from the kitchen to the bedroom.

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But there are really two verses -

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they say that it's forbidden for a man to lie with a man

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as with the lyings of a woman. And then they use this sort of label

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term which usually gets translated as abomination.

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It's talking about a very specific physical act,

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anal penetrative intercourse.

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So let me just get this straight.

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I can come to synagogue,

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I could be potentially preached to by a gay rabbi,

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I can get married in a synagogue,

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but it's forbidden for me to have anal intercourse?

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-I would say yes.

-OK. OK.

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That I did not know.

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But I like a bunch of people

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who do a bunch of things that I don't necessarily agree with,

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some of which are ethical and some of which are ritual.

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And, by the way, I don't not marry them.

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It's great to see rabbi Jeremy finding ways to compromise between

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these ancient creeds and our changing times,

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even if it's just turning a blind eye for inclusivity.

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But there is one rule even he won't budge on.

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To convert to Judaism, certainly within this denomination,

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it's required to be circumcised.

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-It is?

-Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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You absolutely have to?

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-I mean, it's the original marker of that covenant.

-OK.

0:11:340:11:37

Circumcision, erm...

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sounded like it's an absolute definite.

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Like, sex would never be the same again.

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Like, sure, there's so much more pleasure when you have a foreskin,

0:11:460:11:50

-I hear.

-But Matthew has...

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Matthew's been circumcised, I'm assuming.

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Yeah, Matthew's circumcised and I'm kind of used to looking at

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a circumcised penis but it doesn't mean that I want to have one myself.

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I quite like the reveal.

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To understand if the sacrifices are worth it,

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I need to find out much more.

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My life would change forever.

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I wouldn't just be giving up on Communion and Christmas,

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I'd be giving up on Jesus Christ,

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the person I've prayed to all my life.

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While Matthew and I have spoken about marriage,

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he is younger than me

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and might still change his mind.

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If I'm to convert, it has to be for me and only me.

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And I know exactly where to search for answers -

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Israel, the birthplace of Judaism.

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The modern state of Israel was created after the Holocaust

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as a safe homeland for all Jewish people.

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I start my journey in Tel Aviv.

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Tel Aviv is home to the largest gay population in the Middle East.

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Estimates suggest one in every four people here is gay.

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It's the gayest city on earth.

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It's amazing to think that just a few hundred miles from here

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in Saudi Arabia, gay people are sentenced to death,

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but here in Tel Aviv they are free to strut their stuff.

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You can even disagree with one of the most hallowed Jewish covenants.

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Excuse me, do you speak English?

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I will do my best effort.

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So, why...?

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What is...? Is this a protest?

0:13:420:13:44

Of course, it's a protest against circumcision.

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It's such a huge criminal act to cut from a defenceless baby from his

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genitals. It's such a cruel thing.

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It's such a savage thing to do.

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-You have scarred his penis.

-SHOUTING

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Look at this. Look at this.

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ANGRY HEBREW SHOUTING

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What's he saying? What's he saying?

0:14:050:14:08

-He's saying son of a dog.

-Son of a dog?

-Cursing me.

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He is causing quite a stir, isn't he?

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Excuse me. Excuse me.

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-Do you speak English?

-A little.

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Are you against... Are you pro-circumcision?

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Not against, I'm not agreeing with him.

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-You don't agree? Why is that?

-Why? Because I am cut, my thing.

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OK. It's a condition, OK, and it's not painful.

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I'm looking at converting to Judaism.

0:14:350:14:38

-OK.

-I might convert.

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Come! All you need is that cut!

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It's painful. Painful for me.

0:14:420:14:46

-Now!

-Now, maybe.

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But put ice, overnight.

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Everything good.

0:14:510:14:52

Put ice. That's your solution?

0:14:520:14:55

Ice?

0:14:550:14:56

What all Jewish men do have, and I don't, is a kippah.

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Multicoloured knit, maybe?

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It's worn during prayer as a symbol of one's awareness that there is

0:15:060:15:09

someone above us.

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I mean, that's pretty cool, star of David.

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Let's give it a shot. Little bit of sparkle.

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Yeah, that one's got my name all over it.

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There is just something about this city that I absolutely adore.

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It's just hard to put your finger on it.

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There's a real ease and friendliness about Tel Aviv that I just...

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I love. I feel a real connection the city.

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As the sun sets, Tel Aviv is just getting warmed up.

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I'm meeting up with three friends

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who want to show me how this city parties.

0:15:520:15:54

-Let's party!

-After you, ladies.

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ISRAELI DANCE MUSIC

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Why do you love Tel Aviv so much?

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-What is it?

-I love the fact that I can feel free here.

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I love the fact that I can go to the beach, and I can go however I want,

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in my tiny little Speedo.

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The difference in Tel Aviv is that

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when you go abroad, and you travel,

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you feel very... It's a very straight city, wherever you are.

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And you can go to a gay club and you feel a bit more comfortable,

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more in the zone. In Tel Aviv, the whole city feels like that.

0:16:250:16:29

The whole city feels like you're in your zone,

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because the city is a gay club. That is very unique to Tel Aviv.

0:16:320:16:35

Tel Aviv has celebrated gay pride since 1979.

0:16:350:16:39

This year, over 200,000 people joined the parade,

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making it one of the largest gay festivals in the world.

0:16:450:16:48

Wow!

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Now, that is a club!

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This place attracts gay people from all walks of life.

0:17:020:17:06

You're all from Israel?

0:17:060:17:08

What do you do?

0:17:080:17:09

Are you soldiers?

0:17:090:17:10

I'm a commander in military jail.

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You're a Commander?

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What about you?

0:17:150:17:16

I'm a guns instructor.

0:17:160:17:18

So, You teach people how to shoot guns properly?

0:17:200:17:23

-Yes.

-What age are you?

-20.

0:17:230:17:25

Gay soldiers like these

0:17:270:17:28

have been openly serving on the front line since 1994 -

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a decade before the UK followed suit.

0:17:310:17:34

In Israel military service is compulsory.

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This is a country that's been in conflict with its neighbour since it was born.

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I want to find out if the liberal values I've seen so far

0:17:490:17:52

extend to the other parts of Israel.

0:17:520:17:54

So I'm on my way to meet a Jewish scholar who lives 50 miles away in the West Bank.

0:17:560:18:02

A Palestinian territory that is occupied by Israel.

0:18:020:18:05

Thousands of Jews have set up Jewish-only settlements here.

0:18:070:18:11

They believe this is their ancestral land.

0:18:110:18:15

Getting there isn't easy.

0:18:150:18:16

Here's the separation wall.

0:18:180:18:19

Literally, the beginning of it.

0:18:210:18:22

That separates Israel from the Palestinian authorities.

0:18:220:18:25

Following a Palestinian uprising, a separation barrier now

0:18:280:18:31

divides Israel from its neighbour.

0:18:310:18:33

There is a watch tower just up ahead now.

0:18:380:18:40

I'm just not used to this level of security.

0:18:440:18:47

You automatically feel a little bit, like, on edge,

0:18:470:18:52

even just looking around,

0:18:520:18:54

just knowing what can happen in this area.

0:18:540:18:57

And what does happen, quite regularly.

0:18:570:18:59

I finally arrive at my destination.

0:19:050:19:07

This is a Yeshiva,

0:19:080:19:11

where Aaron teaches students religious texts.

0:19:110:19:13

I hope I'm not interrupting a class.

0:19:140:19:16

Hello.

0:19:180:19:20

-How are you?

-Nice to see you.

0:19:200:19:22

We are a little bit late today.

0:19:220:19:24

The last class finished just now.

0:19:240:19:27

-OK.

-Five minutes to wind down, then we're starting.

0:19:270:19:31

So, tell me, what do you teach here?

0:19:310:19:34

A lot of things.

0:19:360:19:37

All of them from the Torah.

0:19:390:19:41

The Bible.

0:19:410:19:42

The Talmud. You know what is the Talmud?

0:19:420:19:45

-The Talmud?

-This is the Talmud. Yes.

0:19:450:19:48

You can see here.

0:19:480:19:49

This was written

0:19:520:19:55

-1,500 years ago.

-OK.

0:19:550:19:57

The Talmud is the guidebook to the Torah.

0:19:590:20:01

It explains that homosexuality is forbidden in Judaism,

0:20:010:20:05

because it would lead men astray,

0:20:050:20:08

threatening the Jewish ideal of family life.

0:20:080:20:10

I am starting the class now.

0:20:100:20:14

-We'll talk later.

-We'll talk later.

-Thank you. Enjoy.

0:20:140:20:16

It seems only men are welcome in this Yeshiva.

0:20:180:20:21

It feels very conservative.

0:20:210:20:23

I meet up again with Aaron at his home.

0:20:270:20:29

-Hello.

-Hello. Shalom. Welcome, welcome.

0:20:340:20:37

-Thank you.

-Welcome.

0:20:370:20:38

This is a very nice house you have.

0:20:380:20:41

-Thank you, very much.

-What are you having? Coffee?

0:20:410:20:44

Are you a tea man or are you a coffee man?

0:20:440:20:46

No, it's not coffee, it's chicory.

0:20:460:20:49

Chicory is instead of coffee.

0:20:490:20:51

-OK.

-I wake up in the morning, because I want to pray to my God.

0:20:510:20:55

This is what wakes me...

0:20:550:20:57

-That's what wakes you up?

-Yes.

0:20:570:20:59

I need a coffee before I do any kind of...

0:20:590:21:01

Try to pray to God, and you will see.

0:21:010:21:04

-It's better than a coffee.

-Yes.

0:21:040:21:06

So, tell me what your views on gay...

0:21:060:21:09

..men are in your religion.

0:21:100:21:13

Oh. I need to sit for that.

0:21:130:21:15

You need to sit. Shall we sit?

0:21:150:21:17

-Yes.

-It's very complicated.

0:21:170:21:19

It's not a point of what I believe.

0:21:190:21:22

-Yeah.

-It's written very, very clearly.

0:21:220:21:25

Our Torah is against same-sex marriage.

0:21:250:21:30

There is no other way to say it.

0:21:300:21:33

-Our religion don't have a perfect solution for gay men.

-Gay men.

0:21:330:21:38

Unlike Matthew's rabbi in London,

0:21:390:21:41

Aaron doesn't interpret the words of the Bible.

0:21:410:21:44

He takes them as divine.

0:21:440:21:46

I'm looking at converting to Judaism so I can marry my boyfriend.

0:21:460:21:49

No, you're not allowed to do that.

0:21:490:21:52

It's...er...

0:21:520:21:55

It's the same as the Catholic priests say.

0:21:550:21:59

In that point... In that issue,

0:21:590:22:03

we and the Catholics are almost the same.

0:22:030:22:06

The Catholics are more hard, in that, their point of view.

0:22:060:22:08

In Judaism's point of view, to be a gay, it's not forbidden.

0:22:080:22:13

-OK.

-It's forbidden to live like a gay.

0:22:130:22:15

So do you expect me and my boyfriend to deny...

0:22:150:22:19

-..who I am as a person.

-No, no, no!

0:22:210:22:23

-What I really feel.

-It's not deny, no.

0:22:230:22:26

You don't have to deny.

0:22:260:22:28

There is only one way of religious Judaism.

0:22:280:22:32

Do all the commandments of God.

0:22:320:22:35

If somebody says he is doing half, quarter,

0:22:350:22:38

or something else of the commandments of God, he is not religious.

0:22:380:22:41

He is a cultural Jew.

0:22:410:22:43

You don't believe? Do what you want.

0:22:430:22:45

There are two ways of life, and I respect...

0:22:450:22:48

I respect somebody who says I don't believe.

0:22:480:22:50

As I respect you. You call yourself a Catholic, you're not a Catholic, really.

0:22:500:22:54

But I still feel like I'm Catholic, and I'm a man of faith.

0:22:540:22:59

I just can never get married in the Catholic church.

0:22:590:23:03

Not only married, your way of life is forbidden.

0:23:030:23:06

OK.

0:23:070:23:09

-It was very, very nice to meet you.

-Very nice to meet you.

0:23:110:23:14

-Can I have a hug?

-Thank you.

0:23:140:23:17

Thank you very much.

0:23:170:23:18

I've always defined myself as a Catholic but, if I'm honest,

0:23:210:23:25

maybe my faith has been on the wane for a while.

0:23:250:23:28

I think I craved acceptance from my Church

0:23:280:23:31

because I felt like an outsider growing up.

0:23:310:23:34

But, as a Jew, could I ever truly belong

0:23:340:23:37

and follow all their rules religiously?

0:23:370:23:40

I'm bound for the holiest city in Israel.

0:23:410:23:44

Jerusalem is the epicentre of Judaism.

0:23:460:23:50

It's where the Jews built their very first temple.

0:23:500:23:52

But it's also a sacred site for Muslims and Christians.

0:23:540:23:57

Access to the city is tightly controlled.

0:23:570:24:00

We're just about to come up to a checkpoint.

0:24:020:24:05

Very high security.

0:24:070:24:08

It's actually so weird seeing...

0:24:100:24:12

..like, they are fixing each other's hair,

0:24:130:24:16

but they've got huge machine guns in their hands.

0:24:160:24:18

-Camera down, please.

-Camera down.

0:24:180:24:20

-Hello.

-Hi.

0:24:220:24:23

That is so weird.

0:24:260:24:28

It's like, "Oh, my God, does my hair look OK?"

0:24:290:24:31

With my big rifle in my hand.

0:24:310:24:33

It's like, sweet as pie, yet, they're killing machines.

0:24:340:24:38

-It's surreal.

-It's so weird!

0:24:380:24:39

Jews believe Jerusalem was chosen by God

0:24:420:24:44

as the spiritual capital of Judaism.

0:24:440:24:47

All Jews outside the city pray facing its direction.

0:24:470:24:50

One man who prays every day without fail is Nadaf,

0:24:530:24:57

a gay man who has lived here all his life.

0:24:570:24:59

-You have to say if have anything in your pockets.

-That's natural?

0:25:010:25:03

We've come to the Western Wall.

0:25:100:25:12

It's all that's left standing from an ancient Jewish Temple.

0:25:120:25:16

This is the closest Jews can physically get God.

0:25:160:25:19

You feel that you fit in in Orthodox Judaism,

0:25:200:25:24

but there's one thing that you can't do.

0:25:240:25:27

There are people who do not do anal sex.

0:25:270:25:30

Is that...

0:25:300:25:32

..an issue for you? Do you want to have penetrative sex?

0:25:330:25:36

Maybe, yeah. I haven't done it.

0:25:370:25:40

Some people, maybe, would say that it is a very important part.

0:25:400:25:43

But, I suppose, for you, it's more important to be religious and...

0:25:430:25:48

It's...

0:25:480:25:49

When I was with my boyfriend...

0:25:500:25:52

He complains, it's not two of us, it's the three of us.

0:25:540:25:57

It's you, me and God.

0:25:580:26:00

I just don't think I could suppress my sexuality for a religion.

0:26:050:26:10

It's who I am.

0:26:100:26:11

But Nadaf did just that.

0:26:130:26:16

Five years ago, he proposed to a woman, to live a conventional life.

0:26:160:26:20

After I got divorced, I was very angry with God.

0:26:220:26:25

I didn't know what to do with my relationship with God,

0:26:260:26:29

and, at a certain point...

0:26:290:26:31

..even my anger was what calmed me down.

0:26:320:26:36

I'm, like, "Wait, I'm angry, that means I'm in a relationship with him."

0:26:360:26:40

You're allowed to be angry.

0:26:400:26:42

Some rabbis double up as matchmakers,

0:26:420:26:45

encouraging gay men to marry lesbian women.

0:26:450:26:48

There's even a dating app where you can browse for prospective gay partners of the opposite sex.

0:26:480:26:53

I never experienced love before.

0:26:530:26:56

I didn't let myself fall in love with a man,

0:26:570:26:59

I didn't have any love for a woman.

0:26:590:27:02

And I felt very strong connection to her,

0:27:020:27:06

but, suddenly...

0:27:060:27:07

..when we were faced, in the marriage, we realised, that's not it.

0:27:080:27:11

That really makes me slightly angry, really.

0:27:110:27:14

-Why?

-It just makes me angry that, you know...

0:27:140:27:18

..you think so much about, like, God and your faith, and your 613 rules,

0:27:190:27:25

and what you're supposed to do,

0:27:250:27:27

but when it comes to, like, you know, your sexuality and being...

0:27:270:27:31

..happy, "Oh, just gloss over that and marry a woman, because that's what you should do."

0:27:320:27:36

I understand that they...

0:27:360:27:38

When they look at homosexuality that it is just, you know...

0:27:380:27:41

You know, it's something that you can choose.

0:27:410:27:46

But, unfortunately, it's not something you can choose.

0:27:460:27:50

You're not choosing being gay, but you are choosing a gay lifestyle.

0:27:500:27:56

OK?

0:27:560:27:58

And that's a major difference.

0:27:580:28:00

If this is my choice,

0:28:040:28:06

then maybe Judaism isn't the answer.

0:28:060:28:08

It's starting to remind me a little too much of my own Catholic faith.

0:28:120:28:16

Hi, baby. Oh, God, big yawn.

0:28:220:28:24

I just had a Magnum.

0:28:260:28:28

How are you?

0:28:280:28:30

I'm very well. I had...

0:28:300:28:32

I did a huge amount of sorting today.

0:28:320:28:37

-Sorting?

-And I did a deep clean of the bathroom.

0:28:370:28:40

Great. OK, I'm delighted for you.

0:28:400:28:42

So, what have you done the last few days?

0:28:420:28:46

Erm... It's been hectic.

0:28:460:28:49

Like, I'm really now having doubts about Judaism,

0:28:490:28:53

because there's a nice side to it, but there's also a very

0:28:530:28:57

intense, ugly side to it.

0:28:570:28:59

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a religion, organised by men...

0:28:590:29:04

..that doesn't have a questionable side to it.

0:29:050:29:08

Yeah.

0:29:080:29:09

Yeah, I'm definitely confused.

0:29:090:29:13

because I don't know where I kind of stand right now.

0:29:130:29:16

You're going to have to...

0:29:160:29:18

If you are a thinking person,

0:29:180:29:22

and you want to remain engaged with your faith,

0:29:220:29:25

you're always going to have to get comfortable with living in confusion.

0:29:250:29:31

Maybe no-one ever lives up to the ideals of any religion.

0:29:310:29:34

So they never feel like they belong.

0:29:340:29:36

The trouble is, it's just...very visible.

0:29:360:29:38

You know. It's very visible, and

0:29:380:29:42

the life stages are so intertwined with religion,

0:29:420:29:44

things like marriage and birth.

0:29:440:29:47

And it's visibly different when you're gay.

0:29:470:29:49

So you visibly feel like you don't, you know,

0:29:490:29:53

like you don't necessarily belong in that religion.

0:29:530:29:56

Should I just keep struggling on in the Catholic faith, rather than, like,

0:29:560:30:00

changing to a completely different faith

0:30:000:30:02

and having to struggle from the very beginning?

0:30:020:30:05

You will certainly be exchanging one confusion for another.

0:30:050:30:09

Arguably, with better food.

0:30:100:30:11

OK, I think we're done here.

0:30:150:30:16

-OK, I love you.

-Love you.

0:30:160:30:19

KISSING

0:30:190:30:21

Night, night.

0:30:210:30:22

BEEPING

0:30:220:30:23

In Jerusalem, I've realised how much I take life with Matthew for granted.

0:30:320:30:37

A recent study of gay teenagers in Israel revealed that one in five

0:30:400:30:44

have attempted suicide -

0:30:440:30:46

over 100 times the rate of the general population.

0:30:460:30:49

Like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem has a gay pride every year.

0:30:510:30:54

But in 2015, tragedy struck.

0:30:550:30:58

I'm meeting one of the organisers in the city's only gay bar.

0:31:010:31:05

Hello.

0:31:050:31:07

-Hey, babe.

-Nice to meet you.

-How are you?

-Simon.

-Eleanor.

0:31:070:31:10

How's things?

0:31:100:31:12

-Good. How are you?

-I'm very well, thank you.

0:31:120:31:15

Can you take me back to last year, and exactly what happened?

0:31:150:31:18

At the parade.

0:31:180:31:20

Well, I was kind of

0:31:200:31:24

like, 100 metres up from where the killer got inside.

0:31:240:31:28

He pulled out a knife, and started running and stabbing.

0:31:280:31:32

And a lot of blood, a lot of blood on the street.

0:31:320:31:37

-Oh, my God.

-A lot of chaos. Screaming.

0:31:370:31:39

Oh, my God, look at the size of that knife.

0:31:510:31:53

That's Jordan. He was one of the stabbees.

0:31:590:32:02

How many people died that day?

0:32:020:32:04

Six got stabbed, another got lightly injured.

0:32:040:32:08

And one girl, Shira Banki, was dead,

0:32:080:32:11

died after a couple of days in the hospital.

0:32:110:32:14

Poor thing.

0:32:160:32:17

It's so hard to watch this.

0:32:200:32:22

What age was she when she died?

0:32:290:32:31

She was almost 16.

0:32:310:32:33

She was 16?

0:32:330:32:34

She'd just got to the...

0:32:360:32:38

-Oh, my God!

-She'd just finished the tenth grade.

0:32:380:32:41

I can't believe that. I didn't realise she was so young.

0:32:460:32:49

The assailant comes from a group of believers

0:32:550:32:57

who regard themselves as one of the most religiously authentic Jews of all.

0:32:570:33:01

Known as Haredi Jews, they make up a third of the population of Jerusalem.

0:33:020:33:07

Our attempts to speak to Haredi rabbis have been met with a wall of silence.

0:33:080:33:12

While very few condone the attacker,

0:33:120:33:15

I wonder to what extent this community might share his intolerance of homosexuality.

0:33:150:33:21

I've come to the suburb of Mea She'arim to find out.

0:33:210:33:25

Excuse me, do you speak English?

0:33:250:33:28

No, you don't. Was that not English I just heard?

0:33:280:33:30

Excuse me, do you speak English?

0:33:310:33:33

Do you speaking English?

0:33:360:33:37

Do you... Do you speak English. Can I? No.

0:33:370:33:40

It's funny, because it's a busy high street, but...

0:33:430:33:45

..I don't feel particularly safe here for some reason.

0:33:460:33:50

Even though, like, obviously it must be quite safe,

0:33:500:33:53

because it just looks like a normal busy high street.

0:33:530:33:56

Except it's quite a religious high street.

0:33:560:33:58

So...

0:33:580:33:59

And, like, I stick out like a sore thumb.

0:33:590:34:01

Everybody's staring at me.

0:34:010:34:03

I'm doing a documentary for the BBC.

0:34:090:34:12

We're just in Mea She'arim because we're asking people

0:34:120:34:15

what they think of being religious and gay.

0:34:150:34:18

Is it like...

0:34:180:34:19

-I don't know what that is.

-You don't know what that is?

0:34:190:34:22

Please don't ask me, you're not going to like my opinion.

0:34:240:34:27

What is your opinion?

0:34:270:34:29

He'd rather not say.

0:34:290:34:30

-It's actually forbidden.

-It's forbidden?

-Yes.

0:34:320:34:34

The Torah forbids it.

0:34:340:34:36

It says, a man who sleeps with another man, die, he shall die.

0:34:360:34:41

You don't think so?

0:34:470:34:49

What if they are? Some people surely are religious and gay.

0:34:490:34:52

To be Jewish and gay?

0:34:550:34:57

Why?

0:34:580:35:00

It's an abomination, that's all.

0:35:000:35:02

That's all I have to say. Let's go.

0:35:020:35:04

I mean...

0:35:110:35:12

I'm lost for words, to be honest.

0:35:120:35:15

How could I, you know, come into this religion,

0:35:150:35:18

if it's an abomination to be gay?

0:35:180:35:20

If I have any gay thoughts,

0:35:200:35:22

I have to either shut them out or leave the religion.

0:35:220:35:26

But I'm not even... But I am gay

0:35:260:35:28

and I want to potentially be in the religion.

0:35:280:35:31

So how is that going to work for me?

0:35:310:35:33

This is a side to Judaism I haven't seen before.

0:35:370:35:40

People here live their lives according to a strict interpretation

0:35:430:35:46

of Old Testament law.

0:35:460:35:47

Modern, secular cultures rejected

0:35:470:35:50

and centuries-old traditions still continue,

0:35:500:35:52

such as this atonement ceremony,

0:35:520:35:55

in which the sins of a person

0:35:550:35:57

are symbolically transferred to a chicken.

0:35:570:36:00

I mean, it's absolute chaos.

0:36:040:36:05

Even like all the little kids...

0:36:080:36:09

I've never seen it before.

0:36:090:36:11

The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor.

0:36:140:36:18

Maybe I'll be swinging a chicken round my head this time next year.

0:36:220:36:26

This ritual has been practised in the same way

0:36:300:36:33

for over a thousand years.

0:36:330:36:34

Finally, I have a lead.

0:36:430:36:45

One local community leader agrees to speak to me.

0:36:450:36:48

Shalom.

0:36:570:36:58

How are you?

0:36:590:37:00

Yul Krause has been an active voice in Mea She'arim since he was 17.

0:37:030:37:08

What do you think of people that are gay?

0:37:080:37:11

Do you think God looks at me in disdain because of my homosexuality?

0:37:110:37:15

Is he being serious? Are you being serious?

0:37:490:37:51

Can you... Could you put me through some kind of therapy

0:37:510:37:54

to try and get rid of my homosexuality?

0:37:540:37:56

But what medication would I take?

0:38:040:38:07

So, if your son was gay,

0:38:100:38:12

then you would give him medication,

0:38:120:38:14

rather than let him lead a gay lifestyle?

0:38:140:38:18

That's all just ridiculous.

0:38:430:38:46

It really, really angers me.

0:38:460:38:48

You know, after coming out of that chat,

0:38:480:38:49

I feel a lot safer in the religion that I'm in, actually.

0:38:490:38:52

Cos that really just...

0:38:530:38:55

It angered me,

0:38:550:38:56

and it also freaked me out that that is the way that they think.

0:38:560:39:01

That I have a disease.

0:39:010:39:02

That I need to be cured.

0:39:030:39:05

It's really hard to understand this attitude.

0:39:060:39:09

I guess my only way to make sense of it

0:39:090:39:12

is by accepting that while my world is constantly evolving,

0:39:120:39:15

that's not the case in this part of Israel.

0:39:150:39:18

Ultraorthodox views still exist,

0:39:180:39:21

and sometimes they spill into politics.

0:39:210:39:23

In February 2016,

0:39:250:39:26

the Israeli parliament refused to ban gay conversion therapy.

0:39:260:39:30

The Health Minister - a Haredi Jew himself -

0:39:300:39:33

compared gays to sinners during the debate.

0:39:330:39:35

Views that I think are unacceptable

0:39:370:39:39

exist in both Catholicism and Judaism.

0:39:390:39:43

Maybe it's better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

0:39:430:39:46

But there is one striking difference between the religions -

0:39:490:39:53

Jesus Christ.

0:39:530:39:54

For me to convert,

0:39:590:40:00

I simply wouldn't be able to believe that Jesus is the son of God.

0:40:000:40:04

Jews are still waiting for their Messiah to arrive.

0:40:040:40:07

There's no better place to find the clarity I need

0:40:100:40:14

than right here in Jerusalem.

0:40:140:40:15

This is where Jesus was crucified.

0:40:150:40:18

Every Friday, pilgrims and priests retrace Jesus' final steps.

0:40:240:40:28

You can get that smell straightaway.

0:40:330:40:36

-Yeah, the incense of the praying.

-The incense...

0:40:360:40:38

It's so...strong...

0:40:380:40:40

-The good smell, like, rising to God.

-Yeah.

0:40:400:40:43

As we arrive at the church where Jesus was buried,

0:40:480:40:51

I come across Frederique, a French trainee Catholic priest.

0:40:510:40:56

So, you've always been Catholic?

0:40:560:40:59

Yes, yes.

0:40:590:41:02

Why do you have such strong faith?

0:41:020:41:04

I can give a lot of reasons why Catholicism really, really...

0:41:040:41:09

..talked to me deeply. And...

0:41:110:41:14

But behind it, I met with Jesus Christ.

0:41:140:41:16

I feel like that, in some ways,

0:41:170:41:19

I've lost my faith in the Catholic Church...

0:41:190:41:22

..and in God and in Jesus Christ.

0:41:230:41:26

Have you ever waned in your religion?

0:41:260:41:30

It's a mark of authenticity to struggle with our faith.

0:41:300:41:34

You have a question now. Should I become a Jew?

0:41:340:41:36

Should I remain Catholic?

0:41:360:41:39

This is your question.

0:41:390:41:41

This answer is not going to the supermarket

0:41:410:41:43

and choosing a box for an Orthodox,

0:41:430:41:45

it's something very deep about your own self and identity.

0:41:450:41:49

The Church is not perfect.

0:41:490:41:52

If people make you think the Church is perfect, it's wrong.

0:41:520:41:55

But that is exactly what I thought.

0:41:570:42:00

Growing up, we were taught our Church was flawless.

0:42:000:42:02

Religion is not a magical...stick, you know?

0:42:140:42:17

Everything... changes into a beautiful world.

0:42:170:42:20

It would not be so easy.

0:42:200:42:22

My advice will be that you really have to listen

0:42:240:42:27

to what your heart is telling you to go to.

0:42:270:42:30

For example, "Oh, you know, I want to live with my boyfriend but...

0:42:300:42:35

"..he say I'm a Catholic, a Christian Catholic.

0:42:360:42:39

"If he is a Jew, there would be a friction."

0:42:390:42:42

Yes, there would be a friction.

0:42:420:42:43

But this friction, maybe, is the beauty of diversity.

0:42:430:42:46

Maybe that would be a richness for your couple to be together,

0:42:470:42:53

and not the opposite.

0:42:530:42:54

In the centre of the church lies the tomb of Jesus Christ.

0:42:580:43:02

This is where the Bible says he rose from the dead.

0:43:040:43:08

In a religion with little tangible proof of anything,

0:43:090:43:13

it's overwhelming to touch something

0:43:130:43:15

that physically connects me to Jesus.

0:43:150:43:18

This is not the right time to do this now.

0:43:250:43:27

Just let me... I just need...

0:43:270:43:29

I can't do this now.

0:43:290:43:30

It's just... It's a lot to take in.

0:43:330:43:36

I'm slightly overwhelmed by this whole experience.

0:43:370:43:40

I've returned to Tel Aviv to get some space to think.

0:43:560:43:59

It's astonishing to think that people here are united

0:44:010:44:05

with those in Jerusalem under the banner of Judaism.

0:44:050:44:08

But maybe that's the beauty of this religion.

0:44:100:44:13

As a Catholic, I have the Pope and his word is final.

0:44:140:44:18

But there is no ultimate moral authority in Judaism.

0:44:180:44:22

Instead, each rabbi interprets the Torah in their own way,

0:44:220:44:27

allowing for a diversity of views to exist.

0:44:270:44:30

This will be one of the hardest decisions I will ever have to make.

0:44:320:44:36

But before I do,

0:44:370:44:39

my friend Jonathan has invited me to celebrate Yom Kippur with him -

0:44:390:44:43

the holiest day of the year in Judaism.

0:44:430:44:45

According to Jewish tradition,

0:44:480:44:50

God inscribes each person's fate for the coming year into a book of life.

0:44:500:44:56

Jews have until sunset tonight to seek atonement

0:44:560:44:59

before God seals his verdict.

0:44:590:45:02

SHE SINGS

0:45:020:45:04

The blowing of the shofar - the ram's horn -

0:45:060:45:09

symbolises the closing of the book,

0:45:090:45:11

and the time to be honest with yourself and God.

0:45:110:45:15

And I now know where I stand.

0:45:150:45:17

Before I came here,

0:45:230:45:24

it was obvious to me that Catholicism was far from perfect.

0:45:240:45:27

But, you know, coming here has made me realise

0:45:280:45:31

that Judaism is also far from perfect.

0:45:310:45:34

What I need to do is just face up to the fact that...

0:45:360:45:40

I'm never going to be fully accepted in either religion,

0:45:410:45:44

and I need to pick and choose the parts of that religion that work for me.

0:45:440:45:48

You know, I think I'm better being a Catholic man

0:45:480:45:52

who can't get married in a Catholic church

0:45:520:45:55

with a Jewish boyfriend whose culture and community I can...

0:45:550:46:01

..appreciate.

0:46:020:46:04

And I have to be happy with that.

0:46:050:46:06

And I am happy with that.

0:46:090:46:10

Is Israel really the best place in the world to be gay? And is Judaism the one mainstream religion that accepts homosexuality? Meet Simon, a gay Catholic man from the west of Ireland on a quest to find out.

Simon has never truly felt accepted by his own church, a problem that Matthew, his Jewish boyfriend from north London, has not had to face. Simon begins to wonder if the grass may be greener, and considers converting.

He starts with a trip to the local rabbi where they chat, among other things, about getting 'snipped', but Simon is itching to get to Judaism's homeland: Israel. He hops on a plane and first hits the streets of Tel Aviv, 'the gayest city on Earth', where he meets gay people from all walks of life, including gay soldiers in the IDF. Then he heads to Jerusalem, but the story here is very different. Extreme views towards homosexuality are rife and Simon encounters this in uncomfortably close proximity.

Then, it's crunch time. Faced with the facts, will Simon jump ship and become Jewish?