Movie: Minian

by ERIC STEEL Minian (Cert. 15) derives its title from the Jewish practice of requiring a quorum of ten adults present for religious occasions. The almost tableau-like film opens with a funeral prayer for David’s (Samuel H. Levine) grandmother. The setting is 1980s New York.

The widower, Josef (Ron Rifkin), moves with David to a smaller apartment in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, aka Little Odessa, due to a high proportion of Russian Jewish immigrants. They strive to sing the song of the Lord in a foreign land. Any feelings of marginalization are compounded (for David, but not just him) by being gay.

Trying to understand one’s true self is a painful undertaking. Orthodox Judaism, for various reasons, has struggled to find scriptural endorsement of homosexuality. In the very process of challenging the old beliefs and customs of the older generation, David is, paradoxically, enchanted by them and finds comfort in them. He attends a yeshiva, the place where Jews gather to study the Torah and other rabbinic documents. This only adds to David’s confusion until Josef tells him that he believes the Torah is the word of God, but keep in mind that it was written by fallible men.

Added to this is David’s growing affection for a gay couple next door, Holocaust survivors who demonstrate the power of divine love and the importance of community in affirming and shaping our spiritual identity. All of this is grist for the mill for a young man yearning for the hope of love as he navigates his way between the demands of duty and joy in a religion that is equally about both. He also wants to value the dynamism of the new world in which he finds himself, in addition to taking into account the wisdom of his elders, who have seen so much.

A strong sense of belonging drives this film. Virtually all Jews – political and religious refugees – originated elsewhere. David, an ardent student, is captivated in class by the writings of James Baldwin, himself raised by a Baptist preacher. There is a long quote from Baldwin’s book Go say it on the mountain on the importance of our spiritual and cultural roots: “Go back to where you started, or as far back as you can, examine it all, go back on your way, and tell the truth about it. Sing or shout or testify or keep it to yourself; but know where you come from.

This is a film about coming home, bringing ideas and mistakes back with you, but realizing that we truly belong in a community where core beliefs must always be reinterpreted in light of circumstances and the experience. In other words, the continued practice of midrash. As People of the Book, they have a duty to persist in relating current issues—the AIDS epidemic, for example, is in full swing during the film—to the biblical text. It’s not something we should do alone. It requires minyan, because, to understand who we are, we need each other. There is strength in numbers. Login only.

On digital platforms

Comments are closed.