This article was first published in The Times of Israel.
Many people look to Lawrence Kushner, a Reform rabbi and author in San Francisco, for guidance on Judaism, spirituality and Kabbalah. If he gets his wish, they’ll soon also see him in a very different role: as an authority on kosher pornography.
To be clear, it’s not Kushner himself who’s a kosher porn maven, but rather the rabbi he plays in a new feature film he co-produced, “Your Good Friend.” But because the movie in many ways reflects his real life, audiences might be uncertain where Kushner ends and his character begins.
The film, which marks Kushner’s acting debut, tells the story of a recently widowed East Coast rabbi who moves to San Francisco in hopes of returning to the apartment he once happily shared with his late wife. While hanging out at a local coffee shop, he meets the current occupant — a washed-up pornographer. Before long, the two strike up a friendship and concoct a get-rich-quick scheme they hope will allow the pornographer to return to his native England and the rabbi to buy the apartment. The scheme is, rather improbably, a pornography website with a rabbinical seal of approval — deemed kosher, as it were, because it’s intended to jump-start married couples’ sex lives and help strengthen their relationships.
“The notion of kosher porn is absurd, and that’s why it’s funny,” Kushner explained recently at his home, which he’s decorated with many of his own oil paintings. (Rather than nudes, the works tend to show landscapes and street scenes, and are strictly G-rated.) “The question is whether we can persuade you for 10 minutes that it could possibly work.”
Despite the concept’s shock value, kosher porn is to some degree beside the point. Instead, the conceit draws audiences into a surprisingly philosophical, yet humorous, “Odd Couple“-type narrative about two older men — Kushner’s uptight Rabbi Zander Lustig and the down-and-out pornographer Jules Epstein — who bond and betray one another, and ultimately bond again.
For viewers familiar with Kushner and the film‘s setting, it can occasionally be difficult to distinguish falsehood from the truth. The movie stars a cast of non-actors, and is presented as a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a documentary.
“We sell it as a mocku-docu-drama,” said Matthew Jacobs, who directed the film, plays the pornographer and served as Kushner’s co-producer. “So it really is hard to work out what is real and what is fictional.”
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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.