What the Holiday of Shavuot Has That the Finale of “Game of Thrones” Lacks

Michael Weingrad was one of millions who tuned in to watch the final episode of the television series Game of Thrones, which centers on a number of clans vying for the throne of a fantastical land of magic and dragons. Reflecting on what makes both the show and the books on which it is based so engaging, Weingrad arrives at some particularly Jewish thoughts:

At their most compelling, the books and the television series offer characters who see the world and themselves through commitments to family, clan, and nation, rather than our narrow, present-day lens of atomized individuals and their arbitrary desires. “Everything I did, I did for my house and my family,” says Jamie Lannister, an admission echoed at one time or another by most of the show’s characters. The evident fascination of so many readers and viewers with such thick social connections is worth noting. . . .

Unfortunately, the writers of the HBO series seem in the end to have been unable to sympathize with the possibility of a positive identity not reducible to a 21st-century self. . . . [T]he crown [is] finally awarded to Bran Stark, a character whose own sister points out that he is unable to have children. No problem, say the other characters, who suddenly forget that they are in a show precisely about the bloody consequences of uncertain succession and houses without issue.

[Instead], we are told that Bran will be king because he is the character with “the best story,” and “stories” are “what unite people.” We are reminded, moreover, that Bran possesses the gift of magical knowledge of the continent’s past, present, and perhaps even future. [However], Bran’s magical wisdom is isolated: he does not share it with anyone, and apparently will not bequeath it to anyone.

Real knowledge is what we receive from the generations before us, live out in our lives, and transmit to our children. The Passover we celebrated last month—a slave uprising accomplished without dragons—is the very embodiment of such a dynamic interaction among past, present, and future. So is the upcoming holiday of Shavuot that commemorates the giving of the law on Sinai. There is no religious observance I find more beautiful than the tikkun leyl Shavuot, the all-night study vigil that enacts the reception of that revelation in real time today. Whenever possible, I try to be in Jerusalem for the holiday, where the streets are thronged at 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning with thousands of Jews walking excitedly from class to class, lecture to lecture, discussion to discussion. That night, we are truly the chosen people, choosing our tradition, winning the crown of Torah. Binge-learning.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Jewish holidays, Judaism, Popular culture, Shavuot, Television, Tradition

How China Equips the Islamic Republic to Repress Its People

In its dedication to bringing totalitarianism into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist party has developed high-tech forms of surveillance using facial-recognition software, a vast system of “social credit,” and careful control over its subjects’ cellular phones. Even stricter and more invasive measures are applied to the Uyghurs of the northwestern part of the country. Beijing is also happy to export its innovations in tyranny to allies like Iran and Russia. Playing a key role in these advances is a nominally private company called Tiandy Technologies. Craig Singleton describes its activities:

Both Tiandy testimonials and Chinese-government press releases advertise the use of the company’s products by Chinese officials to track and interrogate Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. According to human-rights groups, Chinese authorities also employ Tiandy products, such as “tiger chairs,” to torture Uyghurs and other minorities.

Iran has long relied on China to augment its digital surveillance capabilities, and Tehran was an early adopter of Beijing’s “social-credit” system, which it wields to assess citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. . . . Iranian government representatives have publicized plans to leverage smart technologies, including AI-powered face recognition, to maintain regime stability and neutralize dissent. Enhanced cooperation with China is central to those efforts.

At present, Tiandy is not subject to U.S. sanctions or export controls. In light of Tiandy’s operations in both Xinjiang and Iran, policymakers should consider removing the company, its owner, and stakeholders from the international financial system and global supply chains.

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Read more at FDD

More about: China, Human Rights, Iran, Totalitarianism, U.S. Foreign policy