For American Jews of a Bygone Era, May and June Were Confirmation Season

June 14 2019

During the early years of Reform Judaism, some rabbis introduced a confirmation ritual for mid-teen boys and girls to celebrate their coming of age—either in addition to or instead of the bar mitzvah, which, it seemed, occurred when boys were still too young to appreciate the gravity of their religious obligations. (The bat mitzvah was not introduced until the 1920s.) Late spring became the standard time for the ceremony, around the time of the holiday of Shavuot. Jenna Weissman Joselit explains its appeal:

Though its origins date to early 19th-century Germany, confirmation came of age and blossomed in the United States, where it took hold of and caught on fast within Reform Jewish circles. It betokened a new kind of ceremonial, one that was no holdover from an increasingly distant past, but a resolutely modern creation. . . . Students were expected to familiarize themselves with and confidently to declaim the Decalogue and other tenets of Judaism.

Pomp and circumstance rather than creed endeared confirmation to growing numbers of American Jewish parents and their offspring. Its pages overflowing with detail, the American Israelite noted how, with great relish, they took to the ceremony with its multiple “affirmations and declarations and bows,” elaborate musical arrangements, “pretty” speeches, and heaps of flowers everywhere, from the confirmands themselves, bedecked with boutonnieres and bouquets, to the sanctuary, which was transformed into a botanical garden of delights. . . .

American Jews may have stopped short of fashioning a floral cross, but in their extravagant embrace of the sight and scent of flowers, they took their cue from their Christian neighbors. American Protestants and Catholics [at the time] increasingly garlanded their churches with “as many flowers as possible” in celebration of Easter. . . . Decorating the sanctuary heralded their aesthetic sensibility, furnishing proof that the Jews, long derided for being a “nonvisual people,” could more than hold their own when it came to beautifying their houses of worship. . . .

Extolling the virtue of novelty, one contemporary observer of the 1880s, put it this way in the American Israelite: “No shofar, no fasting, no sukkah, lulav, or esrog, no matzah, maror, or ḥaroset—but flowers, lovely flowers, sweet flowers.” He was on to something. Where so much of Jewish ritual activity spoke of tradition, the weight of the past, and the demands of responsibility, confirmation was as fresh as a daisy.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, American Judaism, Reform Judaism, Shavuot

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