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What Happened Today: September 22, 2022
Violent street protests spread across Iran; Russians flee the country, protest in street against the draft; Five red Texas heifers touch down in Tel Aviv
The Big Story
Iranians have taken to the streets of Tehran and as many as 80 cities and towns after Masha Amini, 22, fell into a coma and died in police custody last week following her arrest by the country’s “morality police” for not wearing her hijab in public. After seven days of mass protests, which have frequently led to violent clashes with authorities, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards called on the nation’s judiciary Thursday to speed up the prosecution of “those who spread false news and rumors,” a sign that authorities fear the protests are likely to escalate. Iranian law enforcement officials say that Amini, the young woman at the center of the protests, died of a heart attack, but her family cites several eyewitness accounts alleging that police repeatedly beat her in the head.
Many women have taken a prominent role in the protests, burning their veils and cutting their hair in street demonstrations as they rally against the laws that restrict their clothes and freedom of expression. According to Reuters, some Iranian leaders have grown concerned about a revival of protests similar to those over fuel prices in 2019, when some 1,500 people were killed by state security forces. The organization Iran Human Rights reports that at least 31 civilians had been killed so far during the protests, while Iranian officials say the total number of people killed is 17.
In the Back Pages: Trans Student Kicked Out of Yeshiva
→ Chair of the Federal Reserve Jay Powell confirmed the Fed’s widely anticipated rate hike of .75 percentage points on Wednesday, marking the third consecutive hike and in effect offering a grim assessment of the world’s largest economy. “The chances of a soft landing are likely to diminish,” Powell said, indicating that the Fed’s monetary policy will now need to remain “more restrictive or restrictive for longer” to combat inflation, an approach that will slow growth, increase unemployment, and quite possibly lead to a recession. Easing gas prices has taken some pressure off household expenses and likely bumped up President Biden’s approval ratings, but higher borrowing rates will spike operation expenses for businesses and make some mortgages and other lines of equity more costly. Already, mortgage rates have increased 3% since the beginning of this year, with last week’s rate rising above 6% on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for the first time in more than a decade.
→ Amid widespread anti-war protests in Russia, police have detained as many as 1,300 people as of Wednesday, with some of the protestors being drafted directly into the Russian military. The protests followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call on Wednesday to conscript 300,000 reserve members of the military into active duty to support the invasion of Ukraine, though some analysts say the loosely worded decree could allow for conscripting a far greater number of people. An unknown number of men have fled the country, with Russians crossing the border and filling up international flights to avoid the draft. Independent monitoring group OVD-Info reported that the protests have erupted in 38 Russian cities, where protestors who are detained and deemed eligible for the draft are being threatened with 15-year prison sentences if they refuse to enter the service.
→ Five red heifers have safely made it from Texas to Israel, perhaps indicating that the Messiah is close at hand. “The cows have been inspected by rabbis and were found to be red and unblemished, which means they are ritually pure for sacrifice as stipulated under the law of Moses,” according to All Israel News. “The presence of these heifers in Israel means that if the temple were to be rebuilt—or if it comes down from the sky, as some believe—sacrifices could already begin and temple service could be restored.” Bringing the animals from the United States was the work of Boneh Israel, a Christian organization that located the cattle, as well as the Temple Institute, an Israeli organization that is working to establish the Third Temple. A celebration was held at the cargo bay of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, with people singing and blowing shofars, or rams horns, in welcome. Per Israel’s livestock laws, the red heifers will now spend 10 days in quarantine.
→ Late on Wednesday night, FBI Special Agent Steve Friend submitted a whistleblower complaint to the Bureau’s inspector general after he was stripped of his gun and badge following his “conscientious objection” to a late August raid of the home of a suspect from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. “I have a moral objection and want to be considered a conscientious objector,” he said to his superiors at the time, expressing his concerns about the FBI “violating citizens’ Sixth Amendment rights due to overzealous charging by the DOJ and biased jury pools in Washington, D.C.” In the whistleblower complaint, Friend also charged that he had been transferred from more important work on child pornography cases to the politicized work of the Jan. 6 investigations and of domestic terrorism—threats Friend believes to be purposefully exaggerated to serve the interests of senior FBI officials in Washington.
→ The world of professional chess is in a tumult, with scandalous claims of cheating at the highest levels and lurid discussions about whether players concealed vibrating devices in their nether regions to receive signals during match play. The Sturm und Drang began when Magnus Carlsen, currently the top-rated player on the planet, abruptly resigned from a tournament after a far lower-ranked American, Hans Moke Niemann, beat him. Carlsen’s resignation was a clear suggestion that he thought something was afoot, but an investigation into the match did not find foul play. Less than a month later, when Carlsen and Niemann faced off again, Carlsen resigned a few moves into the game—an even more striking suggestion that Niemann was playing dirty. While the chess world debates if and how Niemann was cheating and what protocols to put in place going forward, Niemann has puckishly enjoyed his wins over one of the all-time greats. “It must be embarrassing for the world champion to lose to me,” he said. “I feel bad for him.”
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→ Quote of the Day:
Donald Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, as her office filed a civil suit against President Trump, his corporation, and three of his children. Following her office’s three-and-half-year investigation, James alleges that Trump repeatedly and knowingly inflated his company’s financial figures and the value of his assets, fraudulently misleading lenders. She is requesting that a judge grant a series of penalties as a result, including barring Trump and his three eldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric, from ever running a corporation in New York State again, and requiring the Trump Organization to pay lenders $250 million that the company allegedly made in ill-gotten gains. James has also passed her findings along to the federal government to pursue criminal charges. If a federal investigation is launched, it would become the second active federal investigation into the president, alongside the ongoing inquiry into Trump’s possession of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
→ For every one of you, there are some 2.5 million ants, though researchers speculate the 2.5 million to 1 ant-to-human ratio might be far greater than that. The numbers come from a recent census of the ant population led by Patrick Schultheiss, a University of Hong Kong ecologist. Working with colleagues around the world, Scultheiss drew on ant collections taken at some 1,300 locations worldwide to tabulate a total of 20 quadrillion ants (20,000,000,000,000,000), a conservative estimate that does not include all of the ants that live deep in the ground or in trees. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually turns out to be an order of magnitude higher,” said Sabine Nooten, an ecologist at the University of Hong Kong who helped author the study. “We’re just scratching the surface.”
→ The Justice Department has accused 48 people of defrauding the government of $240 million by applying for and then pocketing federal emergency aid intended to feed poor children during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The subjects in this case weren’t interested in feeding [children],” the FBI agent who announced the charges said on Tuesday. “They were interested in feeding their own gluttony.” The federal government, reacting to the pandemic, was quick to dole out trillions of dollars of emergency aid; those funds, however, were poorly monitored, and there have been widespread reports of fraud and theft. The charges announced on Tuesday in Minnesota allege that individuals laundered money through Feeding Our Future, a nonprofit that was tasked with stopping fraud at food kitchens and pantries for the poor. Instead, an administrator at Feeding Our Future knowingly created fake food sites to get more aid, which she and others then kept.
→ Chart of the Day:
“Destroying the jungle, the Amazon, has become the slogan followed by states and businessmen,” said President Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s newly elected left-wing leader at the United Nations on Tuesday, as he railed against the ongoing destruction of one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world. Petro cites cattle ranchers, wealthy nations’ consumption of evermore natural resources, and the war on drugs as the root causes of the deforestation, most of which happens illegally. Colombia’s government will now work to “tackle the drivers of deforestation and not only those who are cutting down the trees,” as the country’s new environmental minister said.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
TODAY IN TABLET
The Gender Apartheid State of Iran by Mariam Memarsadeghi
Why does Joe Biden seek to align America with a violent Handmaid’s Tale regime that beats women to death for exposing their hair?
The Genizah of the Self by Marco Roth
I bid goodbye to my boxes.
SCROLL TIP LINE: Have a lead on a story or something going on in your workplace, school, congregation, or social scene that you want to tell us about? Send your tips, comments, questions, and suggestions to email@example.com.
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Trans Student Kicked Out of Yeshiva
A transgender student forced out of a yeshiva in Jerusalem less than a month after moving to Israel, speaks with The Scroll
By Hillel Kuttler
The following story comes from Tablet contributor, Writer-editor Hillel Kuttler who can be reached at hk@HillelTheScribeCommunications.com.
Avraham Kolenski is passionate about Jewish learning. He enjoys delving into the Talmud to try to understand the thought processes of ancient scholars debating fine points of law.
Kolenski, a transgender person, might merit a Talmudic discussion on his experiences this week.
Until last week, Kolenski was enrolled at Ohr Somayach, a yeshiva in Jerusalem. Classes are taught in English and geared toward men in their twenties and thirties who are from abroad and are new to Jewish observance. Kolenski, 31, converted to Judaism five years ago.
But his stay lasted just over a week. On Monday, he was dismissed from the school, told that his presence could adversely affect donations.
“I feel devastated. I really love learning Gemara. I really love the logical connections that can be made in such a huge body of work. I was excited to be in an environment focused on learning Torah,” Kolenski told The Scroll in a video conversation on Wednesday. “Coming to yeshiva was a dream of mine for a long time.”
Kolenski made the decision to relocate to Israel from Manhattan, where he worked with disabled children, only after thoroughly researching yeshivot there. He thought he’d identified the right place.
He landed in Israel on Sept. 7, concerned about lagging behind students who arrived in August. The next morning, Kolenski commuted from his rented apartment in downtown Jerusalem to the first of his six classes, including one on the Talmud tractate of Bava Metzia, which famously begins by relating a dispute over ownership of a tallit between two people grasping it. He began to make friends.
On the video call for this Scroll interview, Kolenski looks and sounds like a man. With his facial hair, white shirt, and kippah, he’d have no problem melding into Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem or Brooklyn or Manchester.
He was born female. At age 19, he began identifying as male. He wouldn’t say whether he’s undergone sex-change surgery and did not provide his previous name.
The school’s dismissal caught Kolenski by surprise, given his careful planning. He says that he’d been upfront with one of the yeshiva’s top rabbis, senior lecturer Yitzchak Breitowitz, about his transgender identity even before the two spoke by video in July. Kolenski said he leveled with Breitowitz because he wanted a defense line in place when word got out, as he figured it would. He hoped Breitowitz would secure additional support among fellow Ohr Somayach faculty.
Just before a 10:00 a.m. class this Monday, another rabbi called Kolenski in for a meeting. The new student feared something bad was brewing. At 11:00 a.m. the rabbi and another rabbi asked whether Kolenski had undergone any surgeries; they meant an operation related to transitioning from female to male. Kolenski played dumb, saying he’d had his wisdom teeth pulled. The rabbis asked whether rumors had circulated about him. Kolenski didn’t know what rumors they meant; he asked whether he’d be kicked out of the yeshiva. “Likely,” they replied.
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