The Religious Impulse in Russian Literature

Unlike the not-so-independent-minded writers attacking PEN America today, Russian writers have had to face real censorship and the possibility of serious punishment for their work—whether they labored under tsarist, Soviet, or Putinist rule. They also did something that I doubt many of today’s writers do: treat religion with deadly seriousness. Gary Saul Morson delves into the subject.

Ultimate questions were asked in ultimate conditions. The poet Osip Mandelstam died on the way to the Gulag. Isaac Babel was shot. Many writers disappeared. The lucky ones found themselves in exile. Witnessing murder and cruelty on a hitherto unimaginable scale, they naturally thought: so this is where atheism and materialism lead! And isn’t that a good reason to embrace faith? One still astonishing fact about militantly atheist Soviet culture is that three of its greatest literary masterpieces—by Pasternak, Bulgakov, and Solzhenitsyn—were avowedly Christian, and a fourth, Life and Fate, by the Jewish writer Vasily Grossman, was equally spiritual.

It’s worth mentioning that Babel, Mandelstam, and Boris Pasternak were also Jews. Like their Christian counterparts, their religious preoccupations were shaped by those who came before them:

From the start, the key question was where morality came from, if there was nothing but natural laws. “If there is no God, all is permitted.” . . . Is it any wonder, then, that once the implications of materialism and atheism became clear, some writers came to profess absolute morality, the soul, individual responsibility, Christian virtues, and even belief in God? Even those who remained atheists . . . could not help noticing that Communists who found themselves in prison were the first to betray others.

“The fact is that I am a Christian,” the late Alexei Navalny explained. “I was once quite a militant atheist myself . . . But now I am a believer, and that helps me a lot in my activities.” . . . Navalny learned, as Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, and many others did, that it is the God of the Universe who gives us the living water to nourish our souls. And it is our soul, not our life, that matters most.

Read more at First Things

More about: Atheism, Isaac Babel, Religion, Russian Jewry, Russian literature

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7