It is interesting that the dictionary definition of "ortho" is truth and "dox" is path. This leads us to a classic oxymoron when we use the word "ultra-orthodox" - because once one strays beyond the path of truth, either to the left or the right, then one can no longer be said to be on the "true path". One cannot do more than what is true. Because the instant one improves on truth, one is already mixing in a falsehood. Real truth is unadulterated. This means that ultra-orthodox is not truth or "ortho" at all. It is by definition, something that strays from the path of truth.
Let's examine this question in the context of the current battle for Israel. There is a great deal of confusion about what is the correct and moral way to deal with the perpetual and daily suicide attacks on Jews in Israel. The typical answer is that terrorists should be dealt with, and civilians must be protected. And yet, this simple formula gives rise to a vast set of disputes: Who is a terrorist? What is a civilian? What is the way to deal with terrorists? And so on. As a result, a vast cloud of moral fog and confusion builds, and paralysis of action is the result. And this lack of decisive action can be seen each day in the headlines. Attack, then retreat. Attack and retreat. Every action is gauged on what international and national public opinion will allow. How will this action play in the Western Press? And then, when the international press is discovered to be skewed, biased, naive and slanted - there is even greater consternation, doubt and confusion as to how to proceed. After all, when one sets one's moral weather vane and conducts one's actions based on a press that has no sense of history, justice or truth - how can one direct one's actions? It's like swimming with the rip-tide out to sea because that seems to be "the way to go," when one intellectually knows that one MUST swim to shore. Just because the water and current is heading in one direction, does not mean one has to commit suicide.
It should be obvious we need to redirect our moral compasses. We need to seek what is right and true, and when we know this, then the right actions will flow. It is time to stop this pathetic swinging of the moral weather vane to follow the tides (to the left or right) of where the true path is. The Jewish people have been given a tremendous guide as to what is the truth - Torah - and it is time to for us to realize that we have the moral lodestone that the world needs to direct its moral compass.
In the recent battles over Jenin, Bethlehem, Nablus, and Ramallah, Israel and its supporters constantly repeated the refrain about how moral Israel is. See how it risks the lives of its soldiers to avoid Arab civilian deaths? Not like other countries that drops bombs from the sky and worry little about incidental civilian deaths. Israel will risk, and lose, many of its prize youth, rather than cause civilian deaths. Sounds very moral, right?
Oddly enough, this self-sacrifice for the sake of morality, though it was repeated over and over by Jewish and Israeli sources, got almost no attention in the media. Rather than aerial bombardment, soldiers were sent in on foot, house to house, in enemy territory to wage their battle hand-to-hand in order to spare civilian lives, and consequently 23 young Jewish lives were lost. They risked and lost Jewish lives in this costly manner even though, prior to the attack, they had given ample warning to all citizens to vacate, and consequently could have pursued aerial bombing. However, the international press did not sing praises about how humane the Jews are in the battle of Jenin. Instead the world media focused on the alleged massacres of "innocent Arab civilians" (part of the Arab propaganda effort). Hmm. So what happened?
The problem is simple. We are worshiping a false god of public opinion, and just like any other idol made of stone or wood, it does not care about nor respond to our "sacrifices." There is nothing moral about sacrificing Jewish youths in such a case. It's perverse, and the world does not see it as a holy act at all nor give us an ounce of credit. For once, the world is right. It's pure masochism on Israel's part.
In fact, the Bible has already warned us about this kind of perversion; it calls it "sacrificing your children to the idol Moloch" (an idol that was served by passing one's children between two fires). We have been literally passing our children between the fires lit for the idol of Molech (public opinion), an idol that does not hear, see, or care about the sacrifice we are making. And yet, Israeli politicians keep calling for more and more "sacrifices" from the Jewish people. Has the false idol of Moloch ever appreciated the sacrifices made to date?
The Jewish people, especially those in Israel, are openly in a battle for self preservation. Torah teaches us explicitly that when one is involved in such a battle, then it is called a milchemet mitzvah, a obligatory war. You must defend oneself. Anything else is masochism. It is sick and perverse to do otherwise.
The morally correct thing to do in this case was explicitly told to us by G-d in the Torah. We don't have to stick our fingers in the air and try and gauge what the non-Jewish world opinion will say. The Rambam (Maimonides) states that in such a battle (e.g. for a city) one gives one's opponents three options:
That is, if someone does not choose either of the first two choices, then that person is NOT a civilian. One has chosen to be a combatant. Did we not see this clearly in Jenin? There were no civilians. Grandmothers in wheelchairs were converted into rolling suicide bombs. Children were used as shields for gunmen, and apartment complexes filled with people were used as lures to bring soldiers into the newest form of booby trap: an exploding apartment complex.
There are those who, out of a false piety, are concealing and distorting the truth. This is also straying from the path of truth. Just as there are those on the left who are too glued to the false god of public opinion, there are those on the "right" who are afraid to state the simple truth of Torah. We are in the midst of a battle. The battle is going on throughout Eretz Yisroel. On both sides of the green line, it makes no difference anymore. The attacks occur daily and have the simple purpose of driving the Jewish people into the sea. Is there anyone who cannot see this at this time?
Where is the voice of the rabbis? There are very clear, uncontested laws about what the right and morally correct thing to do at this time. We are in the heat of the battle. The rabbis know what the Rambam says. So why is it not being stated? There is no place for moral timidity at a time like this. One cannot wrap oneself in piety and hide - at a time when Torah itself demands concrete, positive action.
We all have to stop being "ULTRA-Orthodox." We have to get off these twists to the left or to the right. These "detours" are all the result of us adulterating the truth of Torah with our own political and social sensibilities and fears. Let's stop this nonsense. We have got to stop letting the tides of world opinion take us farther and farther out to sea. Let us speak out clearly with the simple truth of G-d's Torah. Will the world listen? Will it reset its moral compass? Yes, because the world is waiting for clarity. It's so obvious that all the other false religions and faiths are failing. There has never been a better time for us to take our role as moral teachers to the world and provide some moral direction to a rudderless world. After all, this is the job G-d has given to his chosen people.
The path ahead is clearly perilous, and there are sheer drops on either side. However, G-d has laid out the true path, and any other path is not going to take us to any other destination than obliteration.
[Based on a talk heard recently from Rabbi Manis Freidman]