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Name of Israel’s anti-Hamas operation has biblical meaning
Smoke billows from a spot targeted by the Israeli military inside the Gaza Strip last week.
November 20th, 2012
09:49 AM ET

Name of Israel’s anti-Hamas operation has biblical meaning

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – To English speakers, the name of Israel’s anti-Hamas campaign sounds pretty straightforward: “Operation Pillar of Defense.”

But reading the name of the Israeli operation in Hebrew might provoke some head-scratching. In Hebrew, the Israel Defense Forces have branded their recently launched anti-Hamas effort as “Operation Pillar of Cloud.”

An IDF spokesman explained that most Israelis would recognize “Pillar of Cloud” as a biblical reference.

“It’s based on the pillar of cloud that accompanied the the nation of Israel during the Exodus as they left Egypt and traveling toward Israel,” said Eytan Buchman, head of the North American media desk for the IDF.

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“They wanted the protection from the troubles of the desert, from robbers and people that would attack them and from snakes and scorpions.”

Buchman said the anti-Hamas operation’s Hebrew name is meant to send the message that it is a defensive maneuver.

“We are coming up on a decade of rockets being fired indiscriminately at civilians,” Buchman said, referring to Hamas’ actions in southern Israel. The Jewish state’s current military operation, he said, “is a proverbial cloud that is coming to protect you.”

The Bible’s first reference to a cloud pillar comes in Exodus 14, which describes the Israelites’ flight from bondage, culminating in Moses’ parting of the Red Sea.

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“The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them,” reads the passage in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

"It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel,” the passage continues. "And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.”

The idea of the cloud pillar refers to both physical and spiritual protection, according to Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who leads Ohev Sholom, the National Synagogue in Washington.

“The spiritual message here is about praying to God for protection,” said Herzfeld, who heads an Orthodox congregation. “In Exodus, the pillar of cloud is spiritual protection of the Israelis.”

Herzfeld said the biblical reference would be instantly recognizable to the many Israelis who have had Jewish educations.

The phrase also appears in the Bible’s Book of Psalms, in a verse that says God spoke to Hebrew leaders like Moses, Aaron and Samuel “in the pillar of cloud.”

Israel’s choice of Hebrew words has provoked some criticism online.

"By calling this operation 'Pillar of Cloud,' the IDF are, in a sense, calling themselves God,” tweeted @joshua_eaton, whose Twitter bio describes him as a journalist covering religion and politics. “And they act like they believe that, too."

A blogger for the website Gawker, meanwhile, said that calling the Israeli operation a “pillar of cloud” evoked “an all-powerful, vengeful God seeking to demonstrate the primacy of his chosen people, to guide them in their affairs, and to confound their enemies.”

“Did Israel launch this attack because there was no other rational route to maintain its security?” asked the Gawker blogger, John Cook. “Or was it pursuing a broader agenda rooted in ancient mysticism?”

The IDF’s Buchman said he contacted Cook to challenge his interpretations, saying the Israeli military merely wanted to stress what he called the operation’s defensive nature.

“Inside the Bible,” Buchman said, “the cloud was defined as (following people that were) leaving and running away from a full army that had enslaved it.”

Buchman noted that previous IDF operations have also used biblical references.

In 2002, he said, the IDF used the name “Operation Noah’s Ark” for the seizure of a Palestinian vessel loaded with rockets, missiles and explosives.

And a 2008 IDF operation in Gaza was called “Operation Cast Lead,” which began during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and references a popular Hanukkah song.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bible • Israel • Judaism • Military

soundoff (1,431 Responses)
  1. Someone

    I thought everyone in the world was going to bow down in peace to Obama. What happened? I'd be worried if I were Israel. Obama is content to let you burn. That's no secret.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Akhmed

      Well, leave it to Barry, opps, I mean Barack....

      November 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • WachetAuf

      You seem like a bitter person. But, even bitter people can be intelligent. Please tell me, what is your solution to Israel's problem with the Palestinians?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • kebo72

      Well, you of GOP faith would be wrong. No one other than your little tea party buddies expected anyone to bow down to our President. And if Israel is intent on consistently aggravating the situation by building more and more homes in disputed lands, then sure, let them burn. They continue to go against all agreed to ways of ending these disputes.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Gryphon

      The last time I checked, out country wasn't named the United States of Zionism.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  2. T Truth

    And here is the end of the story: international sentiments against Israel build, an alliance of nations comes against Israel on a great plain just outside of Megiddo, and an earthquake turned escape route on the tallest hill just east of Old Jerusalem.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Jason

      Meggido? Has a familiar sound to it... Oh, yeah, Armageddon. Maybe the Mayans were on to something. I am leaving to buy some canned goods now.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • richunix

      nice since that was a 8/9th century addon...not in the orginal greek text from the 4th century...(earlist known complete version). May from P52 is the earliest piece we have and it is the size of a credit card with 18 verses....opps not there either

      November 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  3. Tim

    Religion: the reason why the entire world is in misery. Screw all world religions! It is time to flush the torah, the bible and the koran down the toilet where they belong, and build a better tomorrow based on scientific facts and logic.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Ludiwg

      A few of the "miseries" of the world not caused by religion: WW I & II, Vietnam, Korea, etc. Don't be naive, with or without religion people will still fight and persecute one another because of ideology or whatever. The only way to get rid of that is to get rid of all people.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  4. Troy

    This war and the deaths attributed to it are brought to you by religion.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  5. Bible Clown©

    No one knows what to do here; Israel's existence is the whole problem. Michael Chabon is right – we should have given them Alaska instead. Or maybe Bermuda? The Arabs would have been happier.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  6. Ben

    How about, Operation keep launching rockets at our civilians and we'll bomb you until kingdom comes?

    November 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      How 'bout give us back our land?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Jason

      Has a ring to it. Almost dancable.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Jason

      Apple:
      How about "you aggred to peace for land and you reneged, so we are going to carpet bomb you into submission"? You have your land and that's all you are getting.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Troy

      Jason. If you think it's that simple, you are nieve and should stop commenting on such things.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Jason

      Peace treatys are simple. Israel gave up occupied lands for a palestinian state, and they continue to use that very land to stage attacks for which they are now being bombed. VERY simple, Troy. And I shall continue to comment about it. Nothing complicated about a broken promise.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Gurmeet

      Religion causes so many wars. God Created Man (all of mankind) – why would he then pick nation to be more dominant over another nation?

      People – God has nothing to do with this conflict.

      Being a parent – i love all my childern equally – and would not want one to be more dominant over the other – let alone kill – why would God do that – if he didn't like one nation – he would not have created it?

      Think!!!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  7. Jason

    Israel gave up land for peace during the Clinton and Bush eras and now has neither. Take back Lebanon, Golan Heights, West Bank and Sinai Penninsula, occupy it and let the anti-Israeli forces lob missiles at these "buffer" areas. Then NEVER give them back. There can be no peace on equal footing there. Peace will only be ENFORCED by the dominant nation.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Shastafarian

      Watch closely for the will of GOD.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Which God?

      @ Shastapasta. Man has been looking for centuries. Nothing has happened. Nothing will. God is is a myth, as well as a sick joke men have perpetuated upon his fellow man

      November 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  8. Badshah Maskoora-Bala Noori

    Lets see how long the occupation of Palestine will last. Its only been around 60 years. Muslims are fighting back for sure. I don't understand why Jews don't give up because they know they are disbelieving in God by rejecting the message of Moses which clearly said that there will be the last messenger from the tribe of Ishmael. Jealousy will not get you anywhere except in hell fire. Its ok to be followers of another nation. Arrogance and pride is not our goal. Our goal is obedience to our Creator and love from our Creator.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Jason

      Sure. Love through indiscriminate missile attacks. VERY peaceful. Delusional is more like it.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • richunix

      WOWO, boy are you off your meds!!! Does your trailer park manager know your using his computer again?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Stan

      Nuke em till they glow and shoot them in the dark.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • hoser

      can you love him without involving us and everyone else in the world

      November 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Obuongo

      Who loves their neighbor? You Muslims? Which illusive peace do you preach to world while your religion is full of rage and hate?

      Let Israel help thwart you hatemongers!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Which God?

      @ Badschitt Mascara-Boola Noogi. BullSchitt!

      November 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  9. mala sangre

    Zionists claim theirs' is a secular country with equality for all. Why is every war op some fairy tale Jew name? They gave up Palestine when they bailed to Egypt for 400 years. Nobody chased them off, they went. Why was the Egyptian army chasing them? They robbed and killed an entire town on the way out. (God told them to)

    November 20, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Akhmed

      Okay, so Britain kicks Turkey's butt and given the land back to it's original owner, Israel. Then Israel declares itself a sovern nation in 1948 and defends the land by force against numerous Islamic aggressors. The land was their originally, it was restored to them, and they have fought to keep it. Sorry Charlie, you lose....

      November 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  10. Dump hinduism, illegality of Evolution, way of hindu's, deniers of truth absolute GOD, sons of LANGOOR, SELF CENTERED

    Humans, I don't feel safe here in Gaza, my Hamas brothers, Iranian step brothers, Taliban fathers are all dying like flies, absurdity of a Hindu Israeli "Operation Pillar of Hindu Cloud", denier of truth absolute GAWD, secular s, corruption of Thin Allah, do something and help us goons

    November 20, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Akhmed

      Okay, so find someone who understands English, tell them what you want to say, then have them write messages for you. You might be understandable then...

      November 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Spaceman

      Hope you enjoy those 72 virgins. Ha ha ha. (What they didn't tell you is that they're all 80 years old.)

      November 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Which God?

      @ Spaceman. No, they are virgin camels. Male and female.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  11. JACK

    CNN is biased. Just like all other news netwworks. Dont let anyone tell you different.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • ?

      CNN is not biased.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • re: ?

      don't tell me otherwise

      November 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Shastafarian

      I agree, CNN is so biased.. they report from gaza.. for gaza... and only gaza

      November 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Jason

      Shasta:
      Good point.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  12. Willam Pelegrini

    Israel has won every single war for decades. Muslims have lost over and over and over. Muslims (arab nations as well) lost even with superiority. Actually Israel won the six day war (for example) having 0 tanks against 500. five hundred!! against zero.
    the independence war the same.
    what kind of idol is that? "allah" ? someone said sth about this idol here, bla,bla...useless...what happened to him all these decades? walking in the park?
    Some important key messages for yah...
    The Bible is perfect, Israel is the lovy dovy of the Lord, atheism is the opium for the morally corrupt and allah is useless idol, don't mess with Israel.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Which God?

      Well 'grini, you sure told everyone, didn't ya? Told 'em another load of schitt. Keep it up, I have plenty of tp for ya.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • frespech

      Does anyone know why Bing has taken over MSN and where in the hell are the comments allowed-DON'T LIKE THE NEW FORMAT AT ALL.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • me

      That statement isn't true... Obozo won two elections.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • giglr

      Yom Kippur USA bailed u guys out & we get oil embargo 1973

      November 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Maddy

      Um, because Bing is owned BY MSN....

      November 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  13. Apple Bush

    I don't really care what happens to the morons who live there, but stop bombing the shit out of these historic places. Everyone who lives in the holy land should be removed and it should be turned into a National Park. It's place in human history is significant. HISTORY, not PRESENT.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • hoser

      why is this place more special for "history" than any other....like Figi ?
      Let me guess...cause the bible tells me so

      November 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  14. aizen

    all made up stories..there was no clouds...if they were lost then they were following stars and other celestial things to lead them home. but that didnt happen cus they were never in egypt..there is no proof of it till today and i need someone to show me proof the jew were slave in egypt..please dont bring the bible cus that book is fuul of non sensical stories...

    November 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Akhmed

      ROFL!!! There are Jewish markings in Egyptian Archeology....

      November 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Ira

      @aizen: how do you know it's not true? Is your belief based on tireless studying (or at least hours and hours of studying) that can prove it didn't happen? Or is it based on how you feel? Would you doubt a brain surgeon telling you some obscure fact about the brain? Those who believe the Biblical stuff actually happened (and I'm one of them) spent hours and months and years studying and it is on this tireless studying we, or at least I, base my beliefs. Go and learn!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Scott

      You are as ignorant about history as you are about religion . Don't you have some nativity scene in Santa Monica to supress?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • noel

      Joseph from the Old testament was the pharoah Imhotep.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • ALAN

      There is! It is on the third under floor of the Cairo Museum behind a concrete wall covered by a fine wood wall. It has being all boxed up to deny the legitimacy of history. MOst people don't now the facts that muslims don't want this to be known.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Which God?

      Akhmed. True that. Point. Set. Match.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  15. Akhmed

    The cool thing is that this was all prophesied to happen over 2000 years ago in the Bible. Israel would be scattered to the nations, called back to the land and Israel will be reformed as a country. Happened in 1948. Next big thing is Israel rebuilds the temple and is attacked by Russia and a consortium of Islamic nations. Israel already has re-created all the items for the Temple. They just need to remove the Al-Asqa Mosque from the Jewish temple mount. This will all happen VERY SOON!

    November 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Stan

      Remove the Al Asqa Mosque. Accidentally mistire a missile? Hamas hits it an blames Isreael? Loads of options here. Couldn't happen soon enough.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • hoser

      I can hardly wait for the VERY SOON...did the big guy give you a time frame – I want to be sure to be home that night and not be watching football

      November 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Post It Notes

      Those of us who have read the bible don't believe in prophecy.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • ALAN

      You read the kuran, NOT the Bible.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Which God?

      Akhmed. I'll have to be 'Nope," and say nope. Yet the mussies did build that montrosity on top of the old temple mount. Kinda like xtians taking something from other religions and making their own and "original." Some history there, but not relevant, unless you wan to say my religion is better than yours, etc. We know that it is all BS anyway. Nothing like wholesale destruction to prove you are right. I will give Israel the right to defend against those who attack her though, especially the terror groups who do so from civilian population centers. Cowards.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • aizen

      akmed..the jew probably did trades with their neighbours but there is no proof whatsoever, even archeological to support they were there for 400 years. noone can live in a place for 400 years and doesnt leave any traces. oh and for imothep, he wasn't joseph as he has many gods who were no the jew god. stop changing history. oh! also i aint no christian nor a muslim..those are silly denominations....i dont believe in religion but i read those book to try understand why people follow such myths so blindly wihtout questioning anyhitng....again my question, if god chose the jews, why are you following that god? he obviouslydont want yu cus he has his "chosen people"....such baloney!

      November 20, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  16. flatpicker

    Pepou27 – Are you saying that the Jews didn't live there for centuries ? Even if you don't take the bible being Gods word, Surely you can see that the Jews lived there for many centuries and farmed and took care of the land.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Akhmed

      It's the revised Muslim history of the land...

      November 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • mala sangre

      they can build their temple anywhere. they just want the Rock (of Abraham) to push the Issac vs. Ishmael crap that keep the whole world in turmoil.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • under the cloud's shade

      Yes they didn't live there for centuries. Why else do you think they all came from Europe while Britain was occupying it after they took it from the Ottomans. If they were already there who were these people. Yes there were some that were there always but the vast majority of its inhabitants had been muslim for centuries. Then through their war in 1948 they took it and prevented muslims coming back. What do you think the "right of return" is all about? Palestinians want to come back to their homes.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Sure

      But the Jews were there before the Muslims too so I guess they get it back after all. Why is it that history only starts from the time the Muslims occupy the area?

      November 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  17. palintwit

    One time while vacationing in the Middle East I saw a muslim by the side of the road with his arm all the way up a camel's butt. "Car trouble?" I asked.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Which God?

      Hahaha. Sick, but really phunny.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Dump hinduism, illegality of Evolution, way of hindu's, deniers of truth absolute GOD, sons of LANGOOR, SELF CENTERED

      absurdity of an Christian goon, he was, recovering a bottle of water from belly of the atheist camel, secular s beast, skunk, , denier of truth absolute Allah, ignorant.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  18. bigwords

    Did anyone see the video of HAMAS dragging a Israel supporter through the streets with a rope and a vehilcle? oh wait.....CNN doesnt show that...

    November 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  19. Chat Pata

    Mo religion mo death and destruction. All this negativity based on fairy tales.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • hoser

      Yes, yes it is all based on BS....

      November 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Sure

      Just tell that the 100+ million killed in the 20th century alone by the atheist communists of the Soviet Union and China.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  20. Charlie

    Interesting that most of this crap and violence around the world is about which faith is the most peaceful.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • hoser

      None of them are peaceful Charilie...that is why they are religions
      and the gods all take sides

      November 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.