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
[twitter-follow screen_name='dangilgoffcnn']

(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. Brian

    How about "Operation Kill the F'N Terrorists"?

    November 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Can one body of people not change that which was declared to be biblically so written? Wherein the biblical can prophesying though forewarned be outwitted should warnings be prophetically heeded? Is it righteously endeavouring to wantonly fulfill a historically imbedded future thought just because it is so written? Should not a people of uncommon intellect become intellectually mundane just to satisfy biblical prophecies? Wherethen lays the lands ending of aberrance wanton means? Who are the lands beneficiaries should war bemoan them and all do die out due warring? Hell knows no other ways but to willfully fulfill the Word!

      November 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  2. karllinen

    Israel. you picked the wrong piece of land. My birthplace in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, USA would be better...if they like people who think they are God's chosen.
    People are being killed over this and leads me to believe that maybe, we should help the Iranians blow the Hell out of the Middle East, the West Middle East, the East Middle East...and the North and South Middlle East.
    Somewhere, in the Bible, it says this is where the end of the world ends.
    Nuke em, all of them, and the rest of the world can rest in peace. If God loves them so much, maybe he wants them to be delivered.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • GAW

      Sarcasm no doubt......So let the radiation cloud drift over Europe and over to us.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Peter

      Nuclear debris travels around the world.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  3. Uh,hello?

    Has no one noticed that other clouds of war are shaped like pillars, and find this slighlty alarming?

    November 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Nah. we want them to nuke each other.

      Rats are in the grain, burn down the barn!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  4. ALAN

    Soon the arch of Noah will be revealed. Then, what excuses will be presented?

    November 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • OccupyEverything

      I don't know, but I'll take some of whatever you're on.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  5. Peter

    Any one complaining about how the Israelis treat the Palestinians should look at how the Palestinians treat the native Christian population. In the past five years Israel has seen a 243 percent increase in Christian refugees from the Palestinian Territory.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Ting

      I agree with you. All religions are bad.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Christians gassed 8 million jews.

      The Muslims got about 7.95 million left to kill before they are equal.

      Luckily, Israel only has 6.2

      November 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Peter

      Hilter banned religion in Germany and 6 million Catholics were killed when Hilter invaded Poland and 2400 priests were killed in concentration camps. But over a hundred million people were killed in the past 100 years in the name of ideology. Soviets, Mao, Pol Pot and North Korea banned religion and made the state the religion.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  6. JACK


    November 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Amber Star

      It's ok hun.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Helpful Hints


      It doesn't seem that YELLING IN ALL CAPS causes a post not to appear (it should!), but many of these word fragments will:

      Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN automatic filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters or some html tricks to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      ar-se.....as in ar-senic.
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, etc.
      co-on.....as in racc-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, drift-wood, etc.
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, sopho-more, etc.
      ho-oters…as in sho-oters
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      inf-orms us…
      hu-mp… as in th-ump, th-umper, th-umping
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      o-rgy….as in po-rgy, zo-rgy, etc.
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      p-oon… as in sp-oon, lamp-oon, harp-oon
      p-orn… as in p-ornography
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sm-ut…..as in transm-utation
      sp-ic.....as in desp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      sp-ook… as in sp-ooky, sp-ooked
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, t-itle, ent-ity, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, salt-water, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
      There's another phrase that someone found, "wo-nderful us" (have no idea what sets that one off).

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • maggiethree

      Jack, I'm sorry to post this here but I couldn't reply to the idiot's post who said that "Christians gassed" the Jews. That is a false statement. Hitler gassed the Jewish people ALONG with 10 million Christians. Hitler was a Christian about as much as you are a History Professor.
      Re: your statement of Catholics being killed–reread your history! It was the Pope who helped Hitler's army. If you cannot read books without pictures then go to chick.com they have comic books that explain it so well children can understand it all.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  7. Amber Star

    Has anyone seen my bra?

    November 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • pastapharian

      troll alert*

      November 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  8. Lee Oates

    Murder is murder no matter what name they use.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  9. Sam

    And this is all about oppression. Questions? Why they are throwing rockets at the peaceful state of Israel? Why they are continually asking for there solidarity. Why the peaceful state of Israel is not letting them live? Please ask these questions to yourselves first before judging the terrorist Palestinians. Happy thanksgiving.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  10. ce

    they've been fighting for 3000 years. they're all stupid f_cks

    November 20, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Peter

      Islam was started in 610 AD so both Christianity and Judism were already well established.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  11. Arcy

    If Barack Obama were to name a military operation, it would probably begin with "Allah."

    November 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Maddy

      If I named what I just flushed down my toilet, it'd be Arcy.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • sksk

      Election is over Arcy.....get over it.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • pastapharian

      Careful Arcy, your stupidity is showing.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • OccupyEverything

      Leave Barry the Wonder Clown out of this.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  12. Reverend Roachclip and Toke the altar boy

    Sounds nuclear to me. Pillar of mushroom cloud.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  13. M Houston

    Who cares what either side of this conflict calls the current violent idiocy in the Mideast!! It is "Operation stupidity" for
    ALL of them (Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Iranians, Syrians...ALL). Until all those tribalists learn to have some degree of respect for each other they will remain in a permanent state of turmoil. If Israel beats them all off or if Israel disappears, so be it. The whole world is damned tired of mideasterners, including Israelis, constantly squabbling
    about whose "god" is right and which patch of sand belongs to whom...

    November 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • maggiethree

      Oh, M Houston–I'm sad for you. One day you will remember your words and grieve that you said them. Through-out eternity, you will remember them. God is real–He is alive and watching over those who believe in Him. This battle must happen, for it is foretold in Scripture. It ushers in the final days of this earth as we know it. Call on Jesus before it is too late.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  14. foresee

    Israel has defeated 12 nations, or peoples, and Hamas wants to be 13th.
    Don't stop with Hamas.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Chi

      I still remember where Israel got humiliated by rag tag Hizb

      November 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  15. jeffision

    Delusional religious fanatics won't be satisfied until they start world war 3, and rational people are standing back and letting them do it. Visualize a post-religious era. The survival of the human species demands that we rise above the madness of religious and the hateful aggression that inevitably arises from it.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • sksk


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

      You assume everyone cares about the continue of the human species . This is not a time to be Ethnocentric. People dont think just like you.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  16. pl

    I remember GWB's Iraq II.."Operation Cluster F–k," nothing biblical but to the point. Why do they always put romanic names on carnage?

    November 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • OccupyEverything

      What is a "romanic" name??

      November 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  17. Shastafarian

    Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.
    But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
    "Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.
    And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other
    And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people

    November 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • pastapharian

      *yawn* so scary!

      November 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  18. lionlylamb

    A scattering of variegated opulence-ended minds is upon us in these trying days and Age. Leave therefore your harshest wantings and devotional yearnings behind and never take wind of one's longings for the weightiness of one's longings will smite even the most influential. Carry away nothing and leave, ever to make headway to the places inside one's being and do not keep ajar your heart's door for many will want to enter in and should not. Your loving of this Life is but for the world to have needs of and you should not heed the rumors from others as to just what is truly righteous. It is therefore best for mankind to simmer in their yet unfinished juvenile pottages never rationalizingly 'assaying' one's diffuse detriments, the very smallest of life's grains. As smitten breeds, our splendors reveal one's characters to be traitorous to one's and others analogous foldedness. Where then does true life really end and real living truly begin

    November 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Maddy

      You make no sense. You never do. At least the Hindu guy is up front with his insanity!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  19. Vic

    Jerusalem is mentioned almost 800 times, by name, in the Holy Bible and not once in the Koran! I think that says it all!!!

    November 20, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Meh

      Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa (Mosque in Jerusalem), whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.

      Qur'an 17:1

      Do some research next time kid.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Vic

      Jerusalem is mentioned almost 800 times, BY NAME & NOT REFERENCE, in the Holy Bible and not once in the Koran! I think that says it all!!!

      I rest my case!!!

      November 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Meh

      Meh. You are obviously not intellectual enough to continue this conversation. Good Day.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  20. shaan

    US should drop a 100 tons! poof, it's all done. we can now start over again! no more conflict

    November 20, 2012 at 1:48 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.