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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
[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. jdrahimi

    This has got to be one of the dumbest articles I've ever read. They think they're G-d? They are operating in Gaza, because Hamas keeps attacking innocent civilians in Israel. No matter what they call this operation, it is for self-defense and you are focused on the name of it.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Artie Shaw

      The name is very important. Very important indeed.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • jdrahimi

      “Did Israel launch this attack because there was no other rational route to maintain its security?”

      Is it rational to let rockets hit your civilians and not respond? You are a typical irrational, anti-israel CNN reporter. Stop posting this non-sense and feeding Americans with misinformation.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • A W Messenger

      I agree with jdrahimi. When bombs are attacking your civilians, what are you supposed to do?
      If Mexico launched a few hundred bombs into civilian areas in the US, would the US retaliate?
      If Canada launched a few hundred bombs into civilian areas in the US, would the US retaliate?

      Dan Gilgoff is trying to emit evidence that Israel's military maneuvers are founded on religious belief, and NOT because Hamas has been bombing them..... this is deflection from the truth.

      Thus jdrahimi is correct.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Once again,

      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 foretold of wanton means? Who are the lands beneficiaries should war bemoan them and all do die out due and thru warring? Hell knows no other ways but to willfully fulfill the Word, the Gospel!

      November 20, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  2. bostontola

    A large percentage of Israelis consider themseleves Jewish but don't believe in god.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • mzh

      They do not accept Jesus nor Mohammad where Christian accepts Moses and do not accept Mohammad and Muslim accepts both Moses and Jesus... just fyi...
      I think they are taking advantage of Christian as they are super power to kill muslims where muslims were being kind to them to let them stay in their own land and now they kicking them out... referring to the map before 1960...
      And Christians are backing them up by donating billions $$$ per year and they are using this $$$ to kill muslims and christians... isn't it fooling the christians?
      fyi Moroccans Jews are the one who do not want to be called as Israeli Jews as they are being well taken care of by the Muslims and they are proud to be called Moroccan Jews...

      November 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  3. Nathan Ueckerman

    The name of that operation is totally disrespectful to God!

    November 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • pastapharian

      If they called it operation scooby-doo, it would be totally disrespectful to a fictional dog. See what I did there?

      November 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Which God?

      To which "god "are you referring to? Please understand, they are ALL mythological.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • clg250

      I think the Israelis would have better authority on the respect of their own writings, Mr. ueckerman. Though it seems that Romans thought they had a better understanding of Hebrew scripture than their own Rabbis did when compiling the biblical canon.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Ting

      Man created God, so it's disrespectful to man.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  4. walker

    Yes, exactly, who gives a f? To paraphrase a line from a movie "if you were a deer drinking from a stream and all of the sudden BOOOOM!!! your brains are scattered all over the grass would you give a F what kind of pants the bastrad that killed you was wearing?" Besides, it looks like the cloud engulfs Palestinians from all the weaponry raining at them. So it looks to me it must be a bull, the whole cloud thing.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  5. Franco

    It is a miracle that somehow Hamas does not have nuke rockets to send across into Israel, I am sure they would use them if they get them.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Urbugged

      Of cour...............screw it. History has a tendency of repeating itself because you fail to pull out your bias about anything and fill your own mind with things that you do not know enough information about. And make the same mistakes the world made in the first place. That is why idiots like you end up with a badge, gun, and a squad car only to live claiming crap like marijuana is worse than drinking alcohol. Just sayin.....

      November 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  6. Tea Partier

    Oh my goodness! A nation witb leaders that have belief and trust in God! Whatever would we do with that? How would get leaders like ours that lie, cheat, and steal. That seek power for graft and sake of power. That are corrupt and evil and have insulted God. I i could live in Israel i would. Even with the dangers they face their society is ran by devout, deliberate leaders that are leading.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • pastapharian

      I hope you're being sarcastic, but in case you're not...do you really want leaders in charge of nuclear weapons making decisions based on some ridiculous fictional book? people like you scare the living poooop out of me.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  7. Chris B.

    Using Gawker as a reference? It's not news, it's CNN.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  8. Sly

    Wow, the Jew's even have their own 'cloud'?

    That is so cool. So does the US – everywhere we go huge clouds form. Some think it's just all the bombs we've been dropping over the past 35 years (we've bombed over 20 nations since then).

    Really, we have our own cloud cause we have our own God – it really helps to have our own God, don't have to compete with all those other God's out there.

    Yep, God, plus some big bombs, sure helps us rule the earth.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  9. john

    Pointless aggression based on nonsensical beliefs in a supreme creator.

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

      Would you rather have your basic human rights given to by God like in the US or by a government?

      November 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • clg250

      Nah, Its a political fight over the control of Jerusalem, which as a holy city makes lots of tourism money, and whoever controls Jerusalem makes the money from tourism, which also grants power.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  10. frankgweb

    Israel is getting ready to attack Iran and before they do that, they need to make sure all the bombs and threats from Gaza are removed.

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

      Thanks Frank, sometimes its right in front of me and I miss it. – and that is also why last year happened the way it did. Take out the finger pointers. Well hope the next planet is less eventful!

      November 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Israel Be Praise~!

      You might be right actually. Remember tho.. They have to worry about the Muslim Brotherhood.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  11. TDF

    A biblical name? You mean like "Though shall not kill?"

    November 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • clg250

      i think the viking philosophy of not being burned in your own house would apply here.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • john

      Actually the text reads "Thou shalt not murder" in the original. Killing is fine. Don't forget that the jew god instructed his people at times to kill others for whatever purpose.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • karek40

      The commandment "Thou shall not kill" is often quoted without recognizing the directions God gave Israel for governing. If they committed adultry they were to be killed (stoned), if they killed accidently and did not make it to a city of refuge tjhey were to fair game for the relatives of the one they accidently killed. Killing humans was a necessary and integral part of the government established by God for Israel. In fact God promised the scepter would not depart Israel until the messiah came. Interestingly when Rome took from Israel the right to execute (legally kill) they recognized that the scepter had departed. They tore their clothes and threw poured dirt in their hair because the scepter had departed. Interestingly that very day a 12 year old boy was was in the temple astounding those that were listening to him, his Hebrew name was Yeshua, we interpret that name as Jesus. Maranatha!

      November 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  12. Ousal Dove

    Dear CNN,
    It was a "Pillar of smoke" in old testiment, NOT pillar of cloud! Get your facts straight.

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

      Yea, saladandchips.com had the right translation.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • John

      it states "amud anan" which its literal translation is pillar of cloud. The word you're looking for is "ashan" whin means smoke

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

      FACTS in your fairytale story book? There is NO historical evidence for any captivity of Hebrews either Egyptian or Babylonian. To use these stone age myths as grounds for abusing Palestinians is as valid as the RCC using the Bible to say Jews killed Jesus. Monotheists are monomaniacs and should be medicated as such.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • mzh

      There are lots of translations... it is so confusing which one to take as authentic... it may be none...

      November 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  13. Robyn

    "We Come in Peace, Shoot to Kill."

    The motto of all sides in this pointless, endless war.

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

      Next up.....Operation Turn the other Cheek

      November 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Which God?

      Yes, butt cheek.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • OccupyEverything

      It's life Jim, but not as we know it, not as we know it.
      It's life Jim, but not as we know it, not as we know it, Jim.

      There's Klingons on the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow.
      There's Klingons on the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow, Jim.

      We come in peace, shoot to kill, shoot to kill.
      We come in peace, shoot to kill, shoot to kill, Jim.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  14. Kevin Alexander

    If the people around the world who claim the name of Jesus as their Saviour are not living as though they believe that; by that I mean, they best be doing what God has commanded all His children do, then they would naturally fear the results of that or God will allow them to stray far enough they no longer believe God Almightly is in control of all lives and because of this, they will laugh at God as he deals a destructive blow against everything they know.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Which God?

      I call bullschitt. Which god are you referring to? Hmmm, god is an impotent, powerless, do nothing made up joke on humanity.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Is God to be made a mockery by those who tend to instill anti-leveraged pragmatisms? Are we to believe in the godless and the ungodly who care little about religions' piecemeal subjectives' ordinates?

      Jesus, was the very first of many immeasurable 'elemental beings' and was in the Beginning an elemental king of all the elemental Gods. Jesus, in His cunning, did thru Chaos' manueverings, established the gravimetrical waves for the elementals to gather in broods thusly was formed the beginnings of celestial nebulas.

      As time did force the nebulas to progressively surround the gravimetric oscillations where from did come about galactic formations of the elementals' soundness. As systems of photonic elementals, the infinitesimally finite elemental Gods did shower the solarized systems with their embodied beings. And in the Now, we are but made from the photonic elementals' stillnesses, the Stardusts of the Ages.

      What was first made can never again become that which was made first for only in varying differential constructs can another thing be made upon to ever be outdone against that which was firstly made.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  15. lionlylamb

    Can one body of people not change that which was declared to be 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 2:00 pm |
    • Urbugged

      And what is that word?

      November 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Mr. Lamb, that was amazing as usual. I love your work.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • pastapharian

      the Word? isn't bird the word?

      November 20, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Urbugged

      "Word" not word or the Gospels.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      pastapharian,

      Give this bird a worm! 🙂

      November 20, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  16. Dump hinduism, illegality of Evolution, way of hindu's, deniers of truth absolute GOD, sons of LANGOOR, SELF CENTERED

    “Operation Pillar of Cloud”, Ya, it was long before "clouds of pillar", goons, is nothing more than a medium to find constant of a matter, according to Islamic teachings, Islam was taught "Clouds of Pillar" to 1000th generation of human after Adam and Eve, Koran, ignorant can hind, speculate all they want, they can never know real meaning of "clouds of pillar", because Constant, truth absolute GOD, creator of heaven's and earth, kept it to himself.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • GAW

      Please learn how to write in coherent English before posting.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Which God?

      Hey Dump. U R fukking looney. I have an experiment for you. Stick your head in a bucket of water three times, and pull it out twice.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  17. Tamora

    If the US cannot stop the massacre, then who can.

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

      Superman....ooops he's a comic book character. Sorry I did try however.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Dump hinduism, illegality of Evolution, way of hindu's, deniers of truth absolute GOD, sons of LANGOOR, SELF CENTERED

      USA government is partner in hinduism, terrorism of hindu Jew's, terrorist deniers of truth absolute GOD, Expect not much from hindu, lair government of USA,

      November 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • clg250

      The Arabs or Iran can by siding with Israel over Hamas and recognizing Israel.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • OccupyEverything

      Let China do it. They have all the money, nowadays.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  18. justiceleague00

    The Father of the Jews/Palestine would really be sick of this as Abraham must be crying. Christians/Jews/other religions use the bible to justifty their criminal conduce. Israeli leaders have said it loud and clear they want Palestine wiped off the face of the earth and then take the rest of the Middle East. This has nothing to do with God or the Bible it's a land grab for power. Killing innocent women/children is more of Satan's teaching.

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

      God doesn't exist.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • jason bourne

      Nice try at revisionist history. Israel never called for wiping Palestine off the face of the earth. However, PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran have all called for wiping Israel off the face of the earth. Those are the facts, no matter how you lie.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • 83M

      Where is your reference for that? Because I have only heard that Iran has said that they want Israel wiped off the map. I have never heard nor read Israel has said that. I have read that Israel wants to keep the land that they have right now.

      Thank you

      Here is the link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/24/us-un-assembly-ahmadinejad-idUSBRE88N0HF20120924

      ref: "In 2005, Ahmadinejad called Israel a "tumor" and echoed the words of the former Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, by saying that Israel should be wiped off the map."

      November 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  19. Amber Star

    Do my buns look better like this? Or like this?

    November 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Feel my heat

      they look great at saladandchips.com

      November 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  20. Sam

    Dear brothers and respected sisters. Please open your eyes and ears and look around yourselves. We all know our loyal media is not showing us the true picture of the current world situation. Please think about it. You all should start reading some foreign news papers websites. Think!

    November 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Feel my heat

      Check out prolapsed.net for great unbiased reports on the conflict.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:01 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.