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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. DisgustedbyCNN

    I am absolutely shocked at how anti-israel and anti-semitic CNN has become. I am a professor at a large university and certainly hope students will follow me in getting their unbiased info elsewhere.

    November 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Akira

      This is new. Usually people are complaining because CNN is biased in the Zionist direction...

      November 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • bman

      Writing about human rights is not anti Israeli, nor is it anti-zionist. There is a whole nation of people being denied the lands of their birthright and kept imprisoned at the hands of their brothers. Somehow or other it's ok when it's done by our allies, but it's a tragedy of immense proportions bringing the scrutiny of the UN and individual nations. Ethnic cleansing is the term applied.
      Now take off your own biased sunglasses. Apartheid must end.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Chuk

      Goodbye and don't let the door hit you and your students in the a**. CNN is not biased. In fact, they've been accused of being left-leaning.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Weneedtruth

      I totally agree, looking at the pictures on CNN so far when they show Israel they show their army, if they show the Hamas they show blown up buildings and wailing people. What about all the rockets that the Hamas has been shooting at Israel? They did over 600 last year alone!

      November 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Jim

      I am with you on this one. CNN does not question Hamas' claim that all of its rockets are only in response to Israel's defensive measures, or in fact seriously question anything Hamas says. I watched last night as Pearce (sp?) Morgan suggested that Israel should not fight back against Hamas' rockets because Gaza is densely populated and that civiliam casualties are therefore inevitable. While that is indeed a sad fact of war, Mr. Morgan seemed to be seriously suggesting that Hamas could fire rockets at Israel populations at will, while Israel should simply hunker down and take it. I cannot think of any other nation on earth to whom such a suggestion has ever been directed. But at CNN< that is what passes for journalistic analysis.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • CJC

      @bman .. really? just shows how poor history education is these days. The Palestinians have a birth right to Israel? Do some actual reading of history. There is no birth right to any of that land. Typical Muslim excuse. The tragedy of immense proportions is people like you defending actions of what are, simply. terrorist organizations. Hamas launches rockets continually and indiscriminately into Israel. I guess thats ok. Just .. fire and forget. Dont care who gets hit. At least the IDF tries to limit civilian casualties. Middle east and other such muslim nations have a distinct hatred of western civilization. It has nothing to do with politics. Its about who we are. What be believe. Freedom of religion. Womens rights. Education. Until Muslim populations come out of the dark ages, and stop supporting such radical hatred for anyone that does not worship Allah, This will continue. Best defense is a good offense. Take the fight to those trying to do you harm. Sadly, leftist ideologists think that we can just sit and talk about it and make it all better. Not gonna happen.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • southernsugar

      CNN doesn't have a bias, bubba. If you're a full professor at a large University, they're wasting their money and you are wasting their time. Don't believe a single word you just said.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Kaybee

      The mere fact that you came on to CNN looking for information as a professor does not really say much for your professorship. And professing to be 'a professor at a large University' sounds pretty petty.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • TruthTrumpsOpinion

      I don't see this article as being in any way anti-semitic. Is it anti-semitic to report the official name of the operation? The majority of the article is an explanation of the meaning of "Pillar of Cloud" from a spokesman of the IDF and a Rabbi. A very small portion is brief rebuttals from just a few bloggers. Is that the part you find so biased? By word count the article is strongly biased in favor of Israel. All in all it is a very inflammatory name for a military operation...especialy in light of the regime change in Egypt. It's as if they are daring Egypt to get involved. If they do then so will other nations...Hello WW III.

      November 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  2. HummusandPitaBread

    Biblical reference...hmmm, How come no one's calling this extremist?

    November 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • DaveinCincy

      If you were halfway intelligent, which obviously you're not, you would understand the difference.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  3. me

    How cares what the meaning of it is.

    November 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • How

      You're right, I do.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  4. Bingo

    Maybe the term "pillar of cloud" is being used with reference to the "Iron Dome Defense system" that the Isralites wanted to test?

    November 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  5. Name*wade sullivan

    The reason God showed the Israelites favor is the same reason he didn't just destroy the Egyptians right away. LOVE. He gave the Egyptians multiple opportunities to let them go without harm, and the Pharaoh hardened his heart. God would have continuEd to allow them to live the lifestyle they wanted. even if the Egyptions were worshiping gods contrary to the God of Jehovah. he wasn't just going to destroy the Egyptions. However he will do everything in his power to defend those who love him. Defending people that made a covenant with God shows that he is a God of his word and a god of love. he never just came to destroy without multiple warnings of what might come if a people didn't turn from their wickedness. Exodus 20:1-7.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Brandon

      Well said!

      November 20, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Smithsonian

      The stories found in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1-12, such as the flood story, the record is quite different: the time period under consideration is much more ancient. The factual bases of the stories are hidden from our view archaeologically. The stories remain a part of folk traditions and were included in the Bible to illustrate and explain theological ideas such as: Where did humans come from? If humans were created by God (who is perfect and good), how did evil among them come to be? If we are all related as children of God, why do we speak different languages? It must be remembered that the Bible is primarily a book of religion, a guide to faith. it was not a book of history, poetry, economics, or science. It contains all sorts of literary genre, which are used to teach about the relationship between God and mankind. Even biblical history is edited history: events were chosen to illustrate the central theme of the Bible. The Biblical writers did not pretend they were giving a complete history; instead they constantly refer us to other sources for full historical details, sources such as "The Annals of the Kings of Judah" (or Israel).

      It is therefore not possible to try to "prove" the Bible by means of checking its historical or scientific accuracy. The only "proof" to which it can be subjected is this: Does it correctly portray the God-human relationship? In the best analysis, the Bible is a religious book, not an historical document.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • End Religion

      No person or people is favored by any god. Man's entire pantheon is imaginary.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  6. Jim Weix

    I am so thankful to be free of man-made religion. These man-made creations are a farce and insult to God. There only purpose is to give a select few power and wealth.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  7. shawbrooke

    The blogger who 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.” does not know what he is talking about. Or he does know, and is deliberately misrepresenting with a partial truth. In the Bible the pillar led the Israelites on the trek through the desert and represented God's leading and protection. There was nothing vengeful about it.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  8. Margo

    Israel is getting what it deserves, they do not consider the Palestinians human beings so as far as I am concerned what goes around comes around. All this sympathy for Israel is sickening. They take our money and weapons and do exactly as they please and thumb their nose at us. It is unbalanced and unfair and I find it difficult even caring one way or the other about the so called "plight of the jew".

    November 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • DaveinCincy

      We dont' consider you a human being...so su*9 on that and like it. Palestanians don't want peace...neither do any of the Islamic extremists. They just want Israel gone. I back Israel 100% as do all good hearted god fearing Americans!!

      November 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Brandon

      So your saying it is ok that Gaza/ Hamas has launched rockets into Israel for the last two years? and that Israel does not have a right to defend itself?

      November 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • davtbarb

      No surprise as to all of the anti-semitic idi@ts posting on this CNN story.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  9. tiredofchristinasjewsansmuslims

    First off, there is not one Arab nation that can defeat Israel, if they could, they would. Second Israel is nothing without western weapons. There are barely any true Jews in Israel. Third, even if Palestine is recreated, Muslims will continue killing.each other. There is no.unity among Muslims. Shia vs. Sunni, this sect vs. That sect.....come on people. Muslims can't take one.piece of criticism, though they openly preach hate towards other religion. The head imam if mecca, preaches daily against all religions!!! Islam was spread ny the sword...where as Hinduism and Buddhism spread without one person being killed....even spread to Arabia and Afghanistan. Muslims know.this. Jews act like they are owed for the holocaust, and they take it out on the Palestinians....all of you are a plague on this planet. All of you!

    November 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      worry about your self hindu's, lairs, Muslim know how to rule,

      November 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  10. WOW

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zo8y0BJJMNY

    Hamas dragging body through Gaza... wonder why the video was removed?

    November 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      hindu's, traitors deserve nothing better. Well done guys.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  11. R.U. Kidding

    Religion causes more problems that it solves.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Brandon

      It's great to see a country that still supports God. The U.S. and most other countries have ignored God and Christianity. I support and love God.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • vewashin

      No people do

      November 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  12. jean malloy

    ...Obvious to any one except an infidel or some one who stayed in bed instead of attending Sunday School.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  13. jerry

    This is all biblical. Israel will win.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      and bible is hinduism, absurdity of hindu's, lairs and hindu Jew's, criminal secular s and they will loose.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Jim Weix

      Or God might still be mad that the Jews murdered his Son

      November 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      Truth absolute GOD has no son, Christianity is hinduism, absurdity of hindu Jew's, filthy secular s.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • End Religion

      lol @ children fighting over their imaginary friends

      November 20, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  14. saganhill

    Of course it has a biblical name. Its a religious war. Fighting over each others imaginary friend. How stupid is that?

    November 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • R.U. Kidding

      I agree. It's almost as stupid as fighting over "holy" land. It's just dirt.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • End Religion

      unfortunately it is stupidity on a global scale

      November 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      They are not fighting over religious differences. Israel's intent is to make life not worth living in Gaza, so that Palestinian population there does not increase. That's why they use every excuse to pound Gaza with overwhelming firepower. Palestinians are simply desperate, no functioning economy, no serious leaders, no defense forces. That's perfect breeding ground for extremists like Hamas.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • I wonder

      I watched the original "Planet of the Apes" last night.

      Astronaut Taylor (2000 years in the future): "You Maniacs! You blew it up! Aaaaah, damn you!"

      November 20, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Fernando

      you are so wrong. and i am very sure that you have no faith at all, the truth is that they are fighting for lands. That will be allways one of the first reasons to go to war.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  15. Geoff

    "pillar of cloud" = Nuke
    The MIC and the NWO wanted to wait until after the election nuke gaza invade iran

    November 20, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Akira

      Which might have happened if Romney won.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  16. why

    oh this nonsense still? Get over it already. All this fighting in the name of religion. One day humanity will realize how backwards that is

    November 20, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • aMom

      If you are going to condemn "fighting in the name of religion" perhaps you should direct that toward the muslims who are hell bent on destroying Israel. The Isralies, by contrast, are defending themselves.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      @Amom, sure they are just defending themselves ever since occupying two-thirds of the land given to the Palestiinian state by the UNO in 1948, and making the life unlivable on the remaining third. What's really sad about Israel, is that it could be a real island of justice, democracy and humanitarian values in the region. Instead, it is Big Bully of the neighborhood, and a real drag on American foreign policy in the Middle East.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  17. dowlay

    in the bible God says to jews ill punish you 7 times where your sins but everyone else 1 time

    November 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  18. BDM

    The photo of the explosion cloud looks just like a goat's head... interesting imagery.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • PerryHair

      I think it looks like a puppy......

      November 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • End Religion

      I suppose you believe in reading chicken entrails as well? Seems like you'll find meaning in anything.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  19. Mary

    God bless the people of Israel! My prayers are with you. May the God of Israel bless you, keep you, strengthen you and fortify you as you battle such an irrational, evil and hateful foe. You have chosen the right name for your campaign and I pray that you set your faces as flint against your detractors, no matter WHO they are! The covenant that God made with you is unchangeable, and to see you standing on the promises of this covenant keeping God after so many centuries....so many attempts to wipe your memory from the face of the earth is remarkable! I am proud to be one of a great company of Believers in America praying for your defense, angelic protection and victory! Sound the shofar! Long live the Nation of Israel!!!

    November 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Bob

      Sorry Mary , Jews have broken their covenant with God many times and when they rejected Jesus, God had forsaken them. That is why they wandered aimlessley for 2000 years. During their wanderings of over 2000 years they have become even more arrogant, prejudiced against all other faiths and nations, and a bully. God does not protect such people. Sooner or later we will see a big "cloud" as no one and absolutely no one can challenge God who has made all mankind equal and all are his creatures.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • pastapharian

      lol @ Bob. Really? Is that what happened?

      November 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  20. Roy

    The Israeli government is delusional..period.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • DaveinCincy

      The Palenstanians once again brought this on....and Israel should shell them until they weed out the Hamas cowards firing rockets.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:13 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.