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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. smart man

    Love it when Christards start quoting the BUY BULL.

    Like saying John 3:16 -2b. v32-76 G9. service pack III means anything.

    Luke 345:12s.vvc v2

    Sam 312-gy5.38f

    Cletus 296-3:13 m56

    I could quote Star Wars, but Darth Vadar isn't gonna show up.

    I find myself always wanting to say "HIKE!" when they rattle off those official sounding numbers.

    Like a quarteback, "John 3, 16, blue, 2, 6, hut hut hut Hike! Try it. Good fun.

    lol

    November 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Done

      I'll Never JOin yOU!

      November 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  2. Joe from the Occupied USA

    Is this a serious article? Its amazing what kind of garbage you are spewing

    November 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  3. Jeff

    For all of my Christian brothers and sisters on here...stop with the arguing on a blog like this! These people that deny God will continue to do so and there is nothing we can do about it. You've said your piece...let that be the end of it. Take solace in this:

    Romans 14: 10-12
    10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

    “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me;every tongue will acknowledge God.'"

    12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

    ...that is the promise...let the blind stay blind if that is their choice.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Cam

      "Silly Tilly and the Easter Bunny (pg 2)" >>>The Easter Bunny exists.

      Following your logical reasoning. The Easter bunny exists. Get you dye and eggs out or your going to hell!!!!!!!!

      November 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • sam

      Thanks Jeff, that in NO way sounds like "Never mind, fellow special chosen people! These heathens will get it in the end!"

      November 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Jeff

      Sam...there have been many to share with you the good news. In the end though, you must choose. If you feel as though I am excluding you, remember, you are the one that has made your decision. If these verses convict you, I suggest you explore that more...on your own terms. You don't need me to explain it...

      Nothing brings me greater joy that to see someone accept Christ! I will be praying for you that you find the answers you seek.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Cam

      Shame, All-knowing-Jeff has no answers for my logic. Most likely because logic evades him. Hey Jeff, I am praying....annnnnd nothing happened.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Jeff

      Cam...that book that you're referencing...where can I pick it up?

      I don't mind reading your book...you should pick up the one I recommend though too...remember to give it the same validation you would the works of Homer as set forth by your own guidelines.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Cam

      first book that popped up when i typed in easter bunny on google

      I've read that book most likely more times than you. Grew up catholic. went to catholic school my whole educational career. Was in campus ministry for 3 years.

      I've had a look at both sides... believe me

      November 20, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Jeff

      Cam...you're correct that many that reference the bible have no idea what it says. Blind faith. To me, that is indefensible. You may have read the bible more than I have...don't know. I can assure you though, I have read it as well.

      I also grew up Catholic...and ran like hell when I had the chance! Here's the thing though...the more I read, the more I listened, the more God became apparent to me. I was 27 when I finally accepted Christ...it was a long, long journey!

      I don't disrespect you for believing the way that you do...please extend that same courtesy to me...

      November 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Cam

      Fair enough, Jeff. You seem like the most mild mannered Catholic on here! I, on the other hand, am trying to create awareness by being blunt, and yes, sometimes very rude. I apologize if I offended you.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Jeff

      Cam...recovering Catholic! I'm the most feared/hated man alive today...a white, evangelical male! LOL!

      You did not offend me, but I appreciate the apology just the same. Truth be told, there are a lot of "Christians" that deserve to be spoken to the way you and your atheist compatriots on this blog are speaking to them.

      My stance will always be one that says to each his own. I do have my opinions and beliefs and they will continue to govern my life. That said, God is clear...love thy neighbor. He never said to reserve that love only for those that believe the same as I do.

      God bless! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

      November 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Cam

      Funny how religion fosters that gang mentality that "if you aren't with us, you are against us". I guess funny is the wrong word... alarming? maybe.

      Anyways, agree with you entirely. Each to his own. Unfortunately, in this day and age, "my own" is met with hostility. Hopefully that changes. For the sake of all of us.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Ruben L

      Genesis 12:1-3 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      November 20, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  4. smart man

    GOOD NEWS!!!

    It is a good sign for atheism when we see so many hostile believers. It bugs them that they are wrong and we are right. There would be no reason to be upset with atheists if we were wrong. They would just laugh it off. The fact that they get so upset is a direct indication of how we get under their skin. The degree by which absurd ideas are defended is a direct reflection of the degree of absurdity of the notion. That is, folks fight harder the more lame their belief.

    Religions are all doomed. That's a fact. Just ask the worshipers of King Tut. The question is, will the current religions be replaced with reason or some other belief even more absurd that these.

    Remember, science wins every battle. Even with believers. Just see where they head the next time the need medical attention. ..a hospital or a church.

    Reason always wins.

    Game over.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Cam

      YES! agreed see my post below. Non-Secular seems to ruffle less feathers btw when trying to have a rational convo (hard to do) with someone religious. If you mention that your are atheist they just start praying to god to wipe you off the face of the planet instead of listening to reason.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I wish I could share your optimism, but absurdity has always appealed to the human animal, and it seems to be the rule du jour in extremely close-up views of reality (quantum mechanics, singularities, et al.)

      November 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Anita Bongtoke

      Smart Man..

      When we destroy ourselves fighting over which imaginary friend is better than the next there will be another religion to take its place.

      I can see in the future someone stubbling on some old tattered Superman Comics and think.....

      Hmmmmm, he came from another planet, he had super powers, he fought against evil, he could fly, bend steel, stop bullets, and on and on...

      thus

      Kentianity will be born... who wants to join my church to be ahead of the curve? I am accepting membership now.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Cam

      Can we make lots of money off it? Ok, I am in. – Pope

      November 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • ThatOneGuy

      I don't think it has to do with the religious getting upset that atheists believe that no god exists. I think the believers get upset that certain atheist make snarky comments and insult them for believing something different.

      That said, I've seen some believers do the same thing to atheists. Most believers who have deep personal convictions about their faith aren't phased by anyone else not believing the same thing they do. They get irked when someone has the audacity to ridicule their beliefs...the same way atheists get irked when believers ridicule their beliefs.

      I think the answer to this is simple. Stop ridiculing other people's belief systems and learn to just be nice to each other.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Anita Bongtoke

      Cam.. money and power.. we may even wear 1000 dollar shoes and dresses and funny hats!!

      You can be Pope.. I would like a position above Pope.. you know, since its my idea and all...

      no disrespect.. no worries though, you will have your share of wealth.. I allow marriage too!!

      November 20, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Cam

      ThatOneGuy,

      You act like the atheists are the ones doing the persecuting. When religious people out number atheists 100-1, it's hard to understand your claim that atheist are out there starting this fight. All we are doing is standing up for something we believe, rather don't believe.

      I think the difference between secular and non-secular people is that non-secular people have a much higher burden of proof. I am sorry that a invisible god and a book written by those 2000 years our prior does not appeal to us.

      Here is the normal accusation from each side: Religious people: You will burn in hell Non-Secular: I simply do not believe in that story. It has no proof.

      Now, which argument would you suggest is more threatening/offensive?

      November 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • ThatOneGuy

      @Cam,

      I think you missed one key sentence. I said, "That said, I've seen some believers do the same thing to atheists." I agree, that believers do outnumber the atheists, so to those it must feel incredibly oppressive and I can absolutely understand the desire to lash back at those who are doing the oppressing.

      What I am saying is, BOTH sides need to knock it off. If Atheists believe the believers to be unintelligent people believing in a myth? Then why spend the time and energy yelling at them and ridiculing them? I wouldn't spend the time screaming at someone if they believed in Zeus or any other mythological being. It's not worth my time.

      As for believers, they need to quit with the whole "You're going to hell" thing. They don't know that and it's just inflammatory and unnecessary. And it doesn't help their cause, in fact, it's more likely to push people away.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Ruben L

      Well? I never heard anyone yell out"Oh doctor" when ever they were in a life or death situation! Seems to me that the majority of the time they cry out "Oh GOD! Please help me!"

      November 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  5. hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

    Word hindu is based on Latin word hindered, negative, Hun, great, Han, to be in greatness, hind, negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativity, hinduism, way of negativity. To learn more about hinduism, please visit limitisthetruth.com

    November 20, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Cam

      I bet you don't get a lot of visits #NutBag

      November 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • ThatOneGuy

      @Cam,

      Doesn't this guy seem like he has Tourette's syndrome? Just a bunch of words, thrown together in no particular order. I can just imagine this guy sitting at a bus stop yelling, "HINDU! CENTER! FILTH! BLARG!"

      November 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  6. ReigionIsBS

    Who else thinks that "Hindu's are Jew Atheists blah blah blah" guy is hilarious? Give me some mo!

    November 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • sam

      He's pretty riled up today.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  7. Hm!

    I came in to read some comments on faith articles.... It looks all that's left here are some shoddy written, bias articles and the types that end up commenting here show lack of ability to understand anything. Even the few people with some depth of understanding who used to regular commented here are rare visitors these days. Well, let the clowns run the show, who cares!

    November 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Ruben L

      Hamas has been given a time ultimatum already! If they don't comply,the will be invaded! Simple as that! What part of that is difficult to understand!

      November 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Hm!

      Hey, Ruben!
      Buddy, I'm with you – all the way!

      November 21, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  8. Cam

    In support of all non-secular individuals on this board:

    Yes, we may come across as threatening, spitting all these facts and logical reasoning in your direction. But you have to understand where we are coming from. Everyday we hear about killings in the name of God. We read history books, telling us about the horrors brought on by those who looked to gain power though the word of god (Middle ages, Crusades, every conflict in the Middle East today). Seemingly everyday we have someone telling us that we are "going to burn in hell" or "won't be accepted by god". So excuse me if we come across as rude on this board.... We are just repaying the favor.

    As for this article. Guess who started this conflict? Hint: It was people that believing how you believe. Who take the word of a 2000 year old book literally and apply it to everyday life in 2012. Your burden of proof when i comes to dealing with the bible is almost ZERO. So I am sorry if some of us that try and apply reason to our everyday lives are frustrated by those who don't.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  9. Justin

    could all the rabid atheists please please please just stfu? we get it. you don't believe in god. you're so special and smart.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • sam

      And let the fundies run rampant? No way.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Anita Bongtoke

      Yes of course and let the Christian Taliban run free...

      November 20, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  10. Norm

    From what I'm gathering from the Thumper comments here....God created this world and everything on it so He would have someone to punish for one reason or another.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Anita Bongtoke

      Of course God creates everything.. from Hurricane Sandy, to Katrina, to the tornados that ripped the middle of our country, to starvation in Africa, to cancer and aids.. its all his work...

      He has the Jews as his chosen people but allowed the Holocaust to occur...

      He lets innocent people in Iraq get their brains blown to bits......

      He takes his hand and magically steers the pass from Tim Tebow into the arms of a reciever for a game winning TD... well last year anyway.. this year I think Timmy may not be praying, or God is not listening.....

      prayer, like cronic gambling.. no one wants to talk about their losses.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  11. bibi

    every raligion is a toxin for humanity ,and this what I read here is gówno

    November 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  12. Jesus

    If god is a fairy tale, a hoax , and Christians are delusional then how come every single day I hop on cnn of Fox News that's all they talk about? They constantly attack a god they don't believe in so who's delusional? How come cnn does not talk about Santa clause everyday or the Easter bunny if god and Santa are in the same boat? Well I think because they know that debating about god is a million times more rational. Givin the fact that we have the bible as evidence and no one can discredit the text because every attempt you make fails.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Norm

      Shhhhh....we don't attack Santa and the Easter bunny because we might not get candy and presents.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • ReigionIsBS

      Hey dum dum,
      Most adults done beleive in Santa, thats why. Also, the bible isnt your evidence, its your claim. Wow, stupidity is strong in this one.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Akira

      Fox isn't news, it's entertainment....every SMART person knows that...

      November 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  13. J

    Why are israel bombing normal buildings?

    Everyone knows lunatic islamic insect's HQ is the mosque!

    It's an established FACT

    November 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      by a hindu Jew, criminal lair.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Ruben L

      Why is the Hamas bombing civilian neighborhoods? Israel did not launch an attack as was such stated above! They launched a defensive after decades of being attacked upon!

      November 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  14. smart man

    Anita Bongtoke and GOD PUNCHER

    Marry me! I love it when I find other sane humans on this rock! Religion is doomed if we stick together. Just imagine what the world COULD be.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      i'll join. i'm fun and a good dancer.

      some day, churches will be known as "bastions of ignorance."

      November 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      hindu ism, corruption of truth absolute religions were not created to unite humanity but divide humanity by hindu Jew's, criminal self centered, desire of truth absolute GOD to hind, fool humanity in to gentile ism, slavery of another man.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  15. Bootyfunk

    if it was related to the bible, it would be called "Operation: Time For God To Kill Again". god drowned all but one family in his great flood. that means he drowned babies. read that again: BABIES. only a monster could fill a child's lungs with water and call it divine justice. god is disgusting - which is why it seems extremely appropriate to give war operations biblical names.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  16. smart man

    That part of the world is only morbid entertainment for us. Reports of fighting and death from there are meaningless. We just don't care. They only know fighting and will never change until carpet bombing all of them happens. Until then, we sane folks will marvel at the absurd things religion does to humanity. I wonder how far Christianity is from doing the same thing? More likely, the world will end from fighting over who's imaginary friend is the most powerful. Religion is both infantile and dangerous. GodIsImaginary. com

    November 20, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  17. Donald Winkler

    CNN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU ???? IF THESE RADICALS EVER DO TAKE OVER YOU WILL BE THE FIRST ONES TO BE SILENCED. TAKE YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE SAND ! ISRAEL IS RIGHT..... ETERNITY IS A VERY LONG TIME.

    November 20, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Anita Bongtoke

      Donnie... please check your closet and under your bed before retiring for the evening.. their are MUSLIMS everywhere ready to kill you....

      But it could be becuase our policy of murdering them oh lets say in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan... the list goes on... just who is radical?

      Iraq, based on lies, families seeing their loved one brians plastered on walls in their homes, due to well, Bush and his NEW CRUSADE, where he got His calling from a HIGHER FATHER......

      Bush is Xtian right?

      November 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  18. God Puncher

    BOW, YIELD, KNEEL!
    ALL TREMBLE BEFOE MY MIGHT!
    (although I admit I have done nothing since people became smarter and asked the question, "Why?" But never mind that for now.)
    All PRAISE ME FOR I AM THE ONE THE ONLY SUPER-BEING OVERLORD!
    NO NOT ZEUS.
    NO NOT CERES.
    NO NOT RA EITHER.
    I AM THE ONE TRUE GOD.
    NOW, GET BACK TO PRAISING ME WITH STATUES, BUILDINGS!
    (and by the way don't use that evil thing called science to try and find an answer to some of those old stories, they happened, they were written down ina book so they are true.
    BOW, YIELD, KNEEL!

    November 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Anita Bongtoke

      Are you Horus or Inubus? I know Apollo...

      All Gods of the past have been packed away nicely in the dustbins labeled Mythology. One day these religions will have a similiar fate.

      I have faith in that.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  19. Anita Bongtoke

    Decades long brutal military occupation, imprisoning an entire populace with heavy sanctions and brutal military strikes on the population.... No I cant see why any Palestinian would fight for freedom...

    Arent we spreading freedom and democracy around the globe? How about we tell Israel stop the occupation, stop the expansion of settlements and cut off aid to them..

    Many are sick of their acts as well.

    November 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      hindu gentile, ignorant slaves Christians have no power to disobey their hindu sanatan, goon man god's hindu Jew's, criminal secular s.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  20. QS

    Yes, because that should be the focal point of this story....that the name of the operation has just as irrelevant and obsolete religious undertones as the crisis itself!

    November 20, 2012 at 3:51 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.