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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. Hamas Bumber Stickers

    I Read The Quran For The Hate
    I Heart MSNBC
    Have You Beheaded An Infidel Today?
    Shiite Happens
    Honk if you see an Israeli drone.
    My Son can blow up your Honor Student

    November 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Akira

      Shiite Happens, lol...

      November 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • ?

      What's a "Bumber"?

      November 20, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Done

      " And A Bumper Sticker that SAYs!!!!!: CAR ! BOMB ! brought to you by NEGATIVELAND

      November 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      Israel bumper sticker

      we kill Christians and Muslims,

      because we have been persecuted, we persecute you

      Killing is what Yahweh told us to do.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  2. hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

    pillar of cloud, gentile, ignorant slaves Christians have no power to destroy, Gaza, Mecca of Hamas, denier of truth absolute GAWD, not your GOD, skunks, their hindu, jew christian, believer, non believer, cross dresser sanatan, goon man god's, criminal secular s, your Hind hurts, ignorant, tell my why all alphabets start with "A" and not "Z", goons.

    November 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Hamas Bumber Stickers

      Dude what are you on? I want some! Nothing like getting stoned and leaving random comments on CNN!

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

      I love how you can never spell satan correctly. And what about cross dressers?? LOL

      November 20, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  3. Be honest

    religion s-u-c-k-s.. Nothing like dark age muslim and christians destroying society and holding man from evolving.

    November 20, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Hamas Bumber Stickers

      Ape boy, If the dinosaurs couldn't stop evolution neither will Christians and Muslims...

      November 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Rock

      Be honest

      I'm a Christian, how am I keeping you from evolving ?
      My great great grandfather was also a Christian. I don't think he kept me from evolving...

      November 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  4. smartman

    This will really rattle the churchies...

    The church in America saves roughly 71 billion dollars annually by being tax-exempt. Imagine how much food that could buy to feed the hungry, or how it could help those less fortunate. This might be acceptable if the church was actually encouraging strategies to reduce human suffering, irresponsible behavior that harms others, ending violence in our neighborhoods and other critical issues. Churches do not serve the common good; they propagate ancient supernatural mythology that brainwashes people into believing the unbelievable and impedes social and scientific progress.

    impedes social and scientific progress.

    impedes social and scientific progress.

    impedes social and scientific progress.

    remember this

    November 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Hamas Bumber Stickers

      Geepers, liberals and atheists have taken over our school systems and successfully kicked God out. But our education level compared to world levels continues to drop every year.

      The religion of Atheism makes you dumber...

      November 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Rock

      Mother Theresa belonged to a "church". Did she not do plenty in her lifetime to help the needy ?

      November 20, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Be honest

      time to treat religions as the businesses they really are,, tax their property too. End these leaches the rest of us have to carry.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Be honest

      mother theresa was a con artist.. 'become catholic and I'll feed you'...Cured from a nonexistent cancer as proven by doctors and the church called the witch a saintn claiming it was a miracle.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Anita Bongtoke

      Smart Man... they need the billions.. relocating pedophiles is big bucks.. and also the lawsuits and payouts... those funds need to come from some sheep some where...

      Mother Theresa? The one who at the end stopped praying and questioned the existance of God.. that Mother T?

      November 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Rock

      Be Honest

      does this "church" you speak of have a name ?

      November 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Be honest

      sure. Hint.. the worlds largest pedo protector with the highest % of pedos beating all other organization by volumes according to the FBI. In fact there is not even a single diocese across north America that didn't have many instances of pedo-philia

      November 20, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Rock

      Be honest

      I think you need to be more specific, I don't keep up on statistics.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Rock

      Anita

      I was unaware that Mother Theresa stopped praying and questioned God's existence at the end of her life. Do you have a factual reference I can look up regarding that ?

      November 20, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • sam

      You could google it...

      November 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  5. Hamas Bumber Stickers

    Stop the second Holocaust! Support Israel!

    November 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  6. Hamas Bumber Stickers

    #HamasBumperStickers:

    My dad blew himself up and all I got was a lousy t-shirt.
    Me Bomb You Long Time.
    My other car hasn’t detonated yet.
    I Stand Behind My Wife and Kids.
    If you can read this, you better not be a woman.
    caution this car may explode
    Human Bombers wanted. No experience necessary.

    And the best one:

    Obama/Biden 2012!

    November 20, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      it is not a nice thing to do make a fun of president or vice president of a country, whose support, militarily and financially, so critical to start and win the wars, treat our pres with some respect, goon.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  7. hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

    For all smart asses, goons, support actions of Israel, America in Gaza, illegality called "Pillar of Cloud" can you explain us why language of computer is based on 16, not less not more, Mr Hindus, Jews, Christians, atheists, ignorant, lovers and haters of science.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Hamas Bumber Stickers

      Cars and noisy trucks, religion camels, flying donkeys and hindu piggy dogs... Oooh this is funny, come on everyone, say random stuff with us!

      November 20, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  8. Richard

    NO NEED TO DESTORY BULIDING AND KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE, JUST TURN THE ELECTRICITY OFF BY FORCE, THE PEOPLE WILL INSIST ON A SETTLEMENT REAL QUICK

    November 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
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    Try our new sam Salad!

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    November 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  10. Corner Cafe

    William Demuth Vermouth Cocktail

    Wonderful for the holidays! Dry vermouth mixed with Bianco vermouth and a dash of orange bitters. Enjoy!

    November 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Nastrovia!

      How sales? Do the refugees from the war like your food?

      November 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  11. smart man

    H E Y A T H E I S T S !!!

    Hey atheists! How can we join forces to defeat this Gigantic Monster That Ruins Lives know as religion? I love the posts by all you sane folks out there. If we link up we would have more power than we do individually. True, there are more dumb folks than smart folks, but we gotta start now if we want truth and reason to rule in our lifetime.

    Remember there were days that witches on a flat earth owned slaves and those days are gone. Silly stuff does eventually go away. Thank you science.

    All I know to do is visit GodIsImaginary. com and read Dawkins and Harris.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Nah.

      Just kill a believer. If you don't get caught, kill another.

      That method works in the Middle East, so it should work here as well!

      Good Hunting

      November 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      There you go smart man. William Demuth is what you will end up with. Anyone who believes differently than him will get killed. You'll regret that what you saw as Christian intolerance was, in reality, your free expression of hatred. That's how much perspective has been lost on western man.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  12. Snow

    why do the blind faith folks have such deep infatuation with "death" and "in the end" things? You have a life that you are living now. Why isn't it enough to be happy, try make people around you happy and take care of your loved ones (friends and family)?

    Why do everything have to be evaluated based on what happens "after you die" and "in the end"? Do you want to be so selfish that you want to only lead a good life because you want to get something after you die? or do you want to lead a good life because it makes you and people around you happy?

    November 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Rock

      The Lord said " love thy neighbor". I don't see how that has anything to do with "death". Wouldn't caring for your neighbor and treating them well and with respect make them happy ?

      November 20, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Snow

      you mean an atheist does not love his neighbor? you mean you would not have loved your neighbor and started hacking at them if it was not for the book telling you to love your neighbor?

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

      I am not an atheist, so I do not know what one would do nor would I know what I would do, if I was an atheist. Taking care of your neighbor doesn't just mean not hurting them. It also means to go out of your way to help them when they need it. Shoveling the snow an elderly person's driveway when they become unable to, is a good example.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • lol

      good attempt at not answering the question rock.. "would you not have loved your neighbor and have started hacking at them if it was not for the book telling you to love your neighbor"?

      November 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      If the atheist was William Demuth the neighbor would be killed simply for saying "God loves you"

      November 20, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Rock

      I was also, waiting on an answer from Snow.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Snow

      The place I live has a good standing christian church member who does exactly what you said .. shovel snow from his driveway on to neighbor's .. He is respected in his church as a "good" christian, despite everyone knowing this and multiple complaints from the elderly couple to the HOA..

      But I don't..

      your turn now.. answer the question

      November 20, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • sam

      Yeah if it wasn't for the bible, my parents never would have known how to teach me right from wrong! I'd be messing shit up all over the place, killing the neighbors, screwing their dog, the works!

      November 20, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  13. William Demuth

    Perhaps God just needs more human blood?

    A Blood Thirsty God explains it all

    November 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  14. eddie russo

    Hey James, Canada or Mexico would fire rokets if we take their land.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Actually, they did

      We killed alot of them and they stopped.

      Perhaps the Jews need to kill more Muslims?

      Its a billion Muslims and six million Jews.

      I struggle to imagine ANY long tern way where the six million win.

      Nukes have bought the Jews some time, but it is either peace or death.

      Only two real paths to follow when a BILLION people want you dead.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  15. Cam

    Religious Nuts see below:

    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 4:34 pm |
    • li'lbutte

      thankyou, my sentiments exactly...

      November 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • JusticeIsNonexistent

      Hamas started this conflict. Since you're not interested in reading God's word, could you at least attempt a news paper?

      November 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Cam

      Oh, really? lets look at the death count since the cease fire in 2009.... Israel: 23 Gaza: 314 (source: wiki article). Israel broke the cease fire put together by Egypt in Nov 2008 by bombing a tunnel used to bring arms to Gaza (Since Israel locked all imports into Gaza) and killed a man. This was followed by riots in Gaza and an eventual firing of rockets into Israel.

      When one sided like you are just makes you come across as ignorant. Like most religious people.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Done

      " ON a long enough timeline, the survivability rate for a human is zero." Zero is the magic number. The point by which INflationary Cosmology is possible, the only thing that can be before, is , in the words of Wheeler "Quantum Foam".

      November 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  16. Reasonably

    How about Operation Pillar of Salt? Or Lamb's Blood? I know, I know...Operation stopshootingrocketsintoisraelandisraelwon'tbombyou?

    November 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • William Demuth

      How about

      Operation Evacuatethesix.5millionjewstoBrooklynbeforetheonebillionmuslimsoverrunthemandusethemascamelfood!

      November 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  17. Amber Star

    I wax and bleach my vagina and tush. That's what you should be fighting over boys.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • sam

      I have a feeling there's not quite enough bleach in the world to make you safe to go near.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Amber Star

      Sweet talker....

      November 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • filthy hindu anus ism

      “Operation Bleach my Anus”, Ya, it was long before "wax my balls", metro sexual, is nothing more than a bi-sexual to find shoes with no socks of a sweater wrapped on shoulders, according to GQ teachings, GQ was taught "wax my balls" to 1000th generation of metro sexual men after Adam and Eve liked to swing in bible, straight men can’t bleach anus, wax all they want, they can never keep stubble perfect real meaning of "wax my balls", because nice bleached anus, smooth absolute anus, creator of polo and pressed blue jeans, kept it smooth and clean

      November 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Done

      It's a Dude, SAm.

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

      It's a trap! LOL

      November 20, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • freddy

      damn amber you are right ill figt for that

      November 20, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  18. 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 4:29 pm |
    • Snow

      Well put, cam. My exact sentiments

      November 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      The Torah, or Old Testament to Christians, is closer to 4,000 years old.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  19. Rock

    Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they say nor understand Your Word...

    November 20, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Cam

      forgive this guy easter bunny for he doesn't understand that you need more eggs to build you heavenly fortress with!

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

      Yet are willing to kill in the name of what they don't understand. Hooray.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Malarcky

      We know your cult and it's silly books better than you do.

      Silly Christian, Gods are for fools.

      November 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  20. pherz

    meep meep.. sounds like a story from Chuck Jone's Roadrunner!

    November 20, 2012 at 4:27 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.