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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. History Quiz

    What were the Jews when they landed in Palestine after World War II?
    a. Invaders
    b. Colonists
    c. Terrorists
    d. Tourists

    November 20, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Brian

      Using the same question, replace "jews" with "europeans" and "palestine" with "north america". Stones and glass houses dont mix, my friend.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Lucky

      E. Homeowners (They just returned home)

      November 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • karek40

      e. Returning to their homeland from exile.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • History Quiz

      You silly Europeans do love to take

      November 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  2. Ray

    It's really a shame that Gilgoff gives any credance to online responses... but maybe I'm just missing the days when news writers were qualified journalists.

    One has to wonder how Americans would repond if people on the other side of the border started firing hundreds of missles into OUR cities. Israel has a right to defend itself... particularly from these provocative types of radical dirtbags. I think it's time to relocate these folks out of Gaza. Put them all in one place and let Israel make Gaza worthwhile again.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • hoser

      I suggest Alcatraz...the indians didn't seem to mind it

      November 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  3. Scholar

    This belief column looks more like Fox News every day, stretching to create relevance and more column-inches for itself, manufacturing articles that are not news and that are not relevant to news.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  4. Apple Bush

    God has been trying to kill these idiots for thousands of years but they are like cockroaches.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  5. Bible Clown©

    " Netanyahu is a bully. Bullies are known to pick on people much smaller. " Er, you DO understand that Israel is surrounded by countries who have declared war on it in the past? That its existence is our fault, and "it seemed like a good idea in the Forties" doesn't help us now? And that they have the world's scariest military and secret service because they are about two hours from being invaded and destroyed on any given day? I wouldn't want to be them in a VIDEO GAME, never mind reality.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  6. mike

    BOY I SURE LIKE TO SEE THE LOOK ON THE FACES OF THESE RELIGIOUS NUTZ ON BOTH SIDE ,WHEN THEY WAKE UP DEAD AND THERE AINT NO BODY WAITIN FOR UM! HA HA HA HA !

    November 20, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • are122

      How do you know?

      November 20, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Brian

      And they cant wait to see the look on YOUR face if there is.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • me111

      Wake up dead? So in your ethos there is an afterlife, but you are just lonely there? Is it like a bad video game?

      If they wake up, then they're probably right. If not, they won't wake up at all...

      November 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Franco

      The mystery of life.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  7. ba

    Can we please establish "separation of church and media"? The articles are awful.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Rich

      Ok, let's abolish freedom of speech too.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Brian

      Rich gets my vote for the "out of left field" response of the day.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • iWhatever

      and yet you still read them.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  8. Culpepper

    Let's round up all the leaders of Israel & Palestine and drop them off unarmed in downtown Detroit for an evening, the group that makes it through the night wins ! They would discover the need to get along and join forces in 15 minutes

    November 20, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • OccupyEverything

      Warriors come out an playyyyyy.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      Gotta keep 'em separated.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  9. Norm

    Israel showed its ugly face again by mass murdering women and children and assassinating leaders. And they call their murderous action "Divine Inspiration". No wonder they are hated by most of the world.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • petemg

      And what about the Muslims who send their young children into suicide bombings and call it the name of religion.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      "No wonder they are hated by most of the world." Actually, they aren't. Their enemies could just stop shooting at them and there would be peace, except Israel would never trust them.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • iWhatever

      another uninformed troll just trying to cause a stir.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Dany C

      Wouldn't it be easier if the Hamas fighters would stop hiding behind women and children after they launch another missiles? Hamas is sacrificing the Palestinian people in order to get pity for their pitiful cause.. and people are buying it. No matter how this ends up, it's always the innocent that pay the highest price. Get rid of the cancer that is Hamas so the Palestinian people can be left alone!

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

      kinda sound like the early settlers in the America's get rid of all the natives hell they don't even believe in god

      November 20, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  10. sybaris

    The U.S. should really disengage itself from this dance of death with Israel. Fundamentalist christians have done well to align the U.S. with Israel and perpetuate their religious fantasy of being the big brother to their gods "chosen" people. However, if they want to defend Israel then by all means, go do it but don't drag the rest of us down with your stupid religious based motivations.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  11. SkyCakeWorshipper

    *SMH* "Oh Sky Cake! Why are you so delicious!?" – Patton Oswalt

    November 20, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  12. Please Read with Open Mind..

    God in Quran says, (holy Islamic scripture)

    “Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    ‘They said, "You have to be Jewish or Christian, to be guided." Say, "We follow the religion of Abraham – monotheism – he never was an idol worshiper." [2:135]

    God will say, "O Jesus, son of Mary did you say to the people, `Make me and my mother idols beside God?' " He will say, "Be You glorified. I could not utter what was not right. Had I said it, You already would have known it. You know my thoughts, and I do not know Your thoughts. You know all the secrets.[5:116]

    The Messiah, son of Mary is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint. Both of them used to eat the food. Note how we explain the revelations for them, and note how they still deviate! [5:75]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    When My servants ask you about Me, I am always near. I answer their prayers when they pray to Me. The people shall respond to Me and believe in Me, in order to be guided. Quran [2:186]

    'Say, "We believe in God, and in what was sent down to us, and in what was sent down to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them. To Him alone we are submitters." [2:136]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to clear your misconception by going to whyIslam org website.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • OccupyEverything

      All of it is a bunch of hooey. Just like the Bible. The quicker we move past these bronze age myths, the better.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Roscoe Chait

      Your post is about as clear as a Dust Bowl dirt storm on a very bad day.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • The Prof

      How do you want me read and believe what an illitrate dictated down for your reading, all the same take time to read the bible and you will discover that the so call book you are quoting from is an extraction and modification of some part of the bible with some fairy tale addition that can only be found in the Arabian nite entertainment tales.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      Sounds just like the Bible to me, and not very convincing. Let's see you bring someone back from the dead, or walk on water. Until then, you can wait over there with the Elvis-worshipers and Wiccans.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • sosimplyput

      While your post is interesting, it is devoid of the message of God through His son Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the comforter that Jesus left his followers, and that message is forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ as Lord. We were grafted into the vine through the Son of God, and our faith has been declared. Since your god is not strong enough to have a son, who is he? The lord God Jehovah has a son named Jesus, and we declare him unto you.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • lionlylamb

      The christian word of truth being the gospels of which are now many to be had can no more be held up in agonies righteousness sakes. To the christians; "The troubles with unfaithful trinitarians, those who belly-up to one god times three is, they read but only into it and get very little out of what they make 'go-spel-lingly' in amplifications of unblessed pleasings by the manly sons of God. Their rudimentary and timid preaching in devilish tongues beatifies only the dumb-hearted relics, the aged heartburns of their christiandumbness's idiosyncratic marmoset-like redundancies. Their godly embittered moralisms are but self-centered and selfishly censored upon redundant principles that are remorsefully archaic in round-about cultured replicants behooving those old fuddy duddies who fumble ever for their next glass worth of wine! Drunk and in temperamental stupors are the religiously and emotionally fallen within christiandumbs folds becoming sciatic pragmatisms unworthy of even one toasting for, but rather against!"

      November 20, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Nope

      It has been the devils plan always to disattribute Jesus of his divinity – and what better way to do it by saying God himself said it. The devils subttleness has always been his best tactic to question the truth. Jesus is a prophet because He spoke the Father's message, but not just that – He is the image of the Invisible God made flesh, born of a virgin, crucified dead and buried and resurrected by Gods Spirit on the 3rd day. There is no other way to heaven than through faith in Him as our Lord and Saviour who took our sins upon Himself on the cross. Read from the prophet Isaiah which I believe is in the Quaran, there he speaks of the crucified saviour thousands of years before his birth.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • lionlylamb

      In retrospect, Godless bemoans and bewails the ungodly. For these are the choices from which commonwealth atheists do make felt upon their retrospective and habitual senses denying the goodly upon ever moving towards the ways of godly intent. Many young-bucks of godlessness and the ungodliness sensually tenders to avail themselves with the nailed doldrums' sciatica.They do abound with much societal unpleasantries toward the abaters of commonly wanton deniabilities against them. Ungodly and godless beings of smirked violaters of randomized intention-abilities are meant only as austerities of servile subversions. Their subversive deniabilities are not without compromising or so they do entail and also do weave upon the where-with-all of seasoned laments.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Andrew

      Your definition of God is incorrect. God is Light, and in Him there is NO darkness at all. God cannot accept ANY sin in his presence, therefore no sinful man will receive forgiveness unless he has a covering for his sin. No sinful works are covered up by trying really hard to be as good as you can, by following your own interpretation of God's law, and they are DEFINITELY not forgiven for blowing up yourself or others. All our works are like dirty rags to the truly pure God. Any definition of God is incorrect if it winks at sin. The Old Testament foreshadowed that the blood of a spotless Lamb is the only thing that can forgive sins. Jesus is the Lamb of God. He is the Son of the only, true and living God. His name is Yahweh (also pronounced Jehovah), his Son is Jesus. He said through the burning bush, "I am that I am." Through him only is the forgiveness of sins.

      Allah is not his name. That is like saying God's name is God. It is a circular definition. His proper name is Jesus. He died for me and for you, and he wants to know you by name. He wants to forgive your sins and he wants you to know the security and surety that can only be found in forgiveness through his name and in Him.

      There is no secret here. God wants to know you and He wants to be known by you. He is not far off and distant, but he is here and now by his Spirit. The very word of faith is in your mouth and in your heart. You need only to believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins and proclaim with your lips that Jesus is Lord and you will be saved.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • karek40

      Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]

      This is an absolute contradiction of the christian bible where God says in the old testament he would provide the a promised messiah and of his kingdom there would be no end and the new testament this promise became flesh.

      The conclusion one must reach since they are mutually exclusive is both cannot be true, one is false the other true. The result of that conclusion is one worships God in truth the other worships falsely. There were many appearances of angels recorded by the various writers of the Christian bible ( and they all agree), only one appearance to the alleged prophet who wrote the quran which has many contradictions. The angel that visited the writer of the Quran was likely THE fallen angel and the enemy of God. None of the angelic visits in the Christian bible made the prophets sick the one visiting the false prophet made him deathly ill. Interesting!

      November 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  13. Tracy W

    “If the Palestinians decided to lay down their guns, there would be peace tomorrow. If the Israelis decided to lay down their guns, there would be genocide tomorrow.” – Alan Dershowitz Harvard Professor

    November 20, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  14. Bible Clown©

    Seriously, get a grip, they named it something. What exactly is the argument?

    November 20, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  15. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I wonder when was the last time the Muslim/Arab world has ever sat down and have a serious talk with the Palestinians about peace??? Seems like the only thing they discuss with Palestine is how many new rockets they need to attack Israel. The sad thing about this conflict is that the Palestinians will continue to suffer more civilian casualties as long as they continue to launch rockets at Israel. You play with fire, you'll get burn every time. Does anybody know for certain when was the last time the Arab league actually held a general meeting with the Palestinians to talk about a home land and prospects for peace with Israel without being directed by the united Nations to do so??? I'll really like to know!

    November 20, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  16. Culpepper

    because God is bi-polar

    November 20, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Benoni

      culpepper you've got issues

      November 20, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Darla

      Guess you would know best.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  17. justme

    Matt.21:42,43; Matt.23:37,38; the jews are relevant no more. only if they turn to Jehovah in the name of Jesus and repent. They could have been contenders but are now just pretenders to the throne. They had their chance and just would not obey their heavenly father. Too bad too bad, Matt.7:21-23.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • JD

      Maybe, God did make a covenant with Abraham, and a Mosiac Covenant. He is always faithful to his word regardless of the faithfullness of his people. Jews are still Jews they cannot undo their heritage. Gods promises are still in effect.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • OccupyEverything

      Peas porridge hot,
      Peas porridge cold,
      Peas porridge in a pot,
      Nine days old. (Mother Goose 1:23)

      November 20, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • justme

      the promises made to the jews were conditioned. they had to obey their creator they did not live up to their promise and then killed their Messiah and lost out. God has given them many chances and if you think they can continue to reject him and his laws you have not read all of the contract. read the scriptures i cited and get a little insight. they are not his chosen anymore. Galatians 3:23-29 explains what being Abraham's seed means today. please read.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  18. tony

    $10 Billion a year in arms support from the US, plus an open check whenever they start another conflict. And the US preventing any other ME .nation from being equally armed.

    I could dominate the ME on my own on that budget. Who needs a an imaginary god as well?

    November 20, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • paco128

      GOD is not imaginary to those of us with true faith

      November 20, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      "GOD is not imaginary to those of us with true faith" Neither is Huckleberry Finn. I can see him as clear as day. It's in a book, you know.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Huck Finn

      I'm real, but I'm not so sure about the rest of you fictional characters. I'm lightin' out for the Territories.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Jack Sawyer

      We're as real as you are, right here and now, and I'm lightin' out for those Territories myself. Get the raft ready.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  19. JustSayin55

    After the IDF tweeted that Hamas leadership should not show their heads above ground for the next several days, I think they should have called it operation "Wack-A-Mole"

    November 20, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      Right about then was when Hamas suddenly decided they didn't want to fight a ground war against Israel. After all, the Israelis cannot retreat because they are surrounded. Never fight someone who has their back to the wall.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  20. tony

    $10 Billion a year in arms support from the US, plus an open check whenever they start another conflict. And the US preventing any other ME .nation from being equally armed.

    I could dominate the ME on my own on that budget.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Chuk

      Totally agree with you. It's not a fair fight! Netanyahu is a bully. Bullies are known to pick on people much smaller. They should pick bigger fights and do so without relying on the US. That'd be impressive. But won't happen. If they bark enough and start another war, the US would be their to fight for them so why worry?

      November 20, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • James

      Netanyahu is a bully? I'd like to remind everyone that rockets were being fired regularly into Israel from Gaza. I would love to see how much uproar we would have if Canada or Mexico began launching rockets into the U.S. to harm our people. We would and they do reserve the right to defend their people. War is going to be messy, no doubt about it. But I would hope that our military would do the same for us if we were in their situation. You have to move the battle into their land to protect your people. I am so sick of hearing about how Israel needs to stop firing, when the terrorist group is firing upon their people. Do the Israelis not have a right to live peacefully as well?!

      November 20, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • The Prof

      I don't know why we don't get it! Hamas has been throwing unprovoked rockets into Isareal for a long time and no noise was made, When trouble sleeps and Hamas go wake am!

      November 20, 2012 at 11:46 am |
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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.