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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
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(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. angel

    I'm sure Scalia is pro war-and wars kill the innocent along with the guilty,even innocent fetuses and children,and Jesus says if you do it to the little children you do it to me.The Bible says thou shall not kill,and the word kill translated means murder,killing the innocent–which Media refers to as civilians,and which is the nature of wars,and which includes innocent fetuses and children–to God would be murder.God told Abraham,He doesn't kill the innocent along with the guilty,which is the nature of wars,and the Bible says God doesn't kill the innocent,not even by mistake,as men do in wars,God doesn't make mistakes,men do.

    December 11, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  2. NoSlack2327

    there is nothing in the Bible which justifies the wounding and killing of innocent civilians. Shame on the IDF and the state of Israel.

    December 10, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  3. angel

    Jesus says,my Kingdom is not of this world-it's money and the love of money,which the Bible says is the root of all evil,that runs this world's main engine,and not God,as far as men are concerned.The Bible says,riches are a snare,a trap.And Jesus says, it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,than for a rich man to enter heaven.When you die you take none of it with you,and you can't buy your way into God's Kingdom.God Created,and owns all the resources of the earth that all the money is based upon,and Satan steals it from God to tempt man with.

    December 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  4. angel

    The Bible says,Israel is God's chosen,true,but God also chooses other people all over the world,the Bible says God is no respecter of persons,and the Bible says not everyone who calls himself a Jew,is a Jew.

    December 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  5. angel

    It's hypocritical to practice wars and be anti abortion,wars also kill innocent fetuses,even by mistake,and this isn't of God,He doesn't make mistakes,or kill the innocent.And so Isaiah 2:4,God will beat swords to plows,and man will learn war no more.

    December 7, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  6. angel

    The Bible says violence begets violence,so people suffer as victims of violence,and those who commit violence are at fault,not the victims.Those who commit violence are teaching violence as an expression,and as a solution to problems,so because violence begets violence as the Bible says,those who commit violence are even worst than most believe or understand.This is why the violence of wars don't make the world safer,but less safe.We have to vote out these politicians who believe wars and their violence solve problems,especi­aly politicians who believe the violence of wars are Holy,as many do,here and abroad.We can at least set a good example here,for the rest of the world to follow.The more we come to the aid of peoples in countries that commit the violence of wars,with our own violence of wars,the more we will teach the violence of wars as a solution,and as an expression,beca­use the Bible says violence begets violence,and wars are violence. You would think that politicians and others who claim belief in God and the Bible would know this,but they don't. Believe and follow thIs Bible teaching,and there's no Hitler,who claimed to be a Christian,and no Word War Two.

    December 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  7. angel

    Politicians use people's belief in God even influencing religious leaders,to get elected,and say all life is precious and sacred to God,but then support and fight wars,but in wars life is expendable,not precious and sacred,as it is to God. So this is even more reason not to trust politicians,but trust in God who says all life is precious and sacred,meaning one single life is as valuable as many,not expendable.Wars are not of God.

    December 7, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  8. angel

    Jesus Christ died on the Cross out of love for all mankind,and Jesus says love fulfils all God's Commandments,and Jesus says to expect no reward from God loving who love you,even sinners love their own,and Jesus says to love your enemies,but GOP conservatives hate liberals,socialists,communists,illlegal aliens,etc,and the Bible says God is love,so hate is the opposite of God,antichrist.

    December 7, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  9. angel

    The Old Testament says,God changes not,and the New Testament,says,Jesus Christ is the same yesterday,today,and forever,so wars are not,and never were of God,as the Bible says in Isaiah 2:4,God intends to beat swords to plows,and man will learn war no more.So if you believe wars are of God,and are Holy,you're being deceived,as Revelation says,the final and worst antichrist will deceive the world,just like all the other antichrists,as 1John 2:18,says,even now there are many antichrists,whereby we know it is the last time.The Media will tell you there's only one antichrist,and he is yet to come,and most of the Religious Media will say the antichrist can't come until they are Raptured out–but Jesus says,no one knows exactly when he will return,only God the Father knows,and he says,he will return like a thief in the night,unexpected,so if you believe in wars and you're fighting wars at the time you're not likely to get Raptured out beforehand

    December 6, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  10. angel

    I don't believe man created God,or Hell,if man did it's a plea from man to man,for man to better himself,and make a better world,which is a good thing not a bad thing. But the reality of the world as it is,says it needs to be considered as not a fantasy,but worth while.

    December 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Do you just get jollies from seeing your name so often? Jeez, don't you realize that no one cares?

      December 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  11. angel

    Hitler,who was a warrior,and who claimed to be Christian,was a type of antichrist who wanted,even through wars,to create a Master Race of people. And Revelation chapter 13,says,the final antichrist is a warrior,as it says in Revelation13:4,­Who is able to make war with him? So,despite what you've been led to believe,even by religious people,that the antichrist is a peace-nik,he is not,he's a warrior,or even that peace-niks are not of God,it's not true. The Bible says,Jesus Christ is the Prince of peace,Jesus says my peace I give you,not as the world gives-not peace through wars as the world gives peace,but through his Cross and Gospel,the ONLY way.

    December 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  12. angel

    God doesn't confuse people,people confuse people,and people are confused by Satan:God given common sense says wars are violence,and the Bible says violence begets violence,so wars beget wars,so the violence of wars doesn't make the world safer,but less safer.Satan confused Eve in Eden,and Eve confused Adam,and Satan continues to confuse people the world over.

    December 6, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  13. angel

    Genesis,Chapter 3: Man sins the sin of pride to be as God and know good and evil,nothing is equal to God,so man can't be as God and know good and evil as God. The 1st Commandment of God says nothing is equal to God,and evil is a spirit,Satan is a fallen angel and angels are spirit beings,and all spirits are forever,separated from God in Hell in eternal torment,or with God in His Kingdom.And man has a spirit/soul,and all souls like spirits are forever,so wars of guns and bombs can't kill spirits or souls,so wars can't kill the evil of Satan,and the evil souls of men,so wars can't kill evil.And only God has the authority to send people to Hell,or allow them into His Kingdom.The Bible says,God Created all life,and because of man's sin at Eden,death came into the world,and God appointed man once to die,so God has reserved the power of life and death to Himself,so man can't take God's power of life and death in wars,and kill even the innocent,even by mistake or by accident,God doesn't kill the innocent,and God doesn't make mistakes or commit accidents.So wars of guns and bombs are not of God,but of man,of the flesh and the devil,the sin of Genesis Chapter 3,the sin of pride.

    December 5, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  14. angel

    Guns,even those of wars,can't kill evil or sin,they can't kill evil,sinful souls or spirits,all souls and spirits are eternal,forever with God or separated from God in Hell in torment forever.Satan is a fallen angel,and angels are spirit beings,so wars,guns,can't kill him.And all people have souls,which are eternal,so wars,guns,can't kill even evil sinful souls.So wars,guns,can't kill evil or sin,so having lots of guns,and fighting wars,can't save anybody from evil and sin.Only the Cross and Gospel of Jesus Christ can do that,and Jesus sent his disciples out without swords to spread his Gospel,the good news,and wars are not good news.

    December 4, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  15. angel

    Guns are a means for man to sin,so too many guns can lead man to temptation to sin :Jesus said to his own disciple all who take the sword perish by the sword,and Jesus sent his disciples out without swords to spread his Gospel,and Isaiah 2:4,says,God will beat swords(guns)to plows,and man will learn war no more,and Jesus fulfils all the prophets,including Isaiah.The Bible says death came into the world because of man's sin at Eden,so sin causes death,and wars,the sword,causes death,so wars,the sword,is sin.

    December 4, 2012 at 7:25 am |
  16. angel

    The Bible says,God Created man to live forever,but man's sin at Eden brought death into the world,so God appointed man once to die because of his sin,God having Created all life,and having appointed man once to die,has reserved the power of life and death to Himself,so man can't take it for any reason,it belongs to God.But man takes it in wars and with the death penalty and kills even the innocent,even by mistake,the Bible says God doesn't kill the innocent,and God doesn't make mistakes,so wars are not of God but of man's sin.

    December 3, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
  17. angel

    Being conservative with love and compassion is not likely to get you into God's Kingdom,where everybody there will love everybody,all the people there will be liberal with love and compassion.

    December 3, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  18. angel

    It's the soul that God finally Judges,it will either be with God,or separated from God in Hell,all souls are eternal,so wars of guns and bombs can't kill evil,that's why the Cross and Gospel of Jesus Christ is so necessary. It's a Spiritual fight to change hearts and minds,even to repent of wars of guns and bombs,which kill even the innocent,including fetuses and children,and Jesus says,if you do it to one of the little children,you do it to me.

    December 3, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  19. angel

    Only God has the authority to send people to Hell,man does not,man is not equal to God,nothing is equal to God,and man can't kill an evil soul or spirit in wars,all souls and spirits are forever,eternal­ly with God or separated from God in Hell,so wars can't kill evil. God Created all life,and God has appointed man once to die,so God has reserved the power of life and death to Himself,the power of life and death belongs to God,and man is not God,but man takes that power and kills even the innocent in wars,and with the death penalty,and the Bible says God doesn't kill the innocent,not even by mistake as man does in wars and with the death penalty,and God doesn't make mistakes,but man does.And so Isaiah 2:4,says,God will beat swords to plows(guns),and man will learn war no more,and the Bible says God never changes in the Old and New Testament,so God would be for gun control,but man is not,and the Bible says it will all end in the worst war ever,Armageddon­,caused by Satan and man playing God,just as Satan deceived man at Eden,man believing he can be as God and know good and evil as God does,when the Bible says nothing is equal to God.

    December 3, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Bring'em young

      since man created god, and hell, and they are both imaginary, you really have nothing to worry about.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  20. angel

    The Bible says,God Created man to live forever,but man sinned at Eden when he was deceived by Satan and ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil,that he could be as God and know good and evil as God does,but man is not equal to God and so man can't know good and evil as God does. And so death came into the world,and man took the power of ife and death unto himself-which belongs only to God-to be as God and know good and evil as God,breaking God's 1st Commandment that says nothing is equal to God. So the result of all this is the sin of pride,man believing he can take God's power of life and death killing even the innocent with wars,Capital Punishment,murd­er,and taking God's power of life and death with suicide,and with euthanasia.

    December 2, 2012 at 8:12 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.