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. Daremonai

    Ah.. ha... so they are naming a current mission after an event that involved violently taking land from the current inhabitants,...


    I guess it is a hopeful 'see, we took what we wanted then and won, we can do it again!'

    November 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  2. Qularkono

    Not just Jewish people understand and recognize the term "pillar of cloud" by day and "pillar of fire" by night ... Christians that study the Scriptures also recognize the term and what it means.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  3. zaepayton

    If only we knew how insignificant we are on a broader scale of the universe's "mechanics" and it's creator. There is a creator, I don't know who yours is, but there is one. And the "importance" of this material world diminishes when people realize their spiritual plateau. Ascent and Descent is what happens.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
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    Roman Catholic Crepes. Great for breakfast! Smothered in strawberries and whip cream. Melts in your mouth, only $3.99. Try our bottomless coffee!

    November 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  5. pl

    Abe says, "Where do you want this killing done..God says, "out on hwy 61."

    November 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  6. Jataka

    Jews and Arabs are two fleas fighting over the same anus of a manegey dog. Anyone who believes Jews are "Gods chosen people" are idiots. That's like saying God likes this fish over that fish when there is both ocean and land. How do you know what God thinks? Oh right, you don't and you don't know if there is one.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Nope

      You make me laugh. There is no worst blind person than one who refuses to see.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • ugh

      First yes I know there is one, second the Bible says "for God so loved the world" so in one way you are correct he does love them both, and yet He used the Jews to bring about the Messiah now the burden switches to you make your choice and then be willing to stand by it, most of the "brave" people here will change their minds

      November 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • John

      Their religion is based on ten rules given to them by a burning bush, haha, chosen people, yeah right, chosen to be the laughing stock of humanity

      November 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Chepelongo

      LOL LMAO... I enjoy when idiots like you believe stuff like that and how ignorant you are... I also know you will go to hell ahahahahaahahaha Good one.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      This is going to be very basic. Israel is Gods chosen. Chosen not because of any inate superiority. But chosen because in Abraham they were the only ones that acknowledged the true God, and because of theat wonderful promises were given to Israel. However, Israel failed to do Gods will, the reason they were chosen (spread his goodness and love to the nations that they might come to know the true God) and so after repeated tries to work with them (see basically all the profits and wonder at the mercy and forebearence of God with rebellious Israel (they would stay his chosen until Messiah came and then their future depended on what they did with Messiah). Finally after they crucified Messiah God gave them yet 3.5 more years to come around, but they would not, and therefore the 70 final weeks (490 years) of probation ended for them ("your house is left unto you desolate") and they were formally set aside. Now a jew is considered "Israel" only as they individually accept Jesus Messiah. All the promises are fulfilled in Christ and his people. Ethnic or national Israel is no different than ethnic or national any other people group or country. The new testament is the # 1 instructor / commentary on the old testament. By the way, that Pillar of cloud -protector-was Christ..."and that Rock was Christ".

      November 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  7. Apple Bush

    Why I care about Israel by Apple Bush:

    November 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  8. Will

    Glad to see the Muslims and Christians don't have a monopoly on religious stupidity.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • zip

      You are the stupid one. The term is not a religious statement. It has a special cultural meaning and that's why they used it. Its only american media that likes to frame everything as a religious war and you fell for it.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  9. Delta born

    None of you are required to believe in anything the Bible says. However, there will come a day when you wish you would have.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • antn

      There won't, and you're wasting your life.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Will

      Prove it redneck trash.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      @Delta born

      Thanks. What day? So I can update Outlook...

      November 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • hitman

      Whatever. Show me a miracle not performed by a magician!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Will

      I love it - I'm supposed to believe a bunch of semi-literate Southern rednecks with 3rd grade educations, even in the face of an overwhelming body of evidence proving them wrong.

      Maybe that's why nobody takes the South seriously, "Delta Born"?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • ugh

      @antn and Will
      First will what is with the insults if you don't like the truth that is up to you, if it bothers you so much that you feel you must comment then maybe you should try and figure out why.

      Antn if we are wrong the worst you will be able to say is we lived a moral and just life, how is that throwing my life away

      November 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • hitman

      The Jews will always have blood on their hands!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Daremonai

      Which Bible? Or is it some version of the Quran, or Torah? Maybe Kojiki? Mahaburata? Principa Discordia?

      With so many saying they are the real truth it is hard to keep track.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • really

      @Daremonia first the Bible and the Quran are very different and if you cannot understand that then I pity you most among people

      November 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • justme

      delta & ugh; keep up the good work but do not expect help from the fools that do not understand but are too proud to ask or except the help they need and are offered

      November 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • really

      @hitman show me a magician that can do a miracle? I would wager my entire years salary that you cannot, magicians fool you and the really good ones will even tell you they are going to and still do it this is no miracle.

      For a miracle watch when your child is born and then tell me this is not a miracle

      November 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  10. hitman

    The jews killed innocent civilians in the name of a biblical theme!

    November 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • ugh

      and Hamas kills babies why?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Dan, Tx

      is that not always true in any military conflict between nations. God bless America.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  11. DrFricke

    Israel does not seem to have as its stated objective the elimination of all the Arab nations. It seems at some point they have the moral high ground.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • John

      Of course they don't state their objective: "By deception thou will make war"

      November 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  12. me

    The leaders of the world need to pull their heads out of this cloud

    November 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  13. no-kool-aid here please

    There is no "reasoning" behind this. They are fighting over who has the best imaginary friend.
    Think there's a way to "win" such a battle?
    Think again.

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

      It's very sad that people can be so naive, but I guess it makes sense. The elite use religion to keep these wars going, and the everyday religious people are so dumb, they fall right in line with the usual talking points.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • I think you missed the boat

      I believe the war is over land why blame God for a choice man makes

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

      i doubt they believe in any god. more likely they are just using religion as a front to recruit kids, and to get more money out of people.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Just Dave

      You sir are just a TROLL. Your comments have nothing to do with the article that states the reasoning for the name and their beliefs. If you wish to call their beliefs imaginary, just TROLL to yourself.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • zip

      not really.. they are fighting over the right to live in peace from rockets.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Jeff

      My one thought on your comment is do your homework. One of the biggest atheist who claimed there was no God did numerous hours of research and asking the key questions that you need to ask as well. If there is no God there is no hope, if there is no God there should be no laws in nature. If there is no God there is no hope, I know you think it's all a big fairy tale with God but to put eternity on the line with no research done is a little foolish. At least research C S Lewis's life and see why he chose Christianity. I will pray for you and hope you follow through on this. Have a great day!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  14. earl p

    I support Israel, God do as well. If someone keep attacking my home i'm going to fight back. It takes two to fight

    November 20, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Erks

      Which comes first ?
      a) The occupation
      b) The resistance against the occupation

      November 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • uncle Bill

      If a nation blockaded the seacoast and borders of the US , what would the US do?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • anon

      I understand both sides. Both sides DO have a point in their arguments. However, if you put in perspective I tend to side with the israelis. Think about it: Many of us are living on what was once considered Indian land. I guess you could call many Ameicans "occupiers". However, what if the Indians (native americans) decided to attack our homes and demand we leave our lands and the homes we 'encroached" upon. Do they have a point? In some respects, certainly. However, would the rest of us be justified in fighting back and refusing to leave what has become OUR land and home? Of COURSE we would.
      There is at least two generations of Israelis today who are as much native to that area as any palestinian.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Dan, Tx

      The murder of the Jews by Hitler came first. Then the British created Israel in the name of the world and trampled on the rights of the Palestinians who did not want their homeland turned into a Jewish state. Evil was committed against the Jews, injustice was committed against the Palestinians. There is no good solution now – only to try to make amends for the injustice done to the Palestinians and but insist that they accept Israel.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  15. Israel

    Duet: 28

    November 20, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  16. FutureTell

    I can only wonder why some people are so upset that Israel has chosen to use biblical terms in their operation when the fact of the matter is, the Israelites truly are the people of God, Jesus himself was a Jew, and there are countless references in the bible which indicates God is with Israel. So for the people who are making these claims against Israel or are so upset about it, the truth is, you're merely being used by Lucifer to hit at Israel, to hit at the people of God. And you're too dumb to even know it. But your being upset about it is not going to change a thing. When you get through being upset and mad and outraged, the Israelites will still be the people of God, and you'll still be of the devil. So get real...

    Isiah 40:2 – Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem (referring to Israel), and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

    Since the time of Egypt, God has allowed the Israelites to suffer many things, nonetheless they are still the people of God and God is with them. They've only suffered so many things in the past to pay for their sins, so they will be saved and happy forever in the future. For God has promised it. For God has stated that all Israel shall be saved...

    Romans 11:26 – And so all Israel shall be saved...

    November 20, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Johnny Caruso

      Johnny Caruso 1:1 The day religions disappear from the surface of Earth, there shall be peace.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • angel

      The Bible says,not all who call themselves Jews, are Jews.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • sonny chapman

      They sure don't act very 'God-Like" towards their Fellow Man.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Common Sense

      Then why does Isreal need missiles? I would think God's protection would be good enough. I guess God isn't that great afterall.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • dike

      Amen to Johnny Caruso 1:1

      November 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Al Freeman

      The day religions disappear – people will go back to being animals – and murder each other without the feeling of guilt, as they had done for hundreds of thousands of years. Without God – everything is allowed.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • FutureTell

      Johnny Caruso… When all people like you are in hell, then there shall be peace…

      Angel… The only people who fall into the category of being a true Israelite and Jew is those who are of the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is their bloodline that determines this. That is why white people, mexicans, blacks, etc. cannot go to Israel and start calling themselves a Jew. It would be wasted effort…

      November 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Adam

      They were, the no longer are. Mat 21:42,43.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • OccupyEverything

      "If you strike me down, I will be more powerful than you can ever imagine" – ObiWon (Star Wars 4:123)

      November 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Johnny Caruso

      @Al Freeman we don't need god to have morals. And the funny thing is that Jews and Muslims worship the same god.
      @FutureTell there is no heaven and no hell.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Billy

      Read a book FutureTell, then go into detail and explain the proof you have to back the assertion that you are somehow above all of us evil and loathsome folk. The truth is you are a coward, hiding behind a book that was written, I can only hope, with the best of intentions as an outline to anyone interested in reading it. But this is what people like you do, you have no understanding of basic human nature, let alone even a small grasp of how the cosmos works. So do us all a favor and take your superiority complex elsewhere. Peace.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  17. angel

    There were no wars before man's fall at Eden,it was paradise,and there will be no wars in God's Kingdom on earth,so wars are of man's fall at Eden. Wars are not of God,the Old Testament says,God changes not,and the New Testament says,Jesus is the same yesterday,today­,and forever,so wars were never of God. Wars are a temptation of the flesh since Eden,by Satan,even as he tempted man at Eden,wars of guns and bombs are of the flesh and the devil,they kill the innocent along with the guilty,,includi­ng innocent children,and Jesus says if you do it to one of the little ones,you do it to me.

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

      You speak of wars as if wars itself is evil. And perhaps some are. But wars is nothing more than a mechanism and a way for God to get rid of evil. And you cannot get rid of evil without a war, without a battle. So long as evil exists, wars will be required to keep evil in check. When Lucifer first sinned against God, the bible says there was a great war in heaven, that Lucifer and his angels were defeated and cast into hell. To do good and to fight back against the temptations of our flesh (the temptation to steal, the temptation to kill, the temptation to commit adultery, etc) a constant battle is going on within us and a war is being fought in our minds. Therefore, so long as evil exists, wars will be needed and required to keep evil in check. So just because wars exist, that doesn't make wars themselves a bad thing. For evil is the bad thing. And wars must be fought to rid ourselves of evil...

      November 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • janan

      Wars are their means to steal and occupy other people's resources. This is the real evil and for all the proponents of war, MONEY is their god. They are waging wars because they know Jesus died for their sins. Biblical writers were master politicians. If all the people stuck to their religions, this place would be paradise. Bible followers need not to pick and choose from Bible rather react the way Jesus did against money traders.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • aizen

      there was always war, it started in heaven and was brought down to us, if you believe in the book call the bible then you can't deny the war in heaven...if we follow this book, we are just collateral damage and pawn in a nasty game....the bible is full of non sensical things so does the coran...all these books need to be burnt and taken away from humanity. they serve no purpose than to manipulate and control humans...

      November 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  18. antn

    Isn't it pretty arbitrary to look at somethings "biblical" meaning? I mean if you wanna compare real life to a work of fiction, then why not Harry Potter? It is a more realistic take on magic than all that crap in the bible.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • JoJo Biggins

      Thus speaks the ignorant.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • antn

      Thus speaks the naive.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  19. dizzy

    Arabs hate each other & hate the Palestinians the most. They're more terrified of Iran than we should be. They love having the Palestinians do their dirty work. What has the Arab League done for their so called "brothers" ever. Israel has done more for the peolple in Gaza than any of the Arab nations ever have or will do.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Gideon

      I agree. The Arabs should be helping their people to build houses, set up schools, create business instead of trying to destroy Israel. The Arab Leagues are just a whole bunch of dictators with nothing to do for their brethren!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • amigo

      Israel has done more to Gaza than Arabs have?????? yeah that's true .... I hope that kind of doing does not come from Arabs ... Israel is enough for now ..,.Palestinian civilians cannot handle too much of that doing that is resulting in the deaths of hundreds .... mostly women, kids and elderly people!!!!! let's keep crying about the less than 20 people that have been killed by Palestinian home-made rockets in the last 10 years !!!!! ... they are worth more than 1 million Palestinians ... right? because they are Jews, they are the chosen people of some God.
      Sorry bro ... I do not mean to be rude ... but seeing the killing of Innocent kids on both sides should make us feel some sympathy for them. Israel gets the full support from us the US, Canada and Europe at the government level ... it does not hurt if we "normal people" support these poor Gaza people ! they have got no body by their side ... peace!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  20. aizen

    there is no proof that the israeli were slave or even lived in egypt. if there is any, i want to see it. this is all based on lies and made up stories..please dont feed us the coolaid!!

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

      Are you a Christian Aizen?

      November 20, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Brian

      What does the reasoning behind a military operation name have to do with current events in that area?

      November 20, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • WOW forgotten history

      So there is no proof that Israeli's were in Egypt. Are you kidding? Muslims are people of the book as in the old testament the proof is there. The fact that extremest terrorist types don't want to admit that is laughable.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • John

      @WOW forgotten history

      There is no mention of Moses or jews or israelites in any Egyptian history book. The bible is a pile of horse manure. Oh look I wasn't struck down by lightning!!!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
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