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. Be honest

    Solution is easy. Tell everyone to get away from the holyland. Drop a bomb leaving a huge hole in it. Then watch the confused religious run around in circles just as ants do when an ant hill is stepped on.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Alex


      November 20, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  2. Nope

    I find it halarious that people claim that that when religion is gone there will be peace on earth. If it wasnt for the laws written in the Bible in which most countries set up their own laws of right and wrong, than there would be lawlessness and even more chaos than currently at hand. The laws of the Bible are good for the people, people just fail to follow them. Now imagine if there was no law in the 1st place.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Simpletons on parade.

      The Bible? A rag of some popularity amongst the bigoted and ignorant, designed to draw in fools and pacify the lower caste's

      And it seems in your case to be working

      November 20, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Nope

      Seems you are the ignorant who agrees with someone elses opinion without first reading the facts for yourself. How many times have you read the Bible or even touch it. Whatever fits your opinion you follow. Fool.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      I just know you are including the fourth commandment: "remember the sabbath day (thats sundown friday to sundown saturday, i.e. the seventh day) to keep it holy, for ..."

      November 20, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  3. FoolKiller

    "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.'" Yes. And?

    November 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      This is going to be very basic. Israel is Gods chosen. Chosen not because of any innate superiority. But chosen because in Abraham they were the only ones that acknowledged the true God, and because of that, 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 prophets 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. Since 34 AD 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 3:42 pm |
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    Demuth Vermouth Cocktail

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

    November 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  5. hamas are terrorists just like bin laden was...get it?


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

      Why because Obama told you?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Freeman

      So you really think you are God ha! Keep dreaming. Israel is a radicle state that wants all Christians and Muslims dead or cleansed.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  6. CNNuthin

    I love when the Biblical Meanings of things need to be explained to Christians. Perhaps getting the cliffnote sermons may not be the best way to get your Religion. If you are pushing a story on family, children, others, at least try reading it beforehand.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  7. God's son

    Bless you Israel and God be with you.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • sybaris

      which god?

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

      If god is with them why do they need nukes?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • FoolKiller

      Hitman – God helps those that help themselves. And have nukes.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Christianity is a form of mental illness- FACT

      Me me me me me...over here God....i give praise so that others see yoru name on the internet so that I am in favor with you....me me me me me me....i am over here god....me me me me.....i am special....I will quote the bible if it pleases you.....me me me me. ....I will get on my knees for you jesus

      November 20, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  8. Ben

    The Biblical reference has a very creepy Branch Davidian and Jonestown feel about it.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  9. joshua partridge

    Sounds like nuclear warfare to me.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • R Bradley

      –Coming to a school near you- this is what you voted for- in the last 4 elections-

      November 19, 2012– San Antoinio, Texas

      After months of protesting a policy requiring high school students to wear an RFID-enabled ID badge around their necks at all times, Andrea Hernandez is being involuntarily withdrawn(read expelled) from John Jay High School in San Antonio effective November 26th, according to a letter sent by the district that has now been made public.
      The letter, sent on November 13, informs her father that the Smart ID program, which was phased in with the new school year, is now in “full implementation” and requires all students to comply by wearing the location-tracking badges.–

      The above is in violation of both the 1st and 4th ammendments.. yep- The uSA is a free country.. get on Agenda 21 people- read it- understand it and fight against it...

      November 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Kevin Kirby

      You sir, obviously DO NOT have a clue.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Portland tony

      @RB...Seems reasonable to me. If the school is to accept responsibility for the kids well being during school hours, they have a right to know where that student is! Parents track family members thru cell phone tracking apps: No difference!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  10. Bishop Hairy Palms

    Israel is engaging in the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Even as they talk peace, they move more "settlements" into Palestinian areas.... outraging the Palestinians and causing more conflict.

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

      They got the clouds when they were believers. Once they attempted to assassinate Jesus they were no longer God choosen. Now they are driving the Palestinian Christian and Muslims out of thier land and they are hoping for God cloud to come. I say keep asking it will NEVER come. God is not with the evil.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  11. jenkoosh

    Pillar of a (dust) cloud, in the desert.

    Which pretty much describes the brains of many people on both sides of this conflict right now.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  12. abmri60

    Shalom Chavarim.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  13. Bob

    All opposition to Israeli defensive tactics is motivated by racism against Jews. There's no other explanation. No one would criticize any other country defending itself the way Israel does...because no other country is a Jewish country.

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

      Probably more jews in America who run the country. That's why our enemies hate us!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • William Demuth

      The idea of a Jewish (or Christian, or Muslim, or Wiccan or Buddist country) is offensive in the extreme. Theocracies have no place in the 21st century.

      This is a semetic civil war between peoples wiht ZERO biological difference.

      It is brother killing brother in the name of imaginary space fairies.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Solution

      I would disagree William, this war is becuase there are a group of people who claim to be better then everyone else taking more and more each day in their illegal occupation. I am not supporting terrorism, but I also do not support bullying and illegal occupation. The Jews do not belong there, it is a simple fact.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Bob

      Neither side is motivated by a desire to destroy another religion. Certainly Israel is not. They're just defending themselves. But therir opponents are motivated by ethnic hatred, not space fairies. They're also motivated by shame, which runs deep in the Arab Muslim psyche, because of past victories by Israel over them.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Have you ever read a single position paper?

      It is about religion. Only one can survive

      November 20, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Freeman

      sure play the antisemetic card now. So let them kill men women and children and no body should dare to even criticise them.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  14. marilyn

    Israel, most often, has been trying to please the public, other countries and lands that in no way would remain silent, as Israel has been over the years, while being attacked from all sides.
    Enough trying to plkease the world. Its time to take care of our own people, our own country and protect our own land.
    No matter what we have compromsed in the past, the United Nations has always condemned Israel, where other countries, literally get away with murder.
    With so many arab countries surrounding israel, with so much vast arab land surrounding Israel, that could be used to build housing and agriculture, is it not interested not one country, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, no one has volunteered to take in all the "so-called arab refugees" from gaza, the west bank and all over. Is there a reason why none of their "brethren" want them?
    Israel has taken in brethren from Russia, Ethiopia and other countries? why are all the arab countries silent and keeping their borders closed?

    November 20, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • William Demuth

      First of all, this is a civil war.

      Gaza is Israel, the West Bank is ISrael, and Israel is Palestine.

      Americans don't do civil wars in the Middle East.

      Secondly, the Russians support the Palestinians, as do most of our allies, and 85 percent of the world.

      The only ones who don't are the Jeebus freaks, and their political lackeys in our government

      November 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • lionlylamb


      I am a 'jeebus freak' in your vernacular. I am in a way 'honor bound' to side with Palestine and its people. It (Israel) was after the end of ww2 born in that the internationalist communal retards wanting to and did so give to their Jewish fuddy duddy twerps, Palestinian lands without Palestinian approval. What were those internationalists thinking?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  15. William Demuth

    A billion Muslims and erhaps 6 million Jews in the general vicinity.

    It seems another old time religion is creeping closer to an icy grave.

    If the Jews kill a million a day, every day for a year, they are still outnumbered a 100 to 1.

    Sooner or later, like an end of the longest running zombie movie of all time, they shall be over run.

    Perhaps radiological, perhaps biological, but sooner or later the Muslims gain the momentum and then whatever the Christians did in Germany shall pale in comparrison.

    I bet the Israelis start talking peace real quick!

    If Morsi moves six divisions into the Sinai, the Israeli nukes will suddenly be made public for sure!

    November 20, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Chosen One

      before that happens, Jews will level off all arab countries starting w/ Gaza and then we will see who will be negotiating.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Chosen One

      Thats like curing Athlete's foot with a shotgun blast.

      20 percent of everyone in Israel is Palestinian and loyal to them.

      You gonna nuke Tel Aviv?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
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    Clam and Horseradish blended with robust tomato juice, spicy and delicious. Salt and Pepper rim garnished with green olives, cocktail onions, lemon and celery. It's an eye opener!

    November 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  17. mike a.

    let these idiots kill each other and then maybe we all have some peace...sometimes wars are nessesary.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • William Demuth



      Let the animals behave like animals

      November 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • god is good

      read your bibles people... thats all i have to say

      November 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  18. whatever

    woke up this morning to a puff of smoke,this voice asking me to kill my first borne son,opened the window to clear the smoke,said "right",went back to sleep.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  19. lionlylamb

    Mathew 6:33 "But seek ye first the kingdom of God!"

    Luke 17:21, "The kingdom of God is inside you!"

    John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world!"

    1Corinthians 3:9 "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building!"

    Manly made Gods in name onliness euphemisms have become cherishing sublimations not to be outdone by anothers' naming of God such as Elohim or Jehovah etc etc. Is it not of more-so importance to write or make small-talk toward others to 'menstruatively' condition the morals of youthfulness than to bicker and banter about as aged 'gossipers' seeking praises of others to justify their own selfishness sakes? Who therefore is to be pitied more, the one behind the podium or the audience?

    November 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Mr. Lamb, you crazy old fuck. How the hell are you?

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

      A.B. seeds,

      I am doing really great tyvm for asking! And you? Have you made headway in meditative thoughtful progressives?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Indeed sir, I have. Looking forward to Turkey Day. Carry on!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  20. ron

    Does anyone know why Obama has never had the ballz to visit Israel?He is such a joke.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Because Jews and Blacks are not exactly kin folk.

      He loathes them. To the very core of his being.

      And now, he has their future in his black hands.

      Bet Benji regrets supporting Romney now huh?

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

      that's it?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Patrick

      Not so unusual after all! He did visit there as a candidate for President in 2008, but I guess that doesn't count really does it.

      Harry Truman: no visit

      Dwight Eisenhower: no visit

      John Kennedy: no visit

      Lyndon Johnson: no visit

      Richard Nixon: sixth year of presidency

      Gerald Ford: no visit

      Jimmy Carter: third year of presidency

      Ronald Reagan: no visit

      George H.W. Bush: no visit

      Bill Clinton: 4 visits—in the second, third, fourth and sixth years of his presidency

      George W. Bush: 2 visits—in the eighth year of his presidency

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

      Because we have big problems here at home! We need to take care of us for once.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
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About this blog

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.