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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. Socal Reggae

    Socal Reggae
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFlbKIHeouA

    November 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • hindu filthy rasta ism

      Chronic rastafarian ism pot smoking called irie mon has no legalism in it, rastafarian ism, irie mon from start, Rasta Irie, dread locks irie ism to be reggae. Jamaica ism is blunt ism the dutchie ism and ganja mon, but rasta corrupt reggae is a tool to spread Rastafarian ism, denial of smoke shop passing the dutchie ism laid back among Jamaica and establish rastafarian ism, rasta ism among humanity.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • abmri60

      MATISYAHU is the best when it comes to reggae ------ try listening to this song ; ONE DAY ( youtube version )

      November 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  2. moe

    It sounds like they're fighting on behalf of their religion. isn't that terrorism?
    I guess the word only applies to Muslims when they defend their faith.
    what's happening in Gaza is pure Zionist Jewish terrorism.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Russell's Teapot

      Says the uninformed mind...

      November 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Jez

      You are completely wrong. Hamas does not have the right to send bombs flying indiscriminately over Israel. Israel has the right to defend itself. Its the muslims that are crazed – who haven't they bombed?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Mark

      Sorry Moe, The purpose of the operation is to send a message to Hamas, but unfortunately they don't get it. If Israel wanted to, they could flatten Gaza but they are acting with utmost restraint in the face of unrelenting rocket barrages. It's simple. If Hamas stops firing rockets there will be peace. If not, they should be prepared to get clobbered again.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Jack

      Likud = secular party
      Yisrael Beitenu = secular party
      Kadima = secular party
      Avoda/Labour = secular party

      The only large party that's theocratic(Shas) isn't extremely right wing. They were supporters of the Oslo accords. Sorry for your failure at life, but the Muslim Brotherhood are the real Theocrats.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • SB1790

      Well Israel wouldn't have bombs flying all over the place if they wouldn't have set up camp there in the first place or just left like they were asked to do in the beginning. This is called an 'attention getter'.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Urbugged

      @MARK
      Yes mark that would be all great if the Israeli military killed operatives and avoided collateral damage killing at least 100 and injuring nearly 1,000 for 6 men. Would they have sacraficed the lives of their own to do damage control? Additionally, Israel can't flatten Gaza because it's ILLEGAL!!!! CNN has covered this story well from the beginning. Read the previous articles, name the aggressor and the provoked!! I don't want to know it just read it.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  3. Voice of Reason

    This is the way it has to be. We can't change it. It is written. Just like people could not stop Jesus from being crucified. It's just the way it's going to end up, and sometime in the future, Armageddon. We will not be able to avoid it when it is supposed to happen. Realizing this, do what you have to do to get ready.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      @Voice of Stupidity

      LOL

      November 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Can one body of people not change that which was declared to be so written? Wherein the biblical can prophesying though forewarned be outwitted should warnings be prophetically heeded? Is it righteously endevouring to wantonly fulfill a thought just because it is so written? Should not a people of uncommon intellect become intellectually mundane just to satisfy biblical prophecies? Wherethen lays the lands ending of wanton means? Who are the lands beneficiaries should war bemoan them and all do die out due warring? Hell knows no other ways but to fulfill the Word! Heaven knows no means other then hell's furies!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • SB1790

      Now lets see...how many times now has the world supposed to have ended because of some Biblical scripture? And yet here we are, still chugging along. You know, if you read your horoscope and REALLY REALLY want to believe it, you can make it fit your day. I've made plans for life after December 22, 2012. Why? Cause it isn't going to happen. Some 2,000 plus year old text isn't going to do diddly squat in any accurate predictions of the future.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  4. twinsfan318

    Yes, shame on Israel for using Biblical imagery in a military campaign. Hamas would NEVER resort to using religion to justify violence. Those bad, bad Israelis.

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

      Hey SLICK RICK!!! Let's see if the ferderalis doesn't put another gap in the US population if we started pushing their borders back. Read, think, summarize, then post on CNN blog post!!! Do your homework!!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  5. Belief Blog Bistro

    nope Nachos

    These nachos are smothered in cheese. That’s it. Just lots of cheese. Nothing to say really. Just plain old stupid nachos. You want something good? nope. $6.99

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

      What do you have against Nachos. I love them. Please, the Nacho eating community takes offense.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  6. kwavruk

    I really don't a reason to trash both sides in this issue. It's plain and simple, the aggressor should be the one at fault. If you are under attack you must protect yourself and your people. You would think that in this day and age, people would be able to reason and understand that there is know where else to go. We are on this big blue ball together, lets stop the fighting and work it out!

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

      Well, fighting it not always easily worked out. both sides in this case believe they have a supernatural exclusive claim to the land. Any comprimise is going to feel like they are forced to give up something that is theirs... kinda like if someone broke into your house, the police showed up, and said that you have to split your belongings with the intruder..... might make sense from the police's perspective but does not feel fair to the homeowner. In this case they both believe themselves to be the homeowner.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  7. TomGI

    Frankly, I could not care less what they call their occupation operation.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Brian

      Well, that's good, because the article wasn't about the occupation, anyway.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • newsintegrity

      There are no gays in Hamas. At least that's what President of Iran tells me. Yet somehow they seem to f#@$% themselves everytime they realign with the Persians.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  8. Penster

    Cut off aid to them. Fvck the middle east sh.it hole. Let them kill each over that sh.itty stretch of desert. Let their "god" sort it out. Fvck foreign oil dependency.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Be honest

      drop a bomb and leave a huge hole in the holyland. Then watch the confused religious run around in circles. As ants do when their ant hill is destroyed.

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

      Hate to break the party, but most Israelis are as religious as the common Westerner. Out of the fundamentalists(about 20%,) only a small fraction of them are the gung-ho settlers you hear about. Most Fundamentalist Jews, or Hassidic Jews, are actually non-Zionists.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  9. Martin

    Pillar of clouds? was anvil of rubber, hammer of feathers, or spear of straw taken? A pillar of cloud not very useful, the other side shuld name their operaton giant vacuum or giant leaf blower.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Brian

      I'm not sure why I'm asking this, because I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but did you even bother to read the article?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      LOL Marty! Laughed so hard the tears did fall onto my cheeks! Good thoughts! 🙂

      November 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Jack

      You might want to read the article you're hyper-actively commenting on next time.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • SB1790

      Makes be think of Doctor Evil's 'Preparation H'. How about Operation Burning Bush?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  10. whatever

    When the people of the world get it in their minds that the people that hold the power, are for the most part ,psychopathic,read the history,hell, for that matter read a paper.they seem to live off hate and fear,we are now living in the time of "the great lie"

    November 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Jack

      oooookey dokey, buddy.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  11. Urbugged

    On the surface I am relieved to see a nation use protective religious connotations for military operations. We are in an age where religion is less prominent in the US today than it was 20 years ago. Additionally, the recent events which have taken place the last 4 years have been the most catasrophic in decades even as much as a millenium. Underneath all that, there is a cunning and an unlikely justifiable reason for why this war is taking place. We've read the reports, we've seen the missle attacks. What part of self-defense calls for Israel to cause 33 times the number of civilian deaths and injuries of their own casualties and still say, "It's not enough!" If this were the playoffs it would seem like the Philly Sixers vs. Wizards; 100 to 3.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      The U.S. condones genocide when it fits their political agenda.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • SB1790

      There is a very justifiable reason. Israel is a squatter. Palestine has called for years for them to leave. They won't. They keep pushing the Palestinians further off their land. Other countries have not stepped up to the plate to help. This is their solution to the problem and I don't blame them. We pander to Israel because we share common enemies in that region. But Israel is the cause of this and now they're flipping out and acting like they can't understand why this is happening. Notice that we've not sent in troops yet and there's been no decision about NATO troops either. Outside of the United States own self interest, I don't think there is much world wide support for Israel. And this administration doesn't seem to side much with Israel on this particular dispute. They'll be lucky if Iran doesn't sail their navy over.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • k'nocker

      Hamas id primarily responsible for the disproportion because of its adamant refusal either to halt the rain of rockets, or to segregate its civilians from its military. Hamas has made it impossible for Israel to engage in legitimate self defense except with high tragic human costs in Gaza. It has no problem effectively using Palestinian children as would-be or actual human shields or sacrificing the lives of its children and elderly for propaganda value. It attacks Israeli population centers knowing that it may kill only a few and more so cause fear and displacement and also knowing that Israel will have to defend and also knowing that It (Hamas) has set things up so that the defense will have more tragic consequences for the Gazan Palestinians. Hamas purposefully causes the disproportion in horrors so that can appeal to Urbugged's and others sense of justice. But Urbugged is being played and falling into the Hamas trap. Where is his outrage about Hamas' sending children in harm's way; it is worse than Stalin's having sent Russian soldiers into battles that he knew meant their complete defeat and overwhelming slaughter.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  12. Tav

    Thursday is Thanksgiving. Can we have one dat to give thanks for our lives?
    With out casting stones and blame.

    Is that possible?

    November 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Be honest

      if we can thank ourselves for Thanksgiving, sure.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Sure Tav, who do we thank?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Tav

      I give thanks to God. I respect whatever belief others may have. There must be at least something to be thankful for in your life?

      I am gulty of writing comments in the past that just point the finger. There has to be a better way to figure things out without insulting.

      I'm just saying... that's all...

      November 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • DBHouston

      @Apple Bush – You thank God, or Allah, or whatever you call the higher being in your religeous guidance. You can reflect and give thanks for what you have, if to no one else but yourself, if that's what floats your boat.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  13. Tim B

    What would the US do if Mexico was firing hundreds of rockets a day into the border states? They would bomb the sh1t out of them.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Lucky

      Touche'

      November 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      If the Mexicans weren't such pussies they would try to get back the land the U.S. stole from them.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Urbugged

      What would Mexicans do if the US pushed back the Mexican boarder with bulldozers and called it a routine security check? They would have a second Cinco de Mayo and throw jalepenios at the US Border Patrol! CNN did a great job covering this story. Read the articles of when the two sides first started fighting. If this were class you've just......FAILED!!!!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • newsintegrity

      Actually we wouldn't. We put in a puppet state. Come on .. get with the program! How do you think we are such good friends with Canada?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • God's soldier

      No Barack Osama bin Laden would go over there and apologize

      November 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • k'nocker

      It sounds as though Urbugged believes that despite Israel withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas is justified in targeting Israel's civilian inhabitants in the name of Israel having no right to exist at all. He calls that justified violence but the defense of that violence imperfectly aimed at combatants he calls aggression. We know what he thinks Israel should not do; but what may it do to protect its children when Hamas expressly refuses to stop the rockets? Short of Israel's people agreeing to become part of a Muslim theocracy (which is an entirely unrealistic notion), Hamas promises to continue in its violence-directed-against-civilian "struggle."

      November 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  14. Socal Reggae

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFlbKIHeouA

    November 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • hindu filthy rasta ism

      Your rastafarian ism pot smoking called irie mon has no legalism in it, rastafarian ism, irie mon from start, Rasta Irie, dread locks irie ism to be reggae. Jamaica ism is blunt ism the dutchie ism and ganja mon, but rasta corrupt reggae is a tool to spread Rastafarian ism, denial of smoke shop passing the dutchie ism laid back among Jamaica and establish rastafarian ism, rasta ism among humanity

      November 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  15. Adarkes

    Ironically, the reason the serpents and robbers came upon them was their disbelief and disobedience in God.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Be honest

      how silly.. Aren't you suppose to be in school?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • newsintegrity

      Where is a preditor drone when you need one?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  16. mark

    If the Arabs didn't have the Jews to fight, they would fight other Arabs. This is their culture. You can say the Koran loves peace, etc. But the fact is that they love to fight, hold grudges for centuries, degrade their women, and spout out phrases like "you bath in blood" and "Open the gates of hell" These people are sick. Not all Arabs mind you, but most. I feel that many just want to raise their family's and children. But the majority are evil

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

      Iran = Hamas = Hezbollah = Iran. If you try to seperate the head from the snake you have a pretty peaceful people. Palestinian people are simply pons in the greater region's instability. You remove Iran from the equations as a disruptive power, you have peace. Anyway, nobody LIKES Iran because they aren't really Arabs. They are Persians. Unfortunately the agenda of the United States is ALSO played out in the same fashion through becoming a force of disruption by proxy through certain parts of Israel. To bad Israel as a lap dog just doesn't know its place at times. This isn't my opinion but fact in the greater understanding as to why these events happened in the first place and what lead up to it. Iran is goating Israel into a fight by proxy, much as Al Qaeda did the US after 9/11 to the egocentric ideas that we BELONG in the region as a stability partner. Not saying its right/wrong but we were dooped exactly as Israel is by Iran.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Cody

      That argument can be used on anyone the United States can't even go half a century without going to war with someone some where.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • newsintegrity

      That's almost funny to read. Outside of Iraq – which was for all the wrong reasons, give me 3 CONCRETE examples of countries that we attacked un-provoked in the last 50 years that wasn't already either on the verge of military take over that affected our interests abroad or regiona stability of an ally?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  17. NoName

    In the end, this is what it comes down to.. applicable to only the past couple of decades

    a. Isreal want to be able to freely take any land belonging to the Palestinian as they wish. See the illegal expansion of the settlement.
    b. Palestinians objected to the land taking by Isreal and fought back with what ever means they have. And their weapons are no primitive, they can't really aim very accurately.
    c. Isreal labels the resistance "Terrorist" because the resistance refused to take their rocks and primitive weapons face to face against Isreal's tanks and Jets.
    d. The land grabbing continues
    e. The resistance continues
    f. Many Palestinians die, a few Isrealis dies
    g. Isrealis think only their citizens life has value and they must put down the resistance
    ..
    h. The struggle continues..

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

      To NoName – you are an idiot who ignores the facts. get off this blog and take you moronic remarks elsewhere

      November 20, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • SB1790

      Yes. You have to look at WHY the Hamas are doing what they're doing. Nobody would pay attention to the situation otherwise. Israel is a squatter. They're doing the same thing we did to the Indians. Only these Indians have missiles and allied countries supporting them. Will be very interesting to see what happens. I think the peace effort on the part of Israel is due to the fact that the United States and NATO have not pledged troops for this.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • God's soldier

      do you not know anything about what is going on over there take the United States cut it in half stick Hawaii right in the middle of it that is Israel in the middle of all them country that has been for hundreds and thousands of years and not 1 of them can take Israel out hmmmm maybe is because they can't you need to read the Bible more and stop listening to all these so called expert in the news media

      November 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • SB1790

      To Mark...

      All of the above points are correct. There's no sugar coating the situation. It's not right for civilians to be involved but Israel should do the right thing and withdraw from the colonies they've set up. These other people were there long before WWII ended.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • helpful hint

      Palestinians are outcasts from other Arab lands and as such have no right to land in Israel.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Daremonai

      @God's soldier – ahm.. that chunk of land has changed hands dozens if not hundreds of times over the history of the region. The Jews have held it for times, other groups have held it for other times. That is the problem with historical claims.. there are probably at least a dozen modern groups that could claim the land because they owned it at one point or another.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • NoName

      Thanks, Mark! My view doesn't fit yours so I'm an idiot and I must go way? Uh.. Okay. Nice to see your inner working there.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  18. Sonny

    Hear me out people. If Chickens and pigs in the farm happened to get infected of FLU virus than you kills all of them. If humans get infected of contagious virus then quarantined them therefore All muslims should be genocided and euthanized so we can start the new fresh peaceful world to live in because they are evil crazy psycho people they do not deserve to live and breathe the same air as we all human beings do. They terrorize the world for so long already. Time to step up. You could be killed anywhere and anytime if you happen to be at the wrong places and time.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Urbugged

      @ SONNY
      You sound like a person who never struggled. Like really struggled, to the point you weren't going to make it but you did in the end and it changed your perspective on life entirely. I would like to see you try to live with no work, without your little ADT, and community watchmen. I know you know life over there is hard compared to here. People act differently when under diress. Here's a thought, how moody do you get when you don't get to eat lunch at work? Did that little thing bother you? You are a pum pum!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  19. Be honest

    If it weren't for secular law in the US, christians here would behave even more badly.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • See the Light

      What an absurd statement!

      November 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Be honest

      it's a true statement.. look at christian history. Secular law helped tame christianity.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • The Truth

      Without secular laws there would still be moronic religious zealots trying to burn witches.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • newsintegrity

      Praise to Allah. Peace be with Santa Claus!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Bob

      And who made these laws? Non-Christians?

      November 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  20. leytrami

    It's Psalms not Pslams.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:33 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.