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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why "Pillar of Cloud"?

Sigh:
Israel Names Its New War After Biblical Story About God Terrorizing Egyptians

If you speak Hebrew, the Israeli Defense Forces would like you to refer to the wave of assassination strikes it commenced in Gaza today as "Pillar of Cloud," a Biblical reference to the form God adopted in order to protect the Children of Israel and strike terror into the heart of Egyptians. If you speak English, it would prefer you to use the less fanatical "Pillar of Defense."

Here's what "Pillar of Cloud" means: According to the Bible, during the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, God took the form of a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night, in order to light their way and to frighten the Egyptian army.

Exodus 14:19-20:
Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.
Exodus 14:24
During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.

So that's what a Pillar of Cloud is: A worldly instantiation of 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. And that's what the people who conceived and executed this wave of strikes against Hamas officials and Gazan civilians chose to call them. If anyone was worried about the increasing religious and ethnic fanaticism of the Israeli leadership, they should still be worried. Did Israel launch this attack because there was no other rational route to maintain its security? Or was it pursuing a broader agenda rooted in ancient mysticism?

Wow. Look at how bloodthirsty those Israelis are!

Gawker adds a later communication:

Update: An IDF spokesman emailed to say that "Operation Pillar of Defense" was not intended as a "direct, word-for-word" translation of "Pillar of Cloud."
The name is not a direct, word-for-word translation. Like most translations, it is an attempt to convey the spirit of the name, rather than a simple Google Translate.

Regardless of the religious implications, the Bible plays an important cultural role in Israel. I think that every example of Bible quotes you cited has defensive connotations, rather than "vengeful."
Just my two cents.

Indeed, Jews who study the Torah often cannot easily distinguish between the basic meaning of the text and the commentaries given on the Torah. And in this case, one of the most famous commentaries - one that is taught to every schoolchild studying the stories - is from the commentator par excellence (and the one whose image I use in my icon), Rashi.

Rashi, on Exodus 14:19, explains why the cloud would move from in front of the Israelites at day to behind them at night:
To separate between the Egyptians’ camp and the Israelites’ camp and to catch the arrows and the catapult stones of the Egyptians.
Ask any child in a Jewish school what the clouds did, and he or she will answer exactly that - they protected the children of Israel from the projectiles of the Egyptians who were trying to annihilate them.

That is what the Hebrew name of the operation connotes - an attempt to protect the Israelis from the missiles of terrorists who want to destroy Israel. This is true even if the IDF spokesperson didn't consciously know that this was a famous Rashi (and probably Midrashic) commentary.