is a derivative of a German word meaning “top”. In
Hebrew the name for the dreidel is "sevivon" which
actually means a spinning top. The game
is an adaptation of an old gambling game. Hanukkah was one of
the few times of the year when rabbis permitted games of chance.
The dreidel, therefore, was a natural candidate for Hanukkah
entertainment. Jewish families understand that the game
played with the dreidel each year during Chanukah is much more
meaningful than simply spinning a top for while there is a game
played with the dreidel there are also specific meanings that go
along with it.
The dreidel is
played in the light of the Chanukah Menorah. It has four sides
spinning around on a point. Since children receive Chanukah
"gelt" (money) during Chanukah, and since the lighting
of the candles causes children to be diverted from their
studies, they are told: "while you relax, don't forget the
miracles wrought for you…" And so the letters on the
dreidel teach that even while at play, the remembrance of God's
bounty should be in one's mind. The Hebrew letters Nun,
Gimmel, Sin, and Heh are carved on the sides of the dreidel.
For the purpose of the game they stand for:
(“nichts”) – take nothing;
(“ganz”) – take everything;
(“halb”) – take half;
(“shtell”) – put in.
time, the gambling terms were reinterpreted to stand for the
Hebrew phrase Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “A great miracle happened
there.” The commemoration of a miraculous victory of a
faithfulfew Jews over the might of the Greek Empire. Thus,
even an ordinary game of chance was invested with Jewish values
and served to remind Jews of the important message of Hanukkah.
Today, Jewish children throughout the world continue to enjoy
the game of dreidel. In Israel, one letter on the dreidel has
been changed. The shin has been replaced with a pei,
transforming the Hebrew phrase into Nes Gadol Hayah Po. “A
great miracle happened here.”
on a deeper level, the dreidel is seen as a microcosmic
representation of the four kingdoms, Babylon, Persia, Greece and
Rome spinning around the center, the Jewish People. According to
Jewish teachings, the little dreidel not only contains the story
of the Jewish People, but also the history of the whole world!
Accordingly this story of the dreidel begins not with the
miracle of Chanukah, but 1,437 years earlier with Jacob's ladder
and tells the story of four great kingdoms that in turn
dominated and exiled the Jewish People: Babylon, Persia, Greece
his dream it is said that Jacob saw the angel of Babylon ascend
the ladder 70 steps and then come down: The Jewish People were
in the Babylonian exile for 70 years. The protecting angel of
the Empire of Persia and Media then climbed up the ladder 52
steps before descending: The Jewish People were in exile in
Persia 52 years. Then the angel of the Empire of Greece climbed
180 rungs - the domination of Greece lasted 180 years. Finally,
the protecting angel of the Roman Empire climbed up the ladder,
but he didn't come down. From this Jacob feared that the
final exile would never end, until God promised him - If he
will rise up like an eagle and make his nest among the stars -
even from there I will bring him down. And so the Jewish
people see themselves as in the final exile until Messiah comes.
Rules for the
Two or more
receives a given number of coins, nuts or similar items.
spinning the dreidel each player deposits a fixed proportion
of the amount received into a "kupah" or kitty.
One of the
players spins the dreidel.
dreidel falls, it will fall on one of the 4 letters.
According to the letter, the following will happen:
Nun - no win
/ no lose
take all (from the kitty)
Heh - take
half (from the kitty)
Peh or Shin
- lose (what you deposited)
round takes place with new deposits by each player.
player in the circle spins the dreidel, and so the game
continues until players have run out of 'funds' or it is
agreed to stop. Anyone losing all funds is out of the game!