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How to Play the Dreidel

Learn more about a tradition of the Jewish Holiday Chanukah and how the dreidel came to be.

 

By Bonnie Frey

When most people think of the Jewish Holiday Chanukah, they think of the dreidel. I thought I would share some information to help you gain some perspective on its origins and to teach you how to play with this simple yet wonderful spinning top.

Here is a bit of history on the dreidel.

Long ago, during the rule of the Greek king Antiochus, Jews were forbidden to study their religion. Jewish children resorted to learning in outlying areas and forests.

When the children were studying, they would keep a dreidel nearby to pull out and play in case they were discovered, so that they could pretend to be merely playing games.

A dreidel has one Hebrew letter on each side. Outside of Israel, those letters are: נ (Nun), ג (Gimmel), ה (Hay) and ש (Shin), which stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Sham." This phrase means, "A great miracle happened there [in Israel]."

After the State of Israel was founded in 1948 the Hebrew letters were changed for dreidels used in Israel. They became: נ (Nun), ג (Gimmel), ה (Hay) and פ (Pey), which stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Po."

This means, "A great miracle happened here."

The miracle referred to in both versions of the Hebrew phrase is the miracle of the Hanukkah oil, which lasted for eight days instead of one. 

Here is how to play dreidel:

Any number of people can play. At the beginning of the game each player is given an equal number of "gelt", usually about 10-15. "Gelt", is the Yiddish word for money. Children most frequently use chocolate coins, nuts or pennies to play, but use whatever you like.

At the beginning of each round, every player antes up and puts one piece into the center "pot." They then take turns spinning the dreidel, with the following meanings assigned to each of the Hebrew letters:

נ Nun means "nothing" in Yiddish. If the dreidel lands with a nun facing up the spinner does nothing.

ג Gimmel is "gantz," in Yiddish which means "everything." If the dreidel lands with the gimmel facing up the spinner gets everything in the pot.

ה Hey means "half" in Yiddish. If the dreidel lands with a hey facing up the spinner gets half of the pot.

ש Shin means "shtel," in Yiddish for "put in." If you are using an Israeli dreidel, the פ Pey means "pay." If the dreidel lands with either a shin or a pey facing up the player adds a game piece to the pot.

If a player runs out of game pieces they are "out." Now how to get your kids not to whine, when they loose their candy, well that is another type of miracle. Guess it's all about sharing in the end. 

Please come join us for a Chanukah Faire and Boutique at Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, Sunday, December 2nd, from 11 am to 3 pm.

The cost is $5 per child, which includes face painting and crafts, and the event is free for adults. There will be Chanukah Food, and lots of latkes of course. So come and spin the dreidel with us, everyone is welcome. 

Location: 4529 Malabar Avenue in Castro Valley (off Redwood Road).

For more information, please visit our website: http://www.congshirami.org/ or our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CongShirAmi

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