The Dreidel is a four-sided spinning top that Jewish people play with during the eight-day winter holiday of Chanukah. Each side of the Dreidel shows a letter of the Hebrew alphabet- Nun, Gimmel, Hay and Shin; together the letters form the acronym “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” meaning “A great miracle happened there”. The letters also form a mnemonic for the rules of the game.
All players sit around a flat surface and the games pieces (chocolates, coins, raisins etc) are divided evenly between all the players. Everyone takes a turn to spin the Dreidel and the one with the “highest” letter begins (Nun is considered the highest, then Gimmel, then Hey, then Shin). Everyone puts on game piece into the centre of the playing area. The one who goes first spins and play continues in a clockwise direction.
If the Dreidel lands on Nun absolutely nothing happens. Yes, really! Nun stands for the Yiddish word “nul” which means zero.
If the Dreidel lands on Gimmel you take whatever game pieces are in the centre of the paying area- all of them. Gimmel stands for “gantz”, the Yiddish word meaning whole. After such a move, everyone puts one game piece into the middle of the playing area and play continues.
If the Dreidel lands on Hay, you take half of whatever is in the centre of the playing area. Hay stands for “halb” meaning half.
If the Dreidel lands on Shin you have to put a game piece into the centre of the playing area. Shin stands for “shenk” meaning give.
Interesting Facts about the Dreidel
· The name Dreidel is Yiddish and comes from the word “dreyen” meaning “to turn”.
· The Hebrew name for Dreidel is “Sevivon”coming from the Hebrew word meaning “to turn”
· The Hebrew word “Sevivon” was invented by the son of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who was responsible for rejuvenating the ancient Hebrew language into the modern Hebrew language that is spoken today. His son, Itamar was five years old when he invented the word.
· In 1993, US astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman took a Dreidel and Menorah on his Space Shuttle mission.
· The Dreidel game is based on a European gambling game.
· Alternative Yiddish names for the Dreidel are fargls, varfl (meaning “something thrown”), shtel ein (meaning “put in”) and gor gorin (meaning “all”).
· There is an opinion that the four letters on the Dreidel symbolize the four exiles that the nation of Israel were subjected to- Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome.