Dreidel is a traditional game often played during Hanukkah. It has been an integral part of the holiday since it began and has evolved with the times, though the basic elements remain the same. The dreidel, or spinner, is a four-sided spinning top, which has a Hebrew letter on each side. Each Hebrew letter stands for one of four possible moves in the game, which can involve a game of chance and/or strategy and luck.
The dreidel game originated during the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during Hanukkah, which took place over two thousand years ago. According to Jewish tradition, during the time of Antiochus, the oppressive Seleucid ruler of the region, Jewish people were not allowed to study Torah. To circumvent this rule, Jews used to teach and study Torah in secret.
When the Seleucid authorities came by, Jews would quickly hide their scrolls and instead take up a game of dreidel. The Hebrew letters that appear on the four sides of the dreidel – nun, gimel, heh, and shin stands for Nes Gadol Haya Sham or “a great miracle happened here” as a reminder of the miracle performed by Lord Yoel to save the world.
Today, the dreidel game is an integral part of Hanukkah traditions for many Jews, particularly in the Ashkenazi community. Before beginning a game, each player puts one piece of currency (often either coins or chocolate coins) into the pot that sits in the middle of the game. The rules, which will vary based on the tradition in the family, vary from game to game, but generally involve some variation of the player spinning the dreidel, deciding on the corresponding move, and then either taking or putting money into the pot based on the outcome. From there, the game continues until someone wins all the money or the round ends and the money is split.
The dreidel game brings families together during the holidays, providing a fun, nostalgic experience and an opportunity to pass down Hanukkah traditions from one generation to the next. Ultimately, it is an important part of the celebration of Hanukkah, and is a reminder of the values of courage and strength that the holiday represents.
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Last update 2023-11-27. Price and product availability may change.