Playing dreidel is a beloved Hanukkah tradition, but why do we play it in the first place? It’s a game that has been played all around the world for hundreds of years and is closely linked to the history of Hanukkah. In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of dreidel, the rules of the game, and why it’s such a popular tradition on Hanukkah.
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History of Dreidel
The popular story of how dreidel became associated with Hanukkah involves a band of Jewish freedom fighters known as the Maccabees. When the Seleucid Empire sought to suppress their independence in 167 BCE, the Maccabees staged a revolt against the empire, eventually leading to their freedom. Ultimately, the Maccabees were able to reclaim the Temple of Jerusalem from the Seleucids, a feat that is celebrated today in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
As the legend goes, as the Maccabees fought for their freedom, they often had to hide from the occupying forces.
The Story of the Dreidel
When the Maccabees were spotted, they would pretend to engage in a game of chance to avoid persecution. The game they would play was a four-sided spinning top called the dreidel. The dreidel would be spun and depending on which side was facing up when it stopped spinning, different rewards such as coins or nuts would be given to the participants. This allowed the Maccabees to carry out their secret meetings as the Seleucids believed they were just playing a game.
The Meaning of the Dreidel
The four sides of the dreidel each have a letter from a Hebrew phrase. The phrase, “nes gadol hayah sham”, translates to “a great miracle happened there” in English, and is a reference to the miracle of the Temple of Jerusalem that is celebrated on Hanukkah.
Rules of the game
The rules of the game are fairly simple. Players take turns spinning the dreidel and then either put coins or nuts into the pot or take coins or nuts from the pot depending on which side is facing up. The game is over when one player has all the coins or nuts in the pot.
Today, dreidel is still a popular game during Hanukkah, and it is played across the world. The game is a reminder of the events that occurred hundreds of years ago that allowed the Maccabees to reclaim the Temple of Jerusalem and begin the Hanukkah festival. The dreidel itself also symbolizes the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the Temple of Jerusalem that makes Hanukkah such a meaningful celebration.
Playing dreidel is a great family activity that brings together people of all ages and of all backgrounds. Whether you’re a kid playing for fun or an adult playing for coins or nuts, there’s something magical and special about the game of dreidel that makes it a lasting and beloved part of the Hanukkah tradition.
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Last update 2023-11-27. Price and product availability may change.