Ahh, the famous childhood Chanukah song. In fact, many of the favorite Chanukah ditties revolve around the dreidel (no pun intended!). What is this fascinating game?
The Dreidel is a four sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. Before the game begins, everyone is given an equal number of pennies or candies, and each player places an initial deposit of coins or candies in the middle of the circle. Each person then takes a turn spinning the Dreidel. When it falls, depending on the Hebrew letter that is facing up, the following occurs:
Nothing happens and the next player spins the dreidel.
The player wins everything in the pot.
The Player takes half the pot.
The player must put a penny/candy in the pot.
Gambling! On a Jewish holiday? What could possibly be the derivation of this game? When the Syrian-Greeks ruled Judea (in the year 167 BCE), they banned the study of Torah. The Jewish people, however, continued to study and to teach their children. Under the threat of death, they met in secret, leaving a lookout to watch for signs of the soldiers. When the lookout signaled, the books were quickly hidden away and the Jews pretended to be gambling.
The letters stand for Neis Gadol Hayah Sham- a great miracle happened there.
In Israel, the dreidel has a Pey instead of a Shin, for Neis Gadol Hayah Poh – A Great Miracle Happened Here.