Israeli Jewelry - Israel Gifts
A dreidel (also spelled dreidl or draydel) is a four sided spinning top with a different Hebrew letter on each side. The game of dreidel is traditionally played during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
Some people maintain that the dreidel game goes back to the time of the Greek-Syrians, and thus is integrally connected to the Hanukkah holiday. Since the Greek-Syrians prohibited the Jews from studying Torah, the Jews needed a way to hide their Torah learning. They used the dreidel as a decoy. When they saw the Greek-Syrians coming, the Jews would hide their books, take out their dreidels, and trick the Syrians into thinking they were just playing a game.
While the above story is a wonderful way to link the holiday's history to its modern celebration, the true source of the game is probably European.
In Europe, a gambling game with a spinning top has been played for centuries by various people in various languages. In England and Ireland, the game of totum or teetotum, first mentioned in approximately 1500, was especially popular at Christmastime. The Germans also liked to play a gambling game with a spinning top.
It is believed that the Jewish game of dreidel is a Judaicized version of the German gambling game. The Yiddish word dreidel derived from the German word drehen, which means "to spin."
The letters on the faces of the gambling toy, which were mnemonic for the rules of the game, varied in each nation. The letters on the English spinning top were: T for Take, H for Half, P for Put, N for None.
In an effort to link the game to the celebration of Hanukkah, the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay and shin were said to stand for the phrase Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means "a great miracle happened there."
The Israeli Connection
With the birth of Israel and the revival of the Hebrew language, Israelis called the dreidel a sivivon. Sivivon comes from the Hebrew word sovev which means "to turn."
Furthermore, Israelis changed the letter shin on the dreidel to the letter pay. Thus, the letters nun, gimel, hay and pay would stand for the phrase Nes Gadol Haya Po, which means "a great miracle happened here."
The dreidel is fun. The traditional game of dreidel is played with raisins, nuts, candy or gelt with four basic rules (shin--put one in; heh--take half, gimel--take all; nun--take nothing). Variations abound. Blackjack dreidel assigns a numerical value to each letter with the winner whoever gets chayim (18) or some pre-assigned value. Dreidel Bingo is played on an all-letter board. Dreidel musical chairs moves players as the dreidel spins. Dreidel horse racing moves players one notch ahead every time their letter appears. Dreidel baseball has rules for each base hit.
To play the game of dreidel, two to four players each get a handful of pennies or chocolate money called gelt. The remainder of the pot is left in the middle. The youngest players spins the dreidel and depending on what letter the top lands on, he or she will:
NUN - Lose his turn, the top passes to the next player.
GIMEL - Win all the pot.
HEY - Win half the pot
SHIN (or PEH) - Lose all of his coins
The dreidel -- or Sivivon in Hebrew, from the verb to spin -- continues to be passed around the circle until one player has won everyone's coins. The word dreidel comes from a Yiddish word meaning to turn.