It’s almost Chanukah and that means it’s time for lighting the menorah, eating delicious latkes and donuts, and playing a few rounds of dreidel. The Hebrew word for dreidel is sevivon, which comes from the Yiddish phrase ‘to turn around’.
The traditional Chanukah dreidel game is a throwback to the times when the Greek armies of King Antiochus controlled the Holy Land, before the Maccabees defeated them. The regime passed a series of laws outlawing the study of Torah and Jews were forced to do their learning in secret. Young Jews resorted to learning Torah in outlying areas and forests. It is said that if a Greek patrol came past, they would pretend to be playing with spinning tops. Our Chanukah dreidel games reminds us of this time.
You may have seen these spinning tops in Chanukah displays around London in the last few weeks, but did you know that the letters embossed around the sides have a meaning?
There are four Hebrew letters on the four sides of the dreidel, and they represent the first letters of the four-word phrase, ‘Nes Gadol Haya Sham’ – a great miracle occurred there. (In Israel dreidels look a little different, substituting the last letter – shin – with a peh to stand for the word Poh, so that their phrase is a great miracle occurred here.
This is how you play:
Any number of people can take part and each player starts with an equal number of tokens (around 10-15). These could be small coins, chocolate coins, poker chips, sweeties or any small, countable pieces.
At the beginning of the round everyone puts a piece into the middle, or ‘pot’, and before each round if the pot is empty, each player puts in a piece to keep it going.
When it is your turn, you spin the dreidel and wait to see which side is up when it falls:
Nun means nisht/nul, or none – you do nothing.
Gimel means gantz or everything – you take everything in the pot
Hey means halb or half – you take half the pot
Shin means shtel/shenk or put in – add a piece to the pot
When you have no pieces left you are out, or you can appeal to other players to lend you some more!
When one person has won everything, the round is done.
Chag Chanukah Sameach! Have a happy Chanukah!