A dreidel (דרײדל dreydl, סביבון Sevivon) is a four-sided top, played with during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. The dreidel is used for a gambling game similar to Teetotum. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for "נס גדול היה שם" (Nes Gadol Haya Sham – "a great miracle happened there"). These letters also form a mnemonic for the rules of a gambling game played with a dreidel: Nun stands for the Yiddish word nite ("nothing"), Hei stands for halb ("half"), Gimel for gants ("all"), and Shin for shteln ("put"). In the state of Israel, the fourth side of most dreidels is inscribed with the letter פ (Pei), rendering the acronym, נס גדול היה פה, Nes Gadol Haya Po—"A great miracle happened here" referring to the miracle occurring in the land of Israel. Some stores in Haredi neighbourhoods may sell the traditional ש dreidels.

Some Jewish commentators ascribe symbolic significance to the markings on the dreidel. One commentary, for example, connects the four letters with the four exiles to which the nation of Israel was historically subject—Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome.

The Yiddish word "dreydl" comes from the word "dreyen" ("to turn"). The Hebrew word "sevivon" comes also from the root "SBB" ("to turn") and was invented by Itamar Ben-Avi (the son of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) when he was 5 years old. Different terms were used by Hayyim Nahman Bialik in his poems. While the only mandated mitzvot for Hanukkah consist of lighting candles and saying the full hallel, there are numerous other customs that have come to be associated with Hanukkah.

The game

'' For more details on this topic, see Hanukkah → Hanukkah games The code (based on a Yiddish version of the game) is as follows:

  • Nun - nisht - "nothing" - nothing happens and the next player spins
  • Gimel - gants - "all" - the player takes the entire pot
  • Hey - halb - "half" - the player takes half of the pot, rounding up if there is an odd number
  • Shin - shtel ayn - "put in" - the player puts one marker in the pot

Another version differs

  • Nun - nim - "take" - the player takes one from the pot
  • Gimel - gib - "give" - the player puts one in the pot
  • Hey - halb - "half" - the player takes half of the pot, rounding up if there is an odd number
  • Shin - shtil - "still" (as in "stillness") - nothing happens and the next player spins

The game may last until one person has won everything.

Some say the dreidel game is played to commemorate a game devised by the Jews to camouflage the fact that they were studying Torah, which was outlawed by Greeks. The Jews would gather in caves to study, posting a lookout to alert the group to the presence of Greek soldiers. If soldiers were spotted, the Jews would hide their scrolls and spin tops, so the Greeks thought they were gambling, not learning.

Hanukkah gelt

Hanukkah gelt (Yiddish for "money") is often distributed to children to enhance their enjoyment of the holiday. The amount is usually in small coins, although grandparents or other relatives may give larger sums as an official Hanukkah gift. In Israel, Hanukkah gelt is known as dmei Hanukkah. Many Hasidic Rebbes distribute coins to those who visit them during Hanukkah. Hasidic Jews consider this to be an auspicious blessing from the Rebbe, and a segulah for success.

Twentieth-century American chocolatiers picked up on the gift/coin concept by creating chocolate gelt, or chocolate shaped and stamped like coins and wrapped in gold or silver foil. Chocolate gelt is often used in place of money in dreidel games.

Dreidel songs

There are many popular Hanukkah songs mentioning the dreidel. The most popular song in the English speaking world, and one of the most associated with Chanukah is, I Have a Little Dreidel. In Israel, and other people with Hebrew knowledge, a song, Sevivon, Sov, Sov, Sov (see Hanukkah music) is very popular.

In popular culture

The dreidel's popularity is evident in pop culture, which includes the following examples:

Bart: Any luck, Dad?
Homer: No, but the rabbi gave me this. [spins a dreidel]
Bart: What is that?
Homer: Son, it's called a droodel.

  • In the film Hot Shots!, as Topper Harley enters the training center, the navy sailors are singing "Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel" in the warm-up yard.
  • In The Simpsons episode I Don't Wanna Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Marge stops at Shlomo's Judaica Dreidel Blowout Sale on her way to the prison, where she would visit bank-robber Dwight, whom she promised to visit in order for him to surrender and let her and the other hostages go.
  • The Davinci's Notebook have produced a slow, menacing industrial version of the "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" song in their album The Life and Times of Mike Fanning, featuring a cappella singing filtered through distortion effects.
  • For the Christmas Eve 2006 Bumper Edition of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the Next Lines round was omitted in order that the teams, plus a guest band and members of that show's Identity Parade, performed a particular song (chosen, in a short skit, by Dreidel), a joke on the irony of the presenter, Simon Amstell hosting a Christmas edition of the show despite being Jewish.
  • 1988 Bette Midler as her character CC Bloom chants with her co-star Barbara Hershey the dreidel song in the movie Beaches . This is seen during flashbacks of the time they lived together and before they went their separate ways, marrying and becoming famous.
  • For the three different versions of Adam Sandler's hit "The Chanukah Song," released between 1994 and 2002, there are a few references to the dreidel, including a performance in the 2002 version by a children's choir, The Drei-Dels."
  • In the opening scene of the film American Psycho, Patrick Bateman corrects his colleague Greg McDermott by saying "Not a menorah, you spin a dreidel."
  • In the Hannakah special Chanukah on Planet Matzah Ball, among other characters, there is a dreidel named Spinderella.
  • Don Mclean wrote a song called "Dreidel", which is featured in his album, "American Pie".
  • Dreidel was featured at the beginning and the end of the April 7th, 2008, episode of The Daily Show when Jon Stewart was presented a dreidel by one of the audience members.

See also


External links

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