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Wooden dreidel

A dreidel (Yiddish: דרײדלdreydl plural: dreydlekh,[1] Hebrew: סביבוןsevivon) is a four-sided spinning top, played with during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. The dreidel is a Jewish variant on the teetotum, a gambling toy found in many European cultures.

Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (He), ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for "נס גדול היה שם" (Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – "a great miracle happened there"). These letters were originally a mnemonic for the rules of a gambling game played with a dreidel: Nun stands for the Yiddish word nisht ("nothing"), He stands for halb ("half"), Gimel for gants ("all"), and Shin for shtel ayn ("put in"). In Israel, the fourth side of most dreidels is inscribed with the letter פ (Pei), rendering the acronym, נס גדול היה פה, Nes Gadol Hayah Poh—"A great miracle happened here" referring to the miracle occurring in the Land of Israel. Some stores in Haredi neighborhoods sell the ש dreidels.


According to Jewish tradition, when the Jews were in caves learning Torah, hiding from the Seleucids, dreidel became a popular game to play. Legend has it that whenever the teacher heard the Seleucid soldiers approaching, he would instruct the children to hide their Torah scrolls and take out their dreidels instead.[citation needed]

The game dates from the Medieval period at earliest, since it is a Judaized version of a Germanic teetotum, whose rules were: N = Nichts = nothing; G = Ganz = all; H = Halb = half; and S = Stell ein = put in.[2]


Dreidels for sale at Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem

The Yiddish word "dreydl" comes from the word "dreyen" ("to turn", compare to "drehen", meaning the same in German). The Hebrew word "sevivon" comes 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. Hayyim Nahman Bialik used a different word, "kirkar" (from the root "KRKR" – "to spin"), in his poems,[3] but it was not adopted into spoken Hebrew.

In the lexicon of Ashkenazi Jews from Udmurtia and Tatarstan the local historian A.V. Altyntsev was fixed several other appellations of a dreidel such as "volchok", "khanuke-volchok", "fargl", "varfl", "dzihe" and "zabavke". [4]


Some rabbis ascribe symbolic significance to the markings on the dreidel. One commentary, for example, connects the four letters with the four nations to which the House of Judah was historically subject—Babylonia, Persia, Seleucid Empire and Rome.[5] While not mandated (a mitzvah) for Hanukkah (the only mandated mitzvot are lighting candles and saying the full hallel), spinning the dreidel is a traditional game played during the holiday.[6]

Rules of the game[edit]

Each player begins with an equal number of game pieces (usually 10–15). The game pieces can be any object, such as chocolate gelt, pennies, or raisins.

  • At the beginning of each round, every participant puts one game piece into the center "pot". In addition, every time the pot is empty and sometimes if it has one game piece left, every player puts one in the pot.
  • Each player spins the dreidel once during their turn. Depending on which player side is facing up when it stops spinning, they give or take game pieces from the pot:
    • a) If נ (nun) is facing up, the player does nothing.
    • b) If ג (gimel) is facing up, the player gets everything in the pot.
    • c) If ה (hay) is facing up, the player gets half of the pieces in the pot. (If there are an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes the half the pot rounded up to the nearest whole number)
    • d) If ש (shin) or פ (pei) is facing up, the player adds a game piece to the pot (often accompanied with the chant "Shin, Shin, put one in"[7]). In some game versions a Shin results in adding three game pieces to the pot (one for each stem of the Shin).
  • If the player is out of pieces, they are either "out" or may ask another player for a "loan".[8]

These rules are comparable to the rules for a classic four-sided teetotum, where the letters A, D, N and T form a mnemonic for the rules of the game, aufer (take), depone (put), nihil (nothing), and totum (all). Similarly, the Hebrew letters on a dreidel may be taken as a mnemonic for the game rules in Yiddish. Occasionally, in the United States, the Hebrew letters on the dreidel form an English-language mnemonic about the rules: Hay, or "H" standing for "half;" Gimel, or "G" standing for "get all;" Nun or "N" standing for "nothing;" and Shin or "S" standing for "share".

Thomas Robinson and Sujith Vijay have shown that the expected number of spins in a game of dreidel is O(n2), where n is the number of game pieces each player begins with. The implied constant depends on the number of players.[9]


Childhood enjoyment of dreidels has led to interest in collecting them in adulthood.[10] Jewish institutions such as the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University and Temple Emanu-El in New York, house dreidel collections, as do museums such as the Spinning Top and Yo-Yo Museum in Burlington, Wisconsin.[10]


Dreidel is now a spoof competitive sport in North America. Major League Dreidel (MLD), founded in New York City in 2007, hosts dreidel tournaments during the holiday of Hanukkah. In MLD tournaments the player with the longest Time of Spin (TOS) is the winner. MLD is played on a Spinagogue, the official spinning stadium of Major League Dreidel. Pamskee was the 2007 MLD Champion. Virtual Dreidel was the 2008 MLD Champion.[11] In 2009, Major League Dreidel launched a game version of the Spinagogue.[12]

In 2009, Good Morning America published a story on Dreidel Renaissance reporting on the rising popularity of the dreidel.[13] Dreidel games that have come out on the market since 2007 include No Limit Texas Dreidel,[14] a cross between traditional dreidel and Texas Hold'em poker, invented by a Judaica company called ModernTribe.[15] Other new dreidel games include Staccabees[16] and Maccabees.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dreydlekh is also a term in klezmer music
  2. ^ "The Origin of the Dreidel". 
  3. ^ "Ben Yehuda organization: Bialik". Benyehuda.org. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  4. ^ Altyntsev A.V., "The Concept of Love in Ashkenazim of Udmurtia and Tatarstan", Nauka Udmurtii. 2013. № 4 (66), p. 130. (Алтынцев А.В., "Чувство любви в понимании евреев-ашкенази Удмуртии и Татарстана". Наука Удмуртии. 2013. №4. С. 130: Комментарии.) (Russian)
  5. ^ Yaakov, Rabbi. "Secret of the Dreidel". Ohr.org.il. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  6. ^ Brooklyn Man Wins Dreidel Spinning Contest
  7. ^ LeBon, Marilee (2001). The complete idiot's guide to holiday crafts. p. 73. ISBN 9780028642000. 
  8. ^ "How to Play". Myjewishlearning.com. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  9. ^ "Dreidel Lasts O(n2) spins". 
  10. ^ a b "Oh Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel: A favorite holiday pastime takes center table". Forward.com. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  11. ^ "No Gelt, No Glory: A Dreidel Champion Is Crowned". Npr.org. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  12. ^ "Spinagogue". Moderntribe.com. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  13. ^ Milberger, Michael (2009-12-12). "Dreidel Games Generation". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  14. ^ "No Limit Texas Dreidel". Texasdreidel.com. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  15. ^ http://www.moderntribe.com
  16. ^ "Staccabees". Staccabees. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  17. ^ "Battle of the Bees: Two games put a new spin on traditional dreidel game". Jweekly.com. 2009-12-03. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 

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