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T-H-Dreidel-art - 12/26/00


"The Hannukah Dreidel" by Lady Meliora Leuedai de Ardescote. A Jewish game traditionally played during Hannukah.


NOTE: See also the files: Teetotms-Dreid-art, games-msg, games-SCA-msg, Jews-msg, fd-Jewish-msg, alphabets-msg, religion-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set

of files, called StefanŐs Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at:



Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be

reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first

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                               Thank you,

                                    Mark S. Harris

                                    AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                         stefan at florilegium.org



The Hannukah Dreidel

By Lady Meliora Leuedai de Ardescote


Hannukah is the Jewish festival of lights and the dreidel is a game that is traditionally played during this festival time.  Let's take a look:


Hannukah celebrates the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Syrians, who banned Jewish practices such as circumcision, temple duties and studying the Torah.  These activities were punishable by imprisonment or death.  During this time, the Jewish people came up with ways to study in secret, such as pretending to gamble, but actually discussing their religion.  


Mattathais (or Matityahu), was a Jewish priest of the Hasmonean clan, who was ordered by a Syrian soldier to sacrifice to a Greek god. He refused and then slew the soldier and a Jew who had tried to force him to comply.  He and his 5 sons and their followers then fled to the hills, and a revolt began.  Judah, one of the sons, led an army that defeated the Syrians and re-took the temple at Jerusalem.  The Talmud says that the temple was re-consecrated in time to celebrate their Succoth Harvest festival, but that there was only enough oil for 1 day.  The Jewish people believe that since the oil burned for 8 days, that this was a miracle that reflected the miracle that the Jewish people had defeated the Syrians and would ultimately defeat them (which they did).


The dreidel is reported to be one of the games which developed during the time of the conflict, but it may have also developed later - and continued as a tradition during the Middle Ages and into current times. Since the letters on the dreidel represent the Hannukah miracle, I'm not sure that it's likely to have been played the same way during the conflict (I have seen a report that it actually developed in Central Europe in the Middle Ages, but haven't been able to track down a good source for this yet).  During the first 1/2 hour of nightfall during Hannukah, and other times that it was customary for the Jewish peoples not to study the Torah (such as Christmas Eve), the customs of games and riddles and singing developed.  The dreidel continued as one of the games.


What is a dreidel?  It's a small, 4-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side.  The letters are called Nun, Gimel, Hay and Shin. They stand for "Nes Gadol Hayah Sham," or "A Great Miracle Happened There."  This refers to a miracle that happened when Judah Maccabee liberated the temple in Jerusalem.  There was only enough consecrated oil to burn for 1 day, but it burned for 8.  Hannukah celebrates this miracle.


To play dreidel, everyone puts a coin (called gelt) into the pot.  The youngest spins the dreidel.  What it lands on determines what happens:


Nun means the player wins nothing and loses nothing.  The next player spins.

Gimel means the player takes all.  Everyone adds a coin to the pot and play continues.


Hay means the player takes half the pot.  Play continues.


Shin means the player must add 1 coin to the pot.  Play continues.


Play traditionally continues until 1 player has all the loot.


A bit of trivia:

* In Jerusalem, the letters on a dreidel are changed to stand for "A Great Miracle Happened Here."

* Gelt started out as bonuses to teachers for their good work.  Hannukah was once also the time for neighborhoods to get together and discuss social issues such as education.  Schools were given their funding on Hannukah.  Gelt somehow moved from payment to teachers to being payment to children for answering riddles or religious questions correctly.  The children later used the gelt to play dreidel.

* Gelt is chocolate coins in gold wrappers.

* Gambling is technically forbidden by the Jewish religion.

* The Hannukah Menorah has 8 candles to signify the 8 days that the miracle oil burned.  It is lit from the middle, 1 candle per day, and displayed, for the 8 days of Hannukah.


This is a good game to play at Wassail or 12th Night celebrations, for both children and adults.  Coins, nuts, raisins or other small tokens are all acceptable substitutes for chocolate gelt.  If you choose to buy commercial dreidels, they usually come with an explanation of which letter or character is which.




The Chanukah Dreidel



The Department of the World Zionist Organization - Poker, Dreidel and Hannukah by Robin Treistman, 1996



Chanukah on the Net - The Dreidle






The Education Department of the Jewish Agency for Israel - The Pedagogic Center



Temple B'nai Shalom:Dreidel History


The History of Chanukah by Rabbi David E. Lipman, from: The Book of Jewish Knowledge:  613 Basic Facts about Judaism, Jason Aronson, Inc.



Copyright 2000 Sandy Danielewicz, 27883 Sutherland, Warren MI  48093. <ladymeliora at tir.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org