How to play the Game of Dreidel

Any number of people can take part.

  1. Each player begins the game with an equal number of game pieces (about 10-15) such as pennies, nuts, matchsticks, etc.
  2. At the beginning of each round, every participant puts one game piece into the centre pot. In addition, every time the pot is empty or has only one game piece left, every player should put one in the pot.
  3. Every time it’s your turn, spin the Dreidel once. Depending on the side it lands on, you give or get game pieces from the pot.
    • Nun means nisht or nothing in Yiddish. The player does nothing.
    • Gimmel means gantz or everything in Yiddish. The player gets everything in the pot.
    • Hey means halb or half in Yiddish. The player gets half of the pot. (If there is an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes half of the total plus one).
    • Shin (outside of Israel) means shtel or put in in Yiddish. Peh means pay in Yiddish also means put in. The player adds a game piece to the pot.
  4. If you find that you have no game pieces left, you are either “out” or may ask a fellow player for a “loan.”
  5. When one person has won everything, that round of the game is over!

There is a Midrashic explanation of the meaning of the Dreidel that suggests the four letters on the sides of the dreidel represent the four kingdoms which attempted to destroy Israel in ancient times, but which passed away from history, while Israel is still alive and well. They are:

  • Nun (Nebuchadnezzar/Babylonia);
  • Hey (Haman/Persia);
  • Gimmel (Gog/Greece);
  • Shin (Se'ir/identified with Esau and hence with Rome).​

Although this explanation is Midrashic in nature and does not explain the origins of the Dreidel, it’s an explanation very much in keeping with the history and theme of Hanukkah.

And finally, if you add up the Gimatria (the Hebrew numerical value) of the letters of the Dreidel, you get 358
(Nun=50 + Gimmel=3 + Hey=5 + Shin=300 = 358)
This is the same value as Messiah
(Mem=40 + Shin=300 + Yud=10 + Khet=8 = 358) Messiah.

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