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Holiday Central > Chanukah > Dreidel  > Origins of Dreidel Game
Origin of the Dreidel Game
By: Rivka C. Berman, Contributor
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Before batteries infested playthings' innards there was true fun to be had with a simple spinning top.

The dreidel, in Hebrew, the Sevivon, had been and will continue to be the holiday of Chanukah's symbol alongside the chanukiyah, the Menorah.  So how did the spinning top come to be associated with the holiday of lights?

      · The Dreidel and its Historic Chanukah Connection
      · Dreidel - A German Gambling Game?
      · Playing Games on Chanukah

The Dreidel and Its Historic Chanukah Connection
Some Jews look at the dreidel and see Jewish heroics that date back to the Chanukah era. Syrian-Greeks forbade Jewish study, but Jews without Torah, as the famous Rabbi Akiva said, are like fish without water. According to legend, Jews would mask their study gathering by playing with a spinning top, a popular gambling device. Should Syrian-Greek soldiers burst into the forbidden study groups the troops would see a den of gamblers instead of group of lawbreaking scholars.

Dreidel - A German Gambling Game?
The modern dreidel, from the German dreihen - to spin, is a Judaicized version of a German gambling game. (Nineteenth century Englishmen revived the game as "teetotum," a similar wobbly game of chance.) Even the Hebrew is based on the German gambling instructions. Each of the four sides has a Hebrew letter. The "Nun" stands for "nisht," none. "Gimmel" stands for "ganz," all. "Hey" stands for "halb," half. "Shin" stands for "shtel - stay put."

Playing Games on Chanukah
Before giving all the glory to the dreidel, it should be told that the top is only one of several Jewish games played on Chanukah. Game playing during this holiday became popular in part because of the tradition to refrain from working while the Chanukah candles burned. Spin offs from the dreidel's gambling roots include the card game kvitlach, a game of wits and winnings.

In the Mishna Berura, a gloss on the code of Jewish law by the Chofetz Chaim, there's a caution that those who care for their spiritual integrity should not stoop to playing popular card games that involve gambling.
More about the Dreidel.

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