We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Dreidel?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A dreidel is a four-sided top used for play during Hanukkah. The four sides each show a different character: nun, gimel, hey and shin.

The game played with a dreidel is a simple betting game, with each of the sides of the top indicating what the player who spins must do. Each player starts with a small amount of whatever currency is being used for the game, be it pennies, small candies or some other token. At the start of a player's turn, he places one token in the collective pot, then spins the dreidel.

If the dreidel lands with nun facing up, the player does nothing and play proceeds to the next player. If it lands on gimel, the player takes the entire pot for the turn. If it lands on hey, the player takes half of the pot, and if the dreidel lands on shin, the player puts a small number of tokens into the pot.

A popular apocryphal history for the dreidel holds that the game originated in the time of the Greek-Syrians. During this period the Jewish people were barred from studying their Torah by the Greek-Syrians. Legend has it that as a way to justify gathering for Torah readings, Jewish people would keep a dreidel around so if any Greek-Syrians came by they could hide the Torah and act as though they were merely playing a game. A similar account holds that the dreidel acted as an excuse to gather for discussions of the Torah, which would take place while spinning the top.

A more likely origin of the dreidel has it connected to an English and Irish top game of a very similar nature. This game, called teetotum or totum, was played throughout the 16th century. The letters used on the totum top were N for "nothing", T for "take all", H for "take half" and P for "put in". When the game made its way to Germany, the letters changed to N for nichts meaning "nothing", G for ganz meaning "all", H for halb meaning "half", and S for stell ein meaning "put in". When Yiddish speaking German Jews began playing the game, they used the Hebrew letters which made the same sounds and the accompanying words: nischt, gantz, halb and shtel.

The letters used on the dreidel are also used to represent the words "nes gadol haya sham" meaning "a great miracle happened there." Since the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, there has existed a slight variation, substituting the letter shin with the letter pay and changing the phrase to "nes gadol haya po" meaning "a great miracle happened here."

A teaching in the midrash indicates that the four sides of the dreidel, in addition to their representation of the above phrase, also represent the four major ancient kingdoms which attempted to exterminate the Jews. This has nun representing Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom of Babylonia, gimel representing Gog and the kingdom of Greece, hay representing Haman and the kingdom of Persia, and shin representing Se'ir and the kingdom of Rome.

The dreidel is also known as a fargle or varfl in Yiddish, and as a sevivon in Israel.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon134613 — On Dec 15, 2010

It should be a kids only game.

By anon131532 — On Dec 02, 2010

I am pretty sure that dreidel is a family game, not an adult only game!

By anon131172 — On Dec 01, 2010

Children play with piles of beans or pennies. Dreidel is no more a "Gambling" game than Monopoly. Relax! It is most definitely a game for kids, and I've never met a parent who is uptight about children playing this. This is just a spinning top! Gimme a break.

By anon122140 — On Oct 26, 2010

it is a adult game but some children play it. but i bet their parents are not to happy when they do!

By sinefey — On Dec 22, 2009

I knew it was used in a game, I didn't realize it was a gambling game! Don't children play this game as part of the tradition or is it still an adult game?

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.