What Is A Dreidal?
Associated with the Jewish Hanukkah, the Dreidel is a unique spinning top with four sides. Each side bears a different symbol, with those symbols being nun, gimel, he, and shin. These four symbols, once combined, create a phrase that translates to “a great miracle happened here.”
The Dreidel can be traced back to Germany, where its original counterpart was known as the teetotum. The teetotum itself is believed to have made its way to Germany from either Ireland or England. The teetotum originally had sides inscribed in Latin, which were converted into German letters during its development in Germany. After some time in Germany, the teetotum made its way into Jewish communities. At first, these communities were unable to recognise the language many of the teetotums were inscribed with, many of them containing Yiddish lettering. As a result of this, some Jewish communities created their own explanations of the dreidel, with a few of them relating to Greece, others to Rome and even to Persia.
Not long after, a tradition was created that had the Dreidel’s origins set in the time of the writing of the Torah, by Jews that resided in caves. A story grew from this about the transforming of Torah scrolls into Dreidals when a certain individual came looking for the scrolls. In modern times, there are still many Jewish communities who believe this origin of the Dreidel, while many others hold different beliefs.
The Rules of Dreidel
The game of Dreidel begins with all players having equal amount game pieces, usually up to about 15. These game pieces could be made up of different objects, and include dried fruit, coins, or chocolates.
Every round starts with each player adding one of their game pieces to a total pot. One more piece is added by each player at the start of every new round. Once all the pieces have been added, each player takes the Dreidal and spins it. Depending on the side it lands on, players either add or remove pieces from the pot. If the player lands on gimel, the player can take everything that is in the pot.
If the Dreidel lands on shin, the player is required to add another game piece to the pot. Landing on ne guarantees half of the pot, while nun means the player does nothing, and the Dreidal goes to the next player. If, during a round, a player runs out of pieces, they may either forfeit the round, or ask another player for a piece, which is known as a loan.
Due to the popularity of Dreidals, spoof tournaments were started in North America, beginning in 2007. These tournaments are hosted during the Hanukkah holiday, and are usually played within the Spinagogue, which is the official site for Dreidal tournaments. The sport has officially been named Major League Dreidal. Pamskee was the first official winner of the dreidal tournaments, followed by Virtual Dreidal in 2008. In 2009, Major League Dreidal launched a game which featured the same name.