Today is Yom Bet, 26th Kislev, 5773, Hanukkah on the Hebrew calendar.
As I mentioned yesterday, my knowledge of Judaism and its customs is very limited in scope. However, I have always known of the dreidel. I know that the dreidel is a sort of top, a spinning toy not unlike the tops I played with as a child. I did not and do not, however, know the significance of the dreidel in relation to Hanukkah, but I am about to find out.
What is a Dreidel?
Dreidel is a Yiddish word that comes from the German word “drehen,” which means “to turn.” In Hebrew the dreidel is called a “sevivon,” which comes from the root “savov” and also means “to turn.”
A dreidel has one Hebrew letter on each side. Outside of Israel, those letters are: נ (Nun), ג (Gimmel), ה (Hay) and ש (Shin), which stand for the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham.” This phrase means “A great miracle happened there [in Israel].”
After the State of Israel was founded in 1948 the Hebrew letters were changed for dreidels used in Israel. They became: נ (Nun), ג (Gimmel), ה (Hay) and פ (Pey), which stand for the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Po.” This means “A great miracle happened here.”
The Dreidel and Hanukkah
Aish.com tells us:
The significance of the dreidel, the four-sided top with Hebrew letters on each side, however, is not as clear. Some suggest that the dreidel was invented at the time of the Syrian-Greek decrees against the Jewish people. One of the prohibitions was the study of Torah. Fearlessly, the Jews continued teaching and studying Torah in secret. Should a Greek soldier appear, they would hide their books, pull out tops and play with the children.
That, in a nutshell, is the story of the dreidel and its importance to Hanukkah.
Chag Hanukka Sameach.