What are the Letters on a Dreidel?

in About Hanukkah

The dreidel is a spinning top used to play games on Hanukkah. It is unique because it has certain letters written on each side of it. These letters are: נ (Nun), ג (Gimmel), ה (Hey), and ש (Shin), which stand for the phrase “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” which means, “A great miracle happened there.” In Israel the ש (Shin) is replaced with a פ (Pey) because the phrase changes to “Nes Gadol Hayah Po,” which means instead, “A great miracle happened here.” This is another way to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah victory.

In order to play the dreidel game, the players must choose a “prize” to use as currency. Today, the most popular item to use is chocolate coins (Hanukkah gelt), although some children will play with pennies, nuts, raisins, chocolate chips, or marshmallows. Of course, the more exciting the prize, the more exciting the game is! Each player starts with the same number of items, usually about 10 or 15, and then they go around the table and each adds one item to the “pot” in the center. Any time the pot is empty or has only one piece left, this procedure is repeated so the game can continue. Then, they start spinning the dreidel!

נ (Nun)
If the dreidel lands on the letter נ (Nun), then it stands for the word “nisht.” “Nisht” is the Yiddish word for “nothing.” Unfortunately, that player wins nothing from the pot, but fortunately, they also do not need to put anything in.

ג (Gimmel)
If the dreidel lands on the letter ג (Gimmel), then it stands for “gantz.” “Gantz” means “all.” That lucky player wins everything in the pot! ג (Gimmel) is the letter that every player most wants to see.

ה (Hey)
If the dreidel lands on the letter ה (Hey), then it stands for the word “halb.” As you can guess, “halb” means “half.” This means that player wins half of whatever is in the pot. If it happens that there are an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player gets to take the extra piece.

Wooden dreidels

ש (Shin) or פ (Pey)
If the dreidel lands on the letter ש (Shin) – or in Israel if it lands on the letter פ (Pey) – then this stands for “shtel.” “Shtel” means “put in.” Depending on the number of pieces that players are using, they must either put one or two pieces in the pot. If they are playing with many pieces, like 10 or 15, then they should add two pieces to the pot. If they are playing with only a few pieces, then adding one to the pot will be sufficient.

If a player runs out of pieces, they are either “out” of the game, or they can ask a friend for a “loan.” Dreidel is a fun game for both adults and children to enjoy. Now that you know what each of the letters mean, you will be able to play the game and enjoy the meaning behind the game!

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