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The Menorah and the Dreidel Print E-mail

The Hanukkah menorah or hanukkiyah holds nine candles. Eight candles symbolize the eight days that the miraculous oil burned in the Temple after the defeat of the Syrian Greeks. The middle or tallest candle is called the shammash which means the leader or the helper.

The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays by Malka Drucker is a great source for finding out more information about Hanukkah. Hanukkah is not the most important Jewish holiday but it is the most widely known in the United States because it falls near Christmas.

Dreidels are four-sided tops. Each side has a Hebrew letter on it: nun, gimmel, hey, and shin. Together they stand for the saying, "Nes Gadol Haya Sham." Translated into English it means: "a great miracle occurred there."

Playing dreidel at Hanukkah is traditional in Jewish homes all over the world. In Israel, however the fourth letter "shin," is replaced by a "peh" reflecting the saying, "Nes Gadol Haya Po"--"a great miracle occurred here."

Any number of people can play. Here's the basic rules:

Each player starts with an equal number of nuts, chocolate gelt or pennies. Ten or 12 pieces to each person works well. We like to use nuts in the shell because they can be handled again and again and the temptation to eat them isn't as great as it is with chocolate chips.

Each round starts with all the players putting one nut into the "pot."

When it's your turn, spin the dreidel. When it stops, the side facing up will tell you what to do.

  • Nun means "nothing" in Yiddish. So do nothing. Play moves to the person on your left.
  • Gimmel means "everything." You get everything in the pot! When the pot is empty or has only one nut left, each player adds a nut to the pot.
  • Hey means "half." You get half of the pot.
  • Shin means "put in." You put half your nuts into the pot.

When you have no nuts or pennies left, you are out. But unlike some other games, you can ask another player for a loan so you can keep playing.

When one person has all the nuts, they win that round. Hand out more nuts and play again.

When money is used to play the game, families often put all or part of their winnings in the tzedakah box (or "pushky" as Auntie Marcia calls it). The money in the tzedakah box is then donated to charity.

Have a great time when you spin the dreidel this Hanukkah!

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Tags: Hanukkah