Spinning dreidels.

A dreidel is a top used in a game -- usually played by children. The word dreidel comes from the Yiddish, dreyen, which means to turn.

The game that uses a dreidel is often played on Hanukkah. The top has four sides and each side has a Hebrew letter on it. The letters are: gimel, hey, nun and pey (in Israel) or shin (outside of Israel). Those are the first four letters of each word in the Hebrew phrase, "A great miracle happened here/there."

The game is celebrated in the popular Hanukkah song "I Have a Little Dreidel".

The game

The game is played with markers, sometimes called "gelt" which is the Yiddish word for money (often chocolate "coins" or other candy such as M&M's represent the "gelt"). To begin the game, each player puts a piece of 'gelt' into the pot. (Some players put two pieces in to start.) The players take turns spinning the top and takes action according to the letter that is on top when the dreidel stops spinning. If the letter is


  • ג gimel, the spinner wins the pot (Once the pot is taken each player puts in the starting amount of gelt again.)
  • ה hey, the spinner wins half the pot
  • נ nun, nothing happens
  • ש shin, the spinner puts two 'coins' in the pot (Some play that you only put in one.)

Then the next person has a chance to spin. The game can continue until everyone is tired of playing (or when someone is out of "coins").

The phrase

The letters on the dreidel stand for a phrase.

location the letters in Hebrew transliterated translated
outside of Israel נ ג ה ש נס גדול היה שם Nes Gadol Hayah Sham a great miracle happened there
in Israel נ ג ה פ נס גדול היה פה Nes Gadol Hayah Poh A great miracle happened here


Dreidels and menorahs (or more properly hannukiah) are used as symbols of the holiday of Hanukkah. So dreidels or pictures of dreidels are often used as decorations.

External links