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Did you know about the dreidel?

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 27, 2013 at 5:27 a.m.


LYRICS TO "DREIDEL, DREIDEL, DREIDEL"

I have a little dreidel

I made it out of clay

And when it's dry and ready

Then dreidel I shall play!

Chorus:

Oh - dreidel, dreidel, dreidel

I made it out of clay

And when it's dry and ready

Then dreidel I shall play!

It has a lovely body

With legs so short and thin

And when my dreidel's tired

It drops and then I win!

Chorus:

My dreidel's always playful

It loves to dance and spin

A happy game of dreidel

Come play now, let's begin!

Chorus:

Dreidels are synonymous with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, which officially began Wednesday at sundown, the day before Thanksgiving.

Some are tagging the scarce overlapping of the two holidays, "Thanksgivukah," because the second day of menorah lighting converges with Turkey Day - an occasion that hasn't occurred since 1918.

So while Hanukkah menus might shift this week to include stuffing, casseroles and turkey, one can be sure the eight-day festival will certainly include holiday staples, such as gift-giving, gelt, and merry games of dreidel spinning.

But did you know the origins of the popular children's top game were once controversial?

Here's five things you didn't know about how the spinning Hanukkah top came into fashion.

1. Children play the dreidel by spinning the top until it stops on a letter Nun, Gimmel, Hay and Pey, which stands for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Po," or "A great miracle happened here." Each letter designates how much gelt, or chocolate coins, a person wins after the top finishes spinning.

2. In the third century, however, the Torah, or Hebrew bible, was translated into Greek, when Greek became the common language standard for the ancient Mediterranean world. Over a period of many years, a growing schism occurred between Greeks and Jews, eventually leading to horrific Jewish persecution.

3. High Priest Antiochus tried to eliminate Jewish practices, and Jews' ability to keep kosher and learn the Torah. He also forbid the observance of holy holidays, such as Shabbat, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

4. Torah scrolls were publicly burned and defiled with bloody, sacrificed swine - a forbidden animal to consume in Judaism.

5. Antiochus also forbid circumcision, a Jewish sign of the covenant with God. Greeks found the practice abhorrent and considered the practice a form of bodily mutilation. Women who circumcised their sons were killed and the Greeks tied their sons around their necks. Jewish scholars were murdered and those who refused to eat pork or sacrifice swine were tortured to death.

6. Instead of refusing their Hebrew studies, they invented a spinning top game, later known as the dreidel, and used it as a cover to study the Torah. When Greek soldiers would approach Jewish groups, children would hide the torah scrolls and they would pretend to play the dreidel, a gambling game.

7. The persecussion the Jews endured eventually led to the revolt of the Maccabees, the leaders of a Jewish rebel army, against the Syrian-Greeks in 164 B.C. When Jewish troops regained control of their temple, they rededicated and purified it with burning oil.

8. An eternal flame must always be lit inside the temples but after the war, there was only enough oil to light the temple's flame for one day. It burned for eight days, considered a miracle, which is why candles are lit on the menorah for eight days during Hanukkah.

9. The modern dreidel came from the German word dreihen, meaning "to spin." The top game became a Judaicized version of a German gambling game and is based on the German gambling instructions. Each side has a Hebrew letter. The "Nun" letter stands for "nisht," meaning, none. "Gimmel" stands for "ganz," or, all. "Hey" stands for "halb," or half. And "Shin" stands for "shtel" or stay put.

10. Today, dreidels come in varying sizes, colors and are made out of many different materials, including wood, plastic, clay and metal. Depending on the properties and craftsmanship of the top, they can sell for pennies or for thousands of dollars.

SOURCE: Torah Musings, Mazornet, Judaism Answers, History.com, Jewfaq.org

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