Dreidels – Why Are They Central to Chanukah?

Dear Rabbi Fried,


Share This Post

Dear Michael ,

The dreidel signifies a very important aspect of the Chanukah holiday. In fact, it is as old as the menorah lighting itself. 

If you take a look at the dreidel, which is Yiddish for “spinner” or “top,” you’ll notice a letter imprinted on each of its sides: nun, gimmel, hey and shin which stand for the Hebrew words nes gadol hayah sham, meaning “A great miracle happened there.” “There” refers to Israel, which was where the story of Chanukah took place. In Israel today, the dreidel substitutes the “shin” (“there”) for a peh, or poh, meaning “here.” Either way, this is a game that celebrates the wonderful miracle of Chanukah taking place in the Holy Land, an unusual scenario given that most of the other holidays all celebrate events outside of Israel — Passover in Egypt or Purim in Persia, etc.

Also, the dreidel played an actual role in the Chanukah story. One of the key components of the Greek campaign against the Jews was to prevent them from studying the Torah which ran counter to the secularist agenda the Greeks were trying to promote. But, some Jews bravely continued teaching Torah to the children in the day schools and learning centers. The Greeks would send soldiers and police onto the streets to try and find these schools and report any forbidden teaching of Torah that might be taking place. The children devised a ruse to protect themselves in case they’d be caught. They would keep little toys in their pockets so that should the police suddenly show up they would pull out the toys and pretend to be innocently playing games as opposed to studying Torah. Those little toys were dreidels, and the ploy worked with great success – they were never caught. We maintain this game in loving memory of those children’s courage.

On a deeper level, the dreidel represents our world which appears to be spinning without direction but is actually being controlled from above. This is the message of Chanukah — things looked bleak for the Jews of that time and looked to be “spinning” out of control, but they weren’t. Ultimately, God brought the Jews a great victory and cause for celebration for centuries.

This message, that what looks like randomness is truly calculated from Above, is an important message and – puts a different spin onto Chanukah! 

Happy Chanukah to you and the entire Dallas Jewish Community.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

More To Explore

Jewish Culture


We have been in tremendous pain the past few weeks over a miscarriage we suffered in the sixth month. It’s hard to describe the sense of loss, and we can’t help but feeling it was so senseless; why would G-d put us through all that anticipation and both physical and emotional suffering for nothing? We’re hoping you can offer some comfort.

Jewish History & Current Events


We read about all kinds of miracles in the Bible. I would have a lot easier time believing in G-d if I could see miracles like our ancestors claim to have seen. How come there aren’t any more miracles today?