Dreidel: 5 Interesting Facts

A dizzying array of fascinating insights behind this iconic Jewish symbol.

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1. Recognizing Miracles in Nature

While the dreidel spins, the letters disappear in a blur and are visible only when coming to a stop.

Immersed in the dizzying hustle-bustle of daily routine, we can't see the miracles regularly happening all around.

Only when we stop to reflect are our eyes opened to the miracles that were there the whole time.

2. Letters’ Deeper Meanings

The dreidels’ Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hey and shin don’t only stand for Nes Gadol Haya Sham (A great miracle happened there).

The four letters also correspond with four ancient kingdoms that tried to destroy the Jewish people.

Nun = Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian leader who destroyed the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Gimel = Gog, or Greece, which tried to eradicate the Jewish religion in the time of Hanukkah.

Hey = Haman, the wicked minister in ancient Persia who wanted to wipe out the Jews and whose defeat is remembered during Purim.

Shin = Seir, or ancient Rome, which destroyed the second Temple in Jerusalem and ended Jewish rule in ancient Israel for nearly two thousand years.

3. Dreidels vs. Groggers

There are two items Jews spin – dreidels and groggers, Purim noisemakers.

On Purim, we hold the grogger from the bottom; we can’t see our hand controlling the toy, reflecting the nature of the Purim miracle when God's hand was hidden.

On Hanukkah, we spin dreidels from the top. Our hands – symbolizing the “hand” of God – are visible, hinting to Hanukkah's miracle when God wrought clear miracles as the Jews fought the Syrian Greeks.

4. Fooling Greek Soldiers

In 175 BCE, King Antiochus Epiphanes took control of Israel and instituted harsh decrees, forbidding Jews to keep Shabbat and Jewish holidays and banning the learning of Torah.

Jewish teachers and parents persisted, running clandestine schools at risk of death.

If Greek soldiers raided these schools, children would take out their dreidels and some coins and explain that they were just playing games. This way a generation of Jewish children to study Torah and live Jewish lives.

5. Numerical Surprises

The numerical value of the dreidel’s 4 letters is 358 which is the numerical value of the Hebrew word Moshiach, or Messiah, who will ultimately redeem the Jewish people, reassuring us that no matter how much danger the Jewish people are in, God will never abandon us.

Comments (7)

(6) Anonymous, November 26, 2021 4:20 AM

2. Letters’ Deeper Meanings
Gimel = Gog, or Greece,
Greece is yavan, not gog.

(5) Leslie Webber, December 11, 2020 7:37 AM

Great article!

(4) Leah Rubin-Lewis, December 10, 2020 4:55 PM

Peh, not Shin in Israel

What about the letter Peh instead of Shin? How does that effect the Gematria and what would the Peh stand for?

(3) Pamela, December 9, 2020 8:08 PM

How is Seir equated with Ancient Rome?

I enjoyed the video on the driedal & found it very informative.

(2) Anonymous, December 8, 2020 7:50 PM

different interpretation of letters

Nun=nefesh=The Holy Temple=Babel because Nevucadnezer destroyed the nefesh (Holy Temple) of the Jewish People.
Gimmel=guf, meaning "body"= Persia because Haman wanted to physically destroy the Jewish People/
Shin or sin=sechel, meaning the intellect = Greece because Greece only believed in the intellect, not in the soul or the spiritual world.
Heh="Hakol", meaning "Everything"= Edom because Rome destroyed the second Holy Temple, the Christian world continually attempted to destroy our bodies, and there were times in history when Edom (the Western world) wanted to destroy our spiritual world by burning the Talmuds, etc.

(1) Rabbi Fred Natkin, December 8, 2020 12:09 AM

A different spin

New insight on the top. Brings new questions. There were dreidels found at Masada. Were they "new" teaching tools from years previous? Were adults and children's dna found on them? if there was dna, it might need to be buried and treated as "remains" ?

Dvirah, December 10, 2020 6:28 PM


I was taught that the driedel was actually instituted in Roman times - several Roman emperors forbade Torah learning - for the reason given in the article. They hid in caves to study, with a lookout, and quickly hid the scrolls and set out the driedel game when Romans were near. If a Roman asked what they were doing, they'd reply that they were gambling and didn't want their wives to know. Perhaps some Romans even had a game with the rabbis.


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