A top that became a symbol of a Jewish holiday is growing in popularity
One of the universal symbols of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah is the dreidel, a little toy top used by children and adults during the annual celebration of the Festival of Lights.
And although the dreidel is a toy, it is the symbol of the holiday, which is really a minor holiday in the Jewish faith, said Rabbi Matt Cohen of Congregation B’nai Israel in Galveston.
Dreidels come in a variety of sizes, colors and materials, but their markings are the same worldwide — almost. On each of the four sides of the top is a single Hebrew letter: nun נ; gimel ג; hei ה; and shin ש. Translated they mean: A great miracle happened there. However, in Israel the letters are a bit different: nun נ; gimel ג; hei ה; and peh פ — A great miracle happened here.
The dreidel is a reminder of the miracle in the second century when the Maccabees successfully rebelled against Antiochus IV and their Greek-Syrian oppressors and celebrated in the temple in Jerusalem. Someone found a vessel of sacred oil — enough to light the candles for one day. The miracle occurred when the candles stayed lit for eight days, making Hanukkah today an eight-day celebration.
Because the event happened in Jerusalem, dreidels in Israel have different markings.
There are several legends concerning the dreidel. During periods of war when the Jewish people were not permitted to practice their religion or study their holy books, this little toy helped remind them of their heritage, the story of Hanukkah and the great miracles — of which there are two, Cohen said.
Cohen said miracles that are seemingly mutually exclusive — the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days and the story of the military conquest, which is detailed in the Books of Maccabees, which aren’t canonized religious books. It makes no mention of the miracle of the oil and lights. On the other hand, the Talmud, or Jewish book of civil and ceremonial law, focuses primarily on the miracle of the oil with only a brief mention of the conquest.
“It is a minor holiday but is a fun, family time,” Cohen said.
In recent years, dreidel-spinning games have become a sport in North America, played competitively and socially.
Major League Dreidel, founded in New York City in 2007, hosts dreidel tournaments during the holiday of Hanukkah, with competitors such as Mr. Spincredible, Juspin Beiber and Spincess Leia. In such tournaments, the player with the longest time of spin is the winner. Major League Dreidel is played on a Spinagogue, the official spinning stadium of Major League Dreidel. And since 2007, new games have been devised, such as “No Limit Texas Dreidel,” which is a cross between the traditional dreidel game and Texas Hold’em poker, invented by a company called ModernTribe.