How Hanukkah Works

The Dreidel

People playing with dreidels People playing with dreidels
Dreidels helped the Jews in antiquity hide their religion from Greek Soldiers. kali9/Getty Images

The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The dreidel game was played during time of Antiochus, before the Jewish revolt. Because Jews could be killed for practicing their religion, when they gathered to study the Torah, or holy scripture, they would have a dreidel handy. If they were discovered by Greek soldiers, they could pretend to be playing with it.

The game is usually played with each player receiving a number of coins or candy. Before spinning the dreidel, each player puts money in the pot, or kupah. On each side of the dreidel is a Hebrew letter: nun, gimmel, hey or shin. Each player spins the dreidel and sees what letter is facing up when it falls. Each letter represents a different outcome, from winning nothing to taking the whole kupah. For more information, check out Playing the Dreidel.