As is well known, the reason we play dreidel on Hanukkah is this: Before the miracle of Hanukkah, when the gentiles who controlled the land severely restricted Torah study, Jewish children would gather to study Torah in secret, and brought dreidels with them so that, should they be discovered by the authorities, they could appear to be playing rather than studying.

Nowadays, the letters "נ ג ה פ" on a dreidel stand for "נס גדול היה פה", "a great miracle happened here", viz the miracle of Hanukkah. But these children were playing dreidel before the miracle of Hanukkah! So what did "נ ג ה פ" stand for at that time?

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When the end of prophecy occurred at the destruction of the first temple, it was given to the children. Obviously then, the children knew by prophecy what was supposed to be on the dreidel.


Before the time of the Channukah story, this was a game played in reference to the story of Purim. It was an adult game played not with candy or coins, but with shots of strong wine in an attempt to be mekayem "ad d'lo yada'."

The letters, in proper order are hey, gimel, fey, nun -- hagafen.


It stood for Nothing Gadol Hayah Po


Before Chanukah, dreidles were simply used to celebrate any event. In Hebrew, a big event is called a הפנינג (happening). We can remove the י because it's silent to get הפננג. Because it would be too confusing to have two נs, we only keep one, and get הפנג. After Chanukah, they started counting from a different spot and made it an acronym.


Common misunderstanding. In fact, before the miracle, the dreidels had the letters "נ ג י פ", standing for נס גדול יהיה פה, a great miracle will happen here.


Every schoolkid knows what they mean:

  • Nun means no action
  • Gimel means "grab them all"
  • Hey means Half for you
  • Pey means pay up.

with your chocolate coins..

Except we have different rules at home:

  • Nun means I (Naftali) wins
  • Gimel means my son (Gamliel) wins
  • Shin (that is on our dreidels anyway) means my wife (Shira) wins

If we'd had another child we'd have given them a name beginning with Hey but at present it means "rollover".

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