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Saturday, August 29, 2015

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Dreidels – clay and otherwise

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Whether yours is made of clay and little or from silver and big, Chanukah’s four-sided top never fails to instil lovely memories in children and bring back delightful ones in the not-so-young. That’s why it’s no surprise that there are so many wonderful pages online devoted to dreidels.

How did the dreidel – or sevivon – become associated with the holiday of Chanukah? “One anecdote recalls the dreidel from the times when the Syrians prohibited the Jews from studying Torah. When the Syrians saw a group of Jews together, they checked to see that they were not studying. The Jews would hide their books and take out their dreidels and trick the Syrians into thinking they were just playing a game.” [http://bit.ly/dreidel1]

Rabbi David Golinkin disagrees. The president of Jerusalem’s Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies says explanations like the one above were “invented after the fact. The dreidel game originally had nothing to do with Chanukah” and that similar games had “been played by various people in various languages for many centuries.” [http://bit.ly/dreidel2]

Regardless, the dreidel is now a firmly entrenched and beloved tradition that has even developed a mystical side. Lee Ratzan suggests that like a dreidel, “the human spirit has four primary attributes: self (soul, nefesh), body (guf), reason (sechel) and everything (by extension, evil, hakol). When the dreidel is spun, the four sides can no longer be distinguished and blend into a harmonious oneness about a single infinite point. Spinning the dreidel is a symbolic act of striving for that harmony.” [http://bit.ly/dreidel4]

Although each Jewish holiday fulfils a unique role, I’ve been amused to come across good-natured sites that pit Chanukah against Purim, or more specifically latkes versus hamantashen. [http://bit.ly/dreidel13] However, Rabbi Yanki Tauber explains in The Underhand Spin that the two holidays actually share something in common: a spinning toy. “Still, there’s a difference: the dreidel is spun from above, while the gragger is turned from below.” Why? On Chanukah, the Jewish people were saved by outright miracles “from above.” While on Purim, salvation is disguised in a series of ordinary events “from below.” [http://bit.ly/dreidel6]

If you think you know exactly what a dreidel looks like, pay a visit to Eran Grebler’s DraydelHouse.com for dozens of delightful designs, as well as to the marvellous dreidelfun.com. Marsha Plafkin’s Braille Dreidel is a simple yet striking variation. [http://bit.ly/dreidel7]

If you’ve never made a little dreidel out of clay, it’s not too late! Just follow the instructions at ehow.com. [http://bit.ly/dreidel9] I don’t know if it will help you haul in the chocolate gelt, but I came across an advanced mathematical discussion looking at probability and the dreidel.  [http://bit.ly/dreidel10]

And speaking of trying to gain an advantage, baseball has it corked bats. Hockey has its overly curved sticks. And can you believe it, Chanukah has trick dreidels! Those are dreidels with the jackpot winning letter “gimel” etched into all four sides. But before you get too up in arms, the Great Trick Dreidel is a project to raise funds for Toys of Hope, which provides toys, clothing and other items to needy and homeless children and their families. [http://bit.ly/dreidel11]

Next week, we spin and sing!


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