Lesson Planning

Related Kits:
Dreidel Kits
Menorah Kit
Brass Candle Cups
Dreidel and Menorah Woodshapes

Traditions of Chanukah
The festival of Chanukah is celebrated mainly in the home, and is marked by kindling the Chanukah lights, eating traditional foods, playing dreidel, and giving “Chanukah gelt” to the children.

The exchange of gifts is a latter day adoption of the holiday traditions of the surrounding non-Jewish culture in Western society. The authentic Jewish tradition is to give coins (gelt, in Yiddish) to the children.

This tradition also has caused confusion in the tradition of playing “dreidel”, a put–and-take game played with a four-sided spinning finger top, which is properly played with candies or nuts, but not with coins. The dreidel game became associated with Chanukah several centuries ago, but contrary to popular legend, does not date to Maccabbean times. It was simply the Yiddish version of a popular European parlor game, adopted from the surrounding culture, from the Renaissance on.

Traditional Chanukah foods recall the legend of the miracle of the sacred lamp oil that lasted eight days—potato pancakes (latkes) in Europe and America; jelly donuts (sufganiot) in Israel—both fried in oil.

The Chanukah Menorah, or Chanukiah
A kosher menorah has all eight candle cups at the same height, with the “shamash”, which lights the others, above or separate from the others.

On the first night of Chanukah, one candle is put in the candle cup on the far right end of the menorah. On each successive night, one candle is added, from right to left (think in terms of reading Hebrew.) However, on each night, the newest candle added, the one furthest left, is the first to be lighted by the shamash, which is lit first by a match or other source of fire. The candles are lit in order, from left to right.

As the candles are lit, the two brachot (blessings) are recited, followed on the first night by a third blessing, Shehecheyanu, and the paragraph Hanerot Halalu, found in the Siddur, and finally, traditional Chanukah songs, such as Maoz Tzur and Mi Y’malel. On Shabbat, the Chanukah candles are lit first, and then the Shabbat candles.

“Bubbie’s Menorah Miracle” by Rabbi Eli Hecht
This brief account of the return of a missing Menorah illustrates the powerful effect of a treasured ritual object upon a family and a community. Just follow this link:
Bubbie's Menorah Miracle.

Rules of Play
Dreidel is the traditional game for the festival of Chanukah. Any number can play. Each player contributes some nuts, raisins or candies to a central “pot” and spins the dreidel in turn. The Hebrew letters on the dreidel stand for Yiddish words which tell how much you win...or lose!

“NUN” stands for Nisht--win nothing, lose nothing.
“GIMMEL” stands for Gantz--take all; win the pot.
“HEY” stands for Halb--win half the pot.
“SHIN” stands for Shtel--put one in the pot (or other pre-agreed amount)

If the pot is won, every player can “ante up” again.

In some places, NUN is said to stand for Nem, or “take”, which wins the pot,
while GIMMEL stands for Geb, “give”, meaning put one in,
and SHIN stands for Shtey, which means “stand”, that is, do nothing.
HEY still wins half the pot.

Other interpretations:
The letters on the dreidel have also been interpreted to stand for the Hebrew phrase:
Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning “a great miracle happened there” in reference to the story of Chanukah (either the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days, or the miracle of the military victory over the Syrian Greeks.)

In Israel the dreidel says, “A great miracle happened here.” Therefore, the last letter is changed to “PEY” to stand for the word “Po,” meaning “here.”

While these are the best known, numerous other interpretations have been put forward to connect the dreidel to the Chanukah tradition, or to other Jewish values. One such interpretation is as follows:
“NUN” stands for neshama, the soul.
“GIMMEL” stands for guf, the body.
“SHIN” (or it’s other vocalization, “SIN”) stands for sekhel, the mind, and
“HEY” stands for Hakol, the entirety, that is the whole person.
In this way, the dreidel reminds of us the balance of the key components to the complete human being.

Another, similar tradition says that:
“NUN” stands for neshama’i, the spiritual realm,
“GIMMEL” stands for gufani, the physical realm,
“HEY” stands for hiyuli, the realm of energy, and
“SHIN” stands for shamaymi, the heavenly realm, that is, that which created and governs the other three.
Thus, the little dreidel is a simple representation of G-d’s creation.

Related Activities

1. Learn the blessings for the Chanukah candles, and Chanukah songs.

2. Make wooden dreidels from a kit, and learn the rules of the game, and various interpretations of the four letters on the dreidel.

3. Bring in family Chanukah Menorahs and dreidels, especially old ones, and compare the materials, methods, and designs used.

4. Bring in recipes to compare, and make potato latkes in the group for a Chanukah party.

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