Lesson 2: Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel

We spin the dreidel — a 4-sided spinning top — on Hanukkah. Each side has a different letter which represents the first letters of a Hebrew phrase, Nes Gadol Haya Sham or A Great Miracle Happened There. Let’s learn what each of the 4 letters are called and what they look like.

Hey: Has a Hole

Gimel: Gimme a leg/Get the gelt

Nun: Nothing

ה

ג

נ

Nun (נ)

If you spin the dreidel and it lands on NUN, then you get nothing from the pile. That is why we call this letter NOTHING NUN. NUN makes a “n” sound like neon. There isn’t anything too remarkable about this letter other than that it is a difficult letter to draw because you have to balance drawing round and straight perfectly to make it clear that it is a NUN. You can practice writing NUN by hand using this handwritten Hebrew guide.  

Gimel (ג)

The best side for the dreidel to land on is the one with the letter GIMEL. That’s because you GET ALL THE GELT in the pile if it does. GIMEL makes a “g” sound like Gatorade and we differentiate it from the letter NUN with the monicker GIMME A LEG GIMEL because the letter looks like it is casually standing with its leg out. 

Hey (ה)

You get half of the pile of gelt if you spin the letter HEY. HEY makes an “h” sound like happy except if it is the last letter in the word. If there is a HEY at the end of the word and the HEY has no vowel under it, then it is silent. This is similar to certain words in English. Do you pronounce the letter “h” at the end of the word Hannah? Nope. It’s silent. The same goes for HEY in Hebrew. The letter HEY HAS A HOLE on the left hand side between the bottom vertical line and the top horizontal line. This hole differentiates HEY from other letters like TAV that look similar. 

Shin (שׁ)

*The final letter on the dreidel is SHIN which we learned in Lesson 1. If the dreidel lands on SHIN, you have to put back two pieces of gelt to the center pile. 

EH Vowel #1

EH Vowel #2

EH Vowel #3

ֶ 

 ְ 

ֱ 

EH Vowel (sounds like eggs):

The EH vowel can be remembered with a simple math equation: 3 + 2 = 5. That’s because the three variations of the EH vowel have three dots, two dots and five dots. 

EH Vowel #1 

The first EH vowel is three dots in the shape of an upside down triangle. You could also think of this EH vowel as two eyes and a nose if you were drawing a stick figure face. 

EH Vowel #2

։

The second EH vowel is two vertical dots. This vowel is more complicated so we will come back to it after learning the third one.

EH Vowel #3

∵∶

The third EH vowel is five dots. Simply combine the other two EH vowels — three dots plus the two dots — and you have your final EH vowel. 

STOP SIGN OR EH Vowel

Let’s go back now to the EH vowel with two vertical dots. If you see two vertical dots underneath the first letter of the Hebrew word, then the vowel is EH. There’s nothing more to it. 

However, if you find the two vertical dots under any other letter in the word, these two vertical dots act as a STOP SIGN. What do I mean by that? The two vertical dots underneath the letter stop the sound of the letter above. To proceed with reading the word, you then look to the next letter — to the left — to begin the next syllable and continue reading that word. 

Here’s an example of when the two vertical dots make the EH sound. Notice that the dots are underneath the first letter of the word.

(GEHhAHsh) גְהָשׁ  

Here’s an example of the two vertical dots in the middle of the word. 

(ShEHnEHghAH) שֱׁנֶגְהֲ  

 or (GAHshnEHb) גַשְׁנֶבּ  

What happens if there are two vertical dot vowels in a row in one word? The first two vertical dots are a STOP SIGN and the second two will make the EH sound. Because you stopped the sound of the word with a STOP SIGN, the next letter will need to have a vowel attached to that word. Therefore, the second set of two dots is treated like its the first letter of the word so we pronounce EH.

Here are a few examples:

(NEHbgAH) נֶבְּגְה  

(TAHshnEHtAH) תֲשְׁנְתַּ  

This pattern can continue on for as long as you want.

(HAHggEHbshEHt)  הָגְגְבְּשֱׁת              

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