The Dreidel in Halacha and Agadah

The Dreidel in Halacha and Agadah:[1]

A. Background of the custom:

It is customary to play Dreidel during Chanukah.[2] As tradition has it, this game was historically played in the times of the Greeks when it was prohibited for Jews to study Torah. They would study Torah in secret and if a Greek guard would come to check on them, then they would take out the dreidel game to convince them that they were simply involved in the game and were not studying.[3] The playing of Dreidel represents the subjugation of the kingdoms of the world to the Jewish nation in the future time of the redemption.[4]

Who is it relevant for? The custom of playing Dreidel is mainly relevant for children and teenagers although even adults may play on occasion especially with their children in order to fulfill the custom, and doing so does not involve a prohibition of Bittul Torah.[5] However, adults should not use the days of Chanukah for games and other mundane entertainment[6], as the joyous occasion of Chanukah is to be utilized to increase in Torah learning.[7]

B. May one play Dreidel for the sake of money, for gambling purposes?

  • Example: May one play Dreidel for winning money, chocolate coins etc.

The general gambling prohibition:[8] Some Poskim[9] rule it is forbidden to gamble [with a Jew] due to a Rabbinical stealing prohibition.[10] Other Poskim[11] rule there is no stealing prohibition involved in gambling even with a Jew, just as is the law by a gentile [as explained next]. (Nevertheless, even according to this opinion, there is a prohibition involved in doing so.[12]) [Thus practically, according to all opinions, it is forbidden to gamble either on Shabbos or during the week, and the dispute is only in regards to the severity of the prohibition. It is forbidden to gamble even on mere occasion, as a onetime occurrence, and not only when one does so as a hobby.[13] This prohibition is intensified if one does so as an occupation to support himself.[14]]

The definition of gambling: Gambling is defined as any game in which two players stipulate that the winner will receive such and such an item from the loser [whether it is money or an object].[15] Furthermore, it is considered gambling even if the items all belong to one person and he will distribute it to the winners of the game.[16] This applies even between family members.[17]

The law by Dreidel: Based on the above, it should be forbidden to play dreidel for gambling purposes unless all the items are returned after the game is over and nobody wins or loses any item.[18] The widespread custom, however, is to be lenient and to permit playing dreidel even for loss and gain, such as chocolate coins, chocolate lentils and the like.[19] However, one is certainly to avoid playing with large sums of money or valuable items.[20]

C. May one play Dreidel on Shabbos?[21]

Playing Dreidel for the sake of winning and losing items of value/food: It is forbidden to play Dreidel on Shabbos for the sake of meriting something with each spin. Thus, it is forbidden on Shabbos to play Dreidel in the typical way that it is played during the week even if money is not used,  such as to use chocolate coins or chocolate lentils or any food or other item of the like in which there is a benefit for the players to win. This applies even to children, and the father is therefore obligated to educate them not to play Dreidel in this fashion on Shabbos.

Playing Dreidel without any item to win or lose: It is permitted for children below the age of Bar/Bas Mitzvah to play Dreidel without any purpose of gain or loss simply to spin it and see who gets what.[22] Accordingly, it is permitted to play Dreidel using items that have no value or importance if gained, or if there will be no gain or loss, such as if the children will have to return everything they won back into the pile when they are done playing, and they will not gain or lose any more or less than any other child due to the game. Thus, they may play using almonds even if they are in their shell if at the end of the game, they will return it back to the bag and no one will keep what they won. It is proper to designate a special beautiful Shabbos dreidel for this purpose in order to avoid any question of Muktzah or Uvdin Dechol that may be relevant to a Dreidel that is commonly only used for playing for gain and loss which is forbidden on Shabbos, as explained above. Regarding adults: It is best for them to avoid playing Dreidel on Shabbos both due to the general negation of playing games on Shabbos, as well as the stringency against playing games that involve luck.

May one play Dreidel with beans?[23] It is permitted for children to play Dreidel on Shabbos using beans that have been predesignated for this purpose to be used annually for Dreidel playing. Here too, a special Shabbos dreidel should be designated for this purpose as explained above. If the beans are not designated to be put away for annual use on Shabbos Chanukah and will be thrown out right after Shabbos, then it is best to avoid doing so, although those who do so have upon whom to rely. Even when playing with beans in which there is no true gain or loss for the players, there’s a stringency to avoid doing so as explained above, and thus it should only be done by children below the age of Bar/Bas Mitzvah.


[1] See Or Yisrael Monsey 14 p. 50; Nitei Gavriel Chapter 51

[2] Otzer Kol Minhagei Yeshurun 19:4; Bnei Yissachar Kislev 2:25; Minhagei Chasam Sofer that so was his custom; Divrei Yatziv 2:283; Imrei Pinchas Hashaleim Inyanei Chanukah p. 136; See Piskeiy Teshuvos 670:4; Many Sefarim in Or Yisrael ibid and Nitei Gavriel ibid footnote 1-2

[3] Otzer ibid; Divrei Yatziv ibid

[4] The meaning behind the inscription of the Nun Gimel Heiy Shin, is to teach one that even when one is in the midst of mundane activity, such as playing a game, he is not to forget G-d. The playing of Dreidel also contains mystical meanings behind it, as explained in Bnei Yissachar [Kislev 2:25]. There he explains that it represents the fall of the 4 evil empires who placed the Jewish people into exile. There he mentions that the original custom was to use wood Dreidels, due to mystical reasons.

[5] See Sefarim quoted in Nitei Gvariel ibid and Or Yisrael ibid who mention specifically “Nearim” playing Dreidel. Nonetheless, many Gedolei Yisrael have also followed this custom of occasionally playing Dreidel on Chanukah, and certainly the establishing of a custom of Israel does not involve Bittul Torah. The Chasam Sofer also played Dreidel on Chanukah.

[6] Shlah Chanukah; Biur Halacha 670:2 “Venohagin”

[7] Rashal 85

[8] Admur Gzeila Ugineiva 31; Areas in Talmud and Shulchan Aruch that the Issur of gambling is discussed:  Mishneh Rosh Hashanah 22a and Sanhedrin 24b; Orach Chaim 322/6; Choshen Mishpat 34/16 [laws of testimony]; Rama Choshen Mishpat 207/13 [laws of Asmachta]; 370/2-3 [laws of stealing]


The Mishneh states that one who gambles is invalid for testimony. [Mishneh Rosh Hashanah 22a and Sanhedrin 24b] The Gemara in Sanhedrin records a dispute as to the reason behind this invalidation. Rami Bar Chama says the reason is because it is similar to stealing being that the loser never fully agreed to give him the money being that he was planning on winning. The fact that he said he would give the money if he loses is a mere Asmachta, which is a not legally binding promise of words, being that he did not intend to truly relinquish his money but rather to use it to win. [Nonetheless, even according to this opinion the winner is not considered a Biblical Gazlan/robber, being that he did not forcefully take the money from the loser. He is however considered a Rabbinical Gazlan. Rashi on Mishneh R.H. ibid; Machatzis Hashekel on M”A 422/8] Rav Sheishes however rules that the money is not considered stolen at all, being that it was not given as an Asmechta but as an actual acquisition to the winner. Nevertheless, he is invalidated as a witness being that he is not involved in settling the world. The practical ramification between these opinions is regarding a gambler who has an occupation, in which case according to Rami Bar Chama he is still invalid, while according to Rav Sheshes he is valid. [Sanhedrin ibid]  Practically we rule like Rav Sheshes [Michaber 34/16; 370/3; Smeh 370/3; Machatzis Hashekel ibid; Rif; Rosh on Sanhedrin ibid] Nonetheless, even according to Rav Sheishes it is disputed as to whether there is a Rabbinical stealing prohibition involved in gambling, with some ruling that it contains an actual Rabbinical prohibition due to Avak Gezel and others ruling that there is no Rabbinical prohibition involved. Admur and other Achronim novelize that according to all opinions there is some level of stealing involved in gabling and the dispute is only as to what level. The following is a summary of the opinions: 1) Actual Rabbinical Gezeila. [Rami Bar Chama] 2) Not actual Rabbinical Gzeila but Rabbinically prohibited due to Avak Gezel [Rav Sheshes as rules Michaber ibid] 3) No stealing at all even Rabbinically, although it is slightly forbidden. [Rav Sheshes as rules Admur and M”A in their understanding of Rama] 4) No stealing at all on any level. [Simple understanding of Rama ibid] 

[9] First opinion in Admur ibid; Michaber Orach Chaim 322/6; Choshen Mishpat 34/16 [laws of testimony]; 370/2 [laws of stealing]; Rambam Gzeila 6/10; Rashi Rosh Hashanah 22a; Regarding opinion of Rambam: See Hilchos Gzeila 6; Eidus 10/4; Kesef Mishneh ibid

[10] The reason: This is considered Rabbinical Gzeila. [Michaber 370/2] Although the money is taken with the agreement of the loser, nonetheless since the money was taken from his friend in a way of jest and fun without him gaining anything in return, it is therefore Rabbinically forbidden. [Admur ibid; Perisha 34, brought in Smeh C.M. 40] This is considered “Avak Gezel” [Machatzis Hashekel on M”A 322/8]

[11] 2nd opinion in Admur ibid; Rama Choshen Mishpat 207/13 [laws of Asmachta] and 370/3 [regarding laws of stealing] “The custom is to gamble”; Tur Choshen Mishpat 34, 207, 370, brought in M”A 322/8; Rosh Sanhedrin 3/7; Tosafus Sanhedrin 25a

[12] Admur ibid in parentheses; M”A 322/8 “a slight prohibition”; Teshuvos Harivash 432; Machatzis Hashekel on M”A ibid;  P”M 322 A”A 8; Rav Poalim Y.D. 2/30 

Background: Admur ibid in parentheses that even according to the lenient opinion which rules it does not involve the stealing prohibition, it is nevertheless forbidden to do so; So also rules M”A 322/8 [see Machatzis Hashekel on ibid] that possibly one can learn this way from Michaber 322/6 that although there may not be a stealing prohibition involved there is still “a slight prohibition”; The P”M 322 A”A 8 interprets this to mean a Rabbinical “Avak Gezel”, and so writes Machatzis Hashekel on M”A ibid; However from Admur one can possibly learn that according to the lenient opinion there is no prohibition of even Avak Gezel, and the prohibition is simply due to “Yishuvo Shel Olam” as he writes regarding gambling with a gentile. Another reason for this prohibition can be learned from the Teshuvos Harivash ibid which writes “Even according to Rav Sheishes who states there is no stealing prohibition involved in gambling, nevertheless this is a repulsive, revolting and immoral act. It has caused the lives of many people to be destroyed.” Thus, in total we have three possible reasons for why there is a prohibition to gamble even according to the Rama 1) Avak Gezel 2) Yishuvo Shel Olam 3) putrid act.

Opinion of Rama: The Rama in 207/13 and 370/3 writes that the custom is to gamble. This implies that there is no prohibition involved at all, unlike Admur and the Poskim ibid. However, see Rav Poalim ibid that even according to the Rama there is a prohibition involved.

[13] Smeh 34/40

[14] See Michaber Choshen Mishpat 34/16 that in such a case he is invalidated as a witness; See Smeh ibid

[15] Admur ibid

[16] Michaber 322:6; Tur 322; Beis Yosef 322 that so rules Rif Shabbos 63b and Rosh 23:3; M”B 322:22

The reason: As this can lead to gambling with others and in a way that people lose and win. [M”B 322:22]

[17] 1st opinion in Michaber 322:6; Tur 322; Beis Yosef 322 that so rules Rif Shabbos 63b and Rosh 23:3; Bach 322 that so is the final ruling and so is implied to be the ruling of the Michaber ibid; M”B 322:22; Kaf Hachaim 322:31 that so is the final ruling

The reason: Although the father of the home owns all the items and it is not real gambling and worry of stealing, nonetheless it is forbidden as as this can lead to gambling with others and in a way that people lose and win. [M”B 322:22]

Other Opinions: Some Poskim rule that it is permitted for a father to make a raffle for family members to see who receives which portion of food, even though the portions are different sizes, as they are not Makpid. [2nd opinion in Michaber 322:6; Rambam Shabbos 23:7; Taz 322:4] The reason for this is because gambling itself is only Rabbinically forbidden and hence there is no need to make an additional decree against this leading to one coming to gamble. [Maggid Mishneh on Rambam ibid; Olas Shabbos 322:10; Elya Raba 322:10; See Taz ibid for his alternative explanation]

[18] Nitei Gavriel 51:3

[19] Nitei Gavriel ibid; Piskeiy Teshuvos 670 footnote 25 in name of Rebbe of Klozinberg in Shefa Chaim Chanukah writes that it is permitted on Chanukah to play Dreidel for winning purposes, as on Chanukah people forgive items to each other just like by family; See Chavos Yair 126 that the custom back then was to permit playing games on Chanukah

[20] See Choshen Mishpat 34:16

[21] Regarding the prohibition of playing games for the sake of gain and loss and against doing a lottery: See Admur 338:6; Rama 338:5; Rambam Shabbos 23:17; Shabbos 23 and 148; Beis Yosef 338 in name of Igor 521; Bach 338; Michaber 322:6; M”A 322:9; Mur Uketzia 338 [forbids even for food]; Aruch Hashulchan 338:13; SSH”K 16:32; Piskeiy Teshuvos 338:11 [old] 14 [new]; Chayeh Halevi 10:58; Mishnas Yosef 7:128; Avnei Yashpei 126-2; Metziyon Teitzei Torah 117; Akeidas Moshe 4:33-3; Maaglei Eliyahu 3:30; Emes Leyaakov 679 footnote 593; Mishnas Aaron Leiberman Muktzha 88; Avnei Derech 13: 83; Chevel Nachalaso 20:10

Regarding the prohibition of playing luck games, see: Bach 338; Olas Shabbos 338:5; Kaf Hachaim 338:41; omitted from the majority of Poskim, including Admur;

Regarding the prohibition of playing rolling games on a floor see: Admur 338:6; Aruch Hashulchan 338:12; Ketzos Hashulchan 146 footnote 60; Shevisas Hashabbos; SSH”K 16:5; Piskeiy Teshuvos 338:9

Regarding if the above prohibition applies to children see: Admur 338:6; Rama 338:5 and Darkei Moshe 338; Piskeiy Teshuvos 338:14 footnote 123 Regarding having a special designated Dreidel just for Shabbos see: Igros Moshe 5:22-10 [not Muktzah]; Mikdash Yisrael  274-275; Chayeh Halevi 10:58

Background: The sages decreed against playing “gambling” games on Shabbos which refers to all games that involve a gain and loss of items of the players, even if it is not money but rather food, if the items gained and lost retain a monetary value. This is due to their general decree against doing business on Shabbos. Now, although in the case of children the items that will be won by the players belongs to the father of the home and is hence not exactly similar to business, nonetheless, this would still seemingly fall under the lottery prohibition applicable on Shabbos which is itself forbidden due to the gambling prohibition which is similar to business. Now, if there is no gain or loss at all achieved through playing the game then seemingly it would be permitted. When permitted to be played, seemingly it may be played even on a tiled floor and not just specifically on a table, being that it is never common to play Dreidel on a dirt floor, and hence it is not similar to the prohibition recorded in the Poskim against playing rolling games on even tiled floors. Now, although there are Poskim who prohibit playing any luck game on Shabbos, practically we do not rule this way, and therefore certainly children may be lenient to do so. However, since there are Poskim who rule that using a regular weekday Dreidel can transgress the prohibition of Muktzah and Uvdin Dechol, therefore, to avoid all issues one should designate a special Shabbos dreidel for playing on Shabbos. Likewise, it is best for adults and as well all children above bar/bas mitzvah to avoid playing it in order to avoid all the halachic issues and use one’s time properly on Shabbos.

[22] See Divrei Yatziv ibid that son was done in the times of the Greeks on Shabbos to fool them to thinking that they were not gathering to learn Torah.

[23] Regarding designating beans so they are no longer considered Muktzah see: Admur 308:8; 53; Michaber 308:22; Ketzos Hashulchan 110:5; Regarding the prohibition of wasting food see: Admur Shemiras Haguf 14; Michaber 171:1, 4, 5; Torah Lishma 401; Mayan Omer 11:5; M”A 171 in Hakdama; M”B 171:4 and Biur Halacha 171:1 “Lo”; Setimas Kol Haposkim who discuss placing oil on the body and never stipulated that it must be inedible – See Admur 160:15; 327:1-2; Mishneh Shabbos 111a; Ma’aser Sheiyni 2:1-2; Shevi’is 8:2; Rambam Ma’aser Sheiyni 2:6; Terumos 11:3; Piskeiy Teshuvos 171:5

Explanation regarding using beans-Muktzah: Any item that is Muktzah Machmas Gufo because it doesn’t have the status of a vessel may receive the status of a vessel- before Shabbos if we designated to be used forever for this purpose. This applies even if it is not common to designate the item for this purpose, although in such a case a permanent designation must be done in a temporary one does not suffice. Now regarding our question of designating beans for Dreidel playing on Shabbos: Although beans are not commonly designated for such use, and hence a mere temporary designation does not suffice, nevertheless, if one designates it for this purpose alone and then throws it in the garbage when done playing, then this itself can be considered permanent use. It goes without saying that designating it for annual Dreidal playing would suffice to remove its Muktzah state and practically this is the best option to be done rather than designate it only for one Shabbos. Likewise, this option of annual designation should be done in order to avoid a prohibition of Bizuiy Ochlin.

Explanation regarding using beans-Bizuiy Ochlin: Although using beans for Dreidal playing will cause them to not be used anymore for eating being that they must be permanently designated for Dreidal playing as explained above, as well as become dirty, nonetheless this does not transgress the prohibition of Bizuiy Ochlin being that is being done for a meaningful purpose to be able to create this game of entertainment. It is no different than the allowance that was followed throughout history to use flour for various nonfood purposes, such as to make playdoh, dolls, and to stuff up holes in the wall, which created a discussion in the laws of Passover regarding Chametz. It is likewise similar to the allowance to smear edible oil on the body.

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