If the best part of playing dreidel is the satisfaction of spinning a top, the feel of the handle as you spin it between your fingers, the satisfaction from the gentle whir of the dreidel until it finally topples over — then the latest project from David Zvi Kalman is not for you.
If, however, you love the thrill of gambling based on Hebrew letter surfaces — the give and take of pennies or peanuts or chocolate coins — the ration of 10 portions of luck to zero portions of skill which has earned the game of dreidel a paltry 3.73 on BoardGameGeek.com’s 10 point scale — then you will appreciate Dr. Kalman’s new twenty-sided dreidel dice.
The idea is simple: Take an icosahedron and instead of numbering each of the 20 different sides, dole out five copies of each of the four Hebrew letters used in the game: nun, gimel, heh, and shin. The advantage: Rolling dice is quicker than spinning a top. Even so, Dr. Kalman has modified the traditional rules to include this proviso: “The game ends when it stops being fun for the youngest player.”
Writing at RitualWell.com, where a pack of six of his dreidel dice are for sale for $18, Dr. Kalman, whose doctorate is in Judaism and the history of technology, explains that “Judaism’s material culture is littered with old technologies long abandoned by others; consider the Torah scroll, or the shofar, or the Purim grogger. These technologies were usually not invented by Jews; they became Jewish because everyone else moved on.”
He notes that Jews didn’t event the dreidel; “they simply adapted it from the German ‘teetotum,’ which has existed since the 18th century.”
For those unsure about the propriety of upgrading a traditional toy, remember that plastic dreidels, too, were an innovation. At the beginning of the 20th century, dreidels were made out of lead. I sure hope our ancestors washed their hands after playing!