Dreidel: A Gateway to Gambling?



WRITTEN BY  Shira Lankin Sheps


Tekuma Recovery Group First Newsletter: GAMBLING


Dreidel: A Gateway to Gambling?


The phenomenon of gambling is found throughout Jewish history existing as even a part of Jewish holiday ritu-als practiced throughout the year. For example, this week we are playing dreidel with our children while the Channukah candles burn brightly. Driedel is a game of chance with a spinning top upon which the letters “nun, gimmel, hey, and shin” are inscribed. These letters stand for “neis gadol haya sham”, “a great miracle happened there”. This phrase alludes to the miracle of Channukah, when a miniscule amount of oil found in the Menorah (candelabra) in the Holy Temple was able to miraculously remain burning for eight days. At the end of each spin of the top, the children win “gelt”, or money depending on how “lucky” they are with the letter on which the dreidel lands. A few months later Purim is celebrated and that holiday commemorates that Haman, the Persian Sultan’s chief advisor, “Hi-pil pur” or “played lots” to determine the day that he planned to destroy the Jewish people living in the Persian Empire at the time. The Passover holiday which follows Purim observes the tradition of “Higadita Livincha”, “telling the story of Exodus to your children”, by engaging them in the Passover communal narrative. One of the ways parents engage their children in the narrative is by hiding the Afikoman (the last small piece of matzah), and encouraging them to compete with one another in trying to find the hidden object. The lucky one who finds it will receive money or a gift for his or her efforts. At the same time that gambling and “being lucky” is found in Jewish history and in religious rituals, the Rabbis have also expressed concern and distrust towards people who gamble. For example, Maimonides stated that gam-bling between two parties is outright robbery, even though the winner of the bet takes the winnings with the loser’s full knowledge. Furthermore, the winner gathers these winnings by doing something of little value. Other Rabbis agree that various forms of gambling should be considered stealing because the loser of the bet only places the bet be-cause he assumes that he will win, never actually intending on “giving away his money”. Other Rabbis argue that God wanted man to make his living and receive money through the act of contributing “something substantial” to the world, like working. Rabbi Yehuda in the Talmud Sanhedrin even questions the permissibility of a gambler to function as a witness in a court that deals with financial issues. Rabbi Yehuda’s logic is that a person who is has no profession other than gambling cannot be a witness in the case, because he has no practical knowledge of business transac-tions. The Rabbinical discussions that surround these issues focus on the “slippery slope” of someone who wastes money for no good reason, who does not contribute anything to society and whose destructive habits will likely ruin his life. To the surprise of many, compulsive gambling is not a an issue foreign to Jews. Arnie Wexler, a Certified Compulsive Gambling Counselor and a recovering compulsive gambler himself, is one of the foremost experts in compulsive gambling in the United States. He estimates that, one-third of all people in recovery in America are Jew-ish. “In the 1970’s I was doing PR for a 12 step program, and went to speak to a large Jewish not for profit organiza-tion, and they informed me that they didn’t need lectures, because Jews don’t gamble. That is simply not true.” The reality is stated by Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D., the founder and Medical Director Emeritus of the Gateway Reha-bilitation Center, and author of “Compulsive Gambling: More than Dreidle” when he estimated that 30 percent of peo-ple in Gamblers Anonymous in the tri-state area are Jewish, and the number goes up to 90 percent in Florida. Wexler notes that “Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are for some racetracks and casinos the busiest days of the year, and I have even heard of situations where casinos will run High Holiday services because there are so many Jews there!” So what are the cultural connections between Jews and compulsive gambling? “Self esteem and money,” answered Wexler. “Money can buy respect, and sometimes people chase money because of big egos and low self esteem. Being a “high roller” at a casino gets you free rooms, free food and all sorts of comps. I once knew a man who spent so much money in casinos that he had four different casinos competing to make a huge bar mitzvah for his son for free; 40 free rooms, free food, party everything.” Another cultural piece that Wexler remarked upon is the tre-mendous stigma that prevents Jews from seeking help if they have a gambling problem. “I went to visit some promi-nent Rabbis in a religious community a few years ago to discuss establishing Gamblers Anonymous meetings there. The rabbis assured me that no one would come. I have seen it myself, with Jews driving far away from their commu-nities to attend GA meetings, so that there would be no one that would recognize them there. There is so much shame associated with addictions and mental health issues, people don’t always reach out for help until they hit rock bottom and lose everything.”

Continued from page 2… Dreidel: A Gateway to Gambling? When we are talking about a game like dreidel, how prevalent could the connection to compulsive gambling really be? After all, isn’t dreidel a game for kids? “. Kids are gambling more than ever.” Wexler noted. “I have a hotline where someone with a gambling problem can call and get help. One- third of the calls have come from kids with a poker addiction. I have seen teenagers gamble away their savings, their parent’s sav-ings, gambled loans away and stolen thousands of dollars from their parents. Then if the parents enable them, by continuously giving their kids money, hiding their problem and bailing them out time after time, the problem will only get worse.” He then relayed a story about woman in her 60’s and her 30 year old son. The son, after losing his wife and kids due to his gambling problems, had his mother pay for his motel, car and gambling ex-penses. At any age a parents wants to help their child, but a parent of a compulsive gambler cannot help their child in that way by giving them money to continue the problem. When asked if Jewish rituals like playing dreidel on Channukah are connected to the prevalent issue of Jews and compulsive gambling Wexler responded thoughtfully, “ Yes and no. 95 percent of people will play dreidel and never have a problem. The other 5 percent will play dreidel and “get so high” from winning that they would become more inclined to gamble with other games. For this 5%, playing dreidel is a gateway to addic-tion. The issue is not that we should stop playing dreidel, but that we need to have responsible education on this issue. Many Jewish families have no clue what to do with someone who has a gambling problem. There needs to be discussion and we need to reevaluate the way we are educating our kids on this matter.”

Arnie and Sheila Wexler Associates, 888– LAST BET www.aswexler.com

A list of questions prepared by Arnie and Sheila Wexler to ask youth for the pur-pose of helping you consider whether or not they have a gambling problem. 1. Do you find yourself gambling more frequently than you used to? 2. Has anyone ever suggested that you have a problem with gambling? 3. Did you ever gamble more than you intended to? (time or money) 4. Do you have a fantasy that gambling is going to make you rich? 5. Do you believe you have superior knowledge when you place a bet? 6. Do you lose time from school due to gambling? 7. Do you have intense interest in point spreads or odds? 8. Do you make frequent calls to sports phones or lotteries? 9. Have you ever bet with a bookmaker or used credit cards to gamble? 10. Have your grades dropped because of gambling? 11. Have you ever done anything illegal to finance your gambling? 12. Is gambling language or references part of your vocabulary? 13. Do you prefer to socialize with friends who gamble? 14. Does anyone in your family have an addiction? 15. Have you ever borrowed money to finance gambling? 16. Has anyone ever paid your gambling debts for you? 17. Does gambling give you a “rush or high ”? 18. Do you find yourself craving another gambling experience? 19. Do you find yourself “chasing: your losses? 20. Have you ever tried to stop or control your gambling? 21. Have you lied about your gambling to family and/or friends? 22. Are you spending more time on the internet?

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