Latke-Hamantash Debate

The Latke-Hamantash Debate is a humorous academic debate about the relative merits and meanings of these two items of Jewish cuisine. The debate originated at the University of Chicago in 1946 [ [ University of Chicago Magazine] ] and has since been held annually. Subsequent debates have taken place at Williams College, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Minnesota, and Mt. Holyoke.cite web|title=Latkes vs. Hamantashen: The Promised Food|url=|accessdate=2008-05-23] [cite web|title=Profs Face Off on Latkes Versus Hamantaschen|url=|accessdate=2008-05-23] [cite web|title=Prattle of the ages: Hamantasch vs. latke|url=|accessdate=2008-05-23] [cite web|title= Latke-Hamantasch Debate Becomes Verbal Food Fight|url=|accessdate=2008-05-23] Participants in the debate, held within the format of a symposium, have included past University of Chicago president Hanna Holborn Gray, philosopher Martha Nussbaum, Nobel Prize winners Milton Friedman and Leon M. Lederman, and essayist Allan Bloom. A compendium of the debate, which has never been won, was published in 2005. [ [ Ruth Fredman Cernea (2005) The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226100235] ]

Background and history

A latke is a potato pancake associated with the holiday of Hannukah; since it is fried in oil, it commemorates the event in which one day’s worth of oil miraculously illuminated the temple for eight days. Hamentaschen are triangular wheat-flour pastries filled with poppyseed, prune, or fruit fillings; they are associated with the holiday of Purim, when Queen Esther and Mordecai saved the Jews from the evil Haman, who wore a three-cornered hat.

The debate was first held in the winter of 1946 at a local chapter house of the , sponsored by Rabbi Maurice Pekarsky. According to the editor of "The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate," Ruth Fredman Cernea, it was a time "when scholarly life discouraged an open display of Jewish ethnicity. The event provided a rare opportunity for faculty to reveal their hidden Jewish souls and poke fun at the high seriousness of everyday academic life." It has been held annually since then, usually on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, with the exception of one year. Both foodstuffs are usually served at a reception afterwards.

The debate is said to have arisen from a tradition of spoofing Talmudic study during Purim. It is also felt to offer a humorous relief valve from the university’s rigorous academic program.

Harvard University's 2007 debate featured Professors Steven Pinker and Alan Dershowitz. [ [ Steven Pinker's lecture website] ]


The debaters represent a range of academic disciplines. Some of the entries are described below:

*Hanna Gray discusses the silence of Machiavelli on the subject; noting that "The silence of a wise man is always meaningful" [Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 35] , she comes to the conclusion that Machiavelli was Jewish, and like all wise people, for the latke.
*Isaac Abella, professor of physics, asserts that "Which is Better: the Latke or the Hamantash?" is an invalid question, since it does not exhibit the necessary property of universality, is culturally biased, implies gender specificity, exhibits geographical chauvinism and appeals to special interests.
*Michael Silverstein, professor in anthropology, linguistics, and psychology, argues that it is not mere coincidence that the English translation of the letters on the dreidl spells out T-U-M-S. He cites this as evidence that "God may play dice with the universe, but not with Mrs. Schmalowitz’s lukshn kugl, nor especially with her latkes and homntashen."
*Professor Wendy Doniger of the divinity school, in a carefully footnoted paper entitled "The Archetypal Hamentasch: A Feminist Mythology", asserts that hamentaschen are a womb equivalent, and were worshipped in early matriarchal societies.
*In the debate at MIT, Robert J. Silbey, dean of its School of Science, has cited Google, which returns 380,000 hits on a search for "latke" and only 62,000 for "hamantaschen". Silbey has also claimed that latkes, not hamentashen, are the dark matter thought to make up over 21 percent of the mass of the universe.
*Allan Bloom posited a conspiracy theory involving Sigmund Freud and the Manischewitz company.
*According to literature professor Diana Henderson, "The latke is appropriate for lyric, tragic, and epic forms", but "There is very little poetry in the prune," a common hamentashen filling.
*The physicist Leon Lederman's contribution is entitled "Paired Matter, Edible and Inedible".
*An entry by the economist Milton Friedman discusses "The Latke and the Hamantash at the Fifty-Yard Line".
*The criminal lawyer Alan Dershowitz, during a debate at Harvard University, accused the latke of increasing the United States' dependence on oil.

Hanna Gray has stated for the record that "both the latke and hamentasch are simply wonderful. We welcome them to our diverse, pluralistic and tolerant community of scholars." She has, however, taken a stand with her statement that "Renaissance humanism grew out of the revival of the latke."



* [ History of the debate ]
*Eric Zorn, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, addresses the [ debate]

External links

* [ Text and audio] of Ted Cohen's classic debate speech, "Consolations of the Latke." Plus [ recipes] , all from "The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate."
*Kenyon College's [ 4th Annual Latke-Hamentashen Debate] , six parts on YouTube.

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