Latke-Hamantash Debate

Latke-Hamantash Debate

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The Latke-Hamantash Debate is a serious academic debate
Debate
Debate or debating is a method of interactive and representational argument. Debate is a broader form of argument than logical argument, which only examines consistency from axiom, and factual argument, which only examines what is or isn't the case or rhetoric which is a technique of persuasion...

 about the relative merits and meanings of these two items of Jewish cuisine
Jewish cuisine
Jewish Cuisine is a collection of the different cooking traditions of the Jewish people worldwide. It is a diverse cuisine that has evolved over many centuries, shaped by Jewish dietary laws and Jewish Festival and Sabbath traditions...

. The debate originated at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 in 1946 and has since been held annually. Subsequent debates have taken place at Middlebury College
Middlebury College
Middlebury College is a private liberal arts college located in Middlebury, Vermont, USA. Founded in 1800, it is one of the oldest liberal arts colleges in the United States. Drawing 2,400 undergraduates from all 50 United States and over 70 countries, Middlebury offers 44 majors in the arts,...

, Stanford Law School
Stanford Law School
Stanford Law School is a graduate school at Stanford University located in the area known as the Silicon Valley, near Palo Alto, California in the United States. The Law School was established in 1893 when former President Benjamin Harrison joined the faculty as the first professor of law...

, George Washington University
George Washington University
The George Washington University is a private, coeducational comprehensive university located in Washington, D.C. in the United States...

, Amherst College
Amherst College
Amherst College is a private liberal arts college located in Amherst, Massachusetts, United States. Amherst is an exclusively undergraduate four-year institution and enrolled 1,744 students in the fall of 2009...

, Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College is a private, independent, liberal arts college in the United States with an enrollment of about 1,500 students. The college is located in the borough of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia....

, Williams College
Williams College
Williams College is a private liberal arts college located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, United States. It was established in 1793 with funds from the estate of Ephraim Williams. Originally a men's college, Williams became co-educational in 1970. Fraternities were also phased out during this...

, Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college founded in 1831 and located in Middletown, Connecticut. According to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Wesleyan is the only Baccalaureate College in the nation that emphasizes undergraduate instruction in the arts and...

, the University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. Founded in 1848, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It became a land-grant institution in 1866...

, Brandeis University
Brandeis University
Brandeis University is an American private research university with a liberal arts focus. It is located in the southwestern corner of Waltham, Massachusetts, nine miles west of Boston. The University has an enrollment of approximately 3,200 undergraduate and 2,100 graduate students. In 2011, it...

, Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

, Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

, the University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is a public research university located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, United States. It is the oldest and largest part of the University of Minnesota system and has the fourth-largest main campus student body in the United States, with 52,557...

, Mount Holyoke
Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College is a liberal arts college for women in South Hadley, Massachusetts. It was the first member of the Seven Sisters colleges, and served as a model for some of the others...

, Bowdoin College
Bowdoin College
Bowdoin College , founded in 1794, is an elite private liberal arts college located in the coastal Maine town of Brunswick, Maine. As of 2011, U.S. News and World Report ranks Bowdoin 6th among liberal arts colleges in the United States. At times, it was ranked as high as 4th in the country. It is...

, UCSD, Haverford College
Haverford College
Haverford College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college located in Haverford, Pennsylvania, United States, a suburb of Philadelphia...

, Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

, University of Denver
University of Denver
The University of Denver is currently ranked 82nd among all public and private "National Universities" by U.S. News & World Report in the 2012 rankings....

, Buntport Theater
Buntport Theater
Buntport Theater Company is a non-profit, professional theater group based in Denver, Colorado. Intent on creating innovative and affordable entertainment, the six members of the troupe write and produce all of their work...

, and secondary school Milton Academy
Milton Academy
Milton Academy is a coeducational, independent preparatory, boarding and day school in Milton, Massachusetts consisting of a grade 9–12 Upper School and a grade K–8 Lower School. Boarding is offered starting in 9th grade...

. Participants in the debate, held within the format of a symposium
Symposium
In ancient Greece, the symposium was a drinking party. Literary works that describe or take place at a symposium include two Socratic dialogues, Plato's Symposium and Xenophon's Symposium, as well as a number of Greek poems such as the elegies of Theognis of Megara...

, have included past University of Chicago president Hanna Holborn Gray
Hanna Holborn Gray
Hanna Holborn Gray , is a historian of political thought in the area of the Renaissance and Reformation, and an emerita professor and former President of the University of Chicago.-Biography:...

, philosopher Martha Nussbaum
Martha Nussbaum
Martha Nussbaum , is an American philosopher with a particular interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, political philosophy and ethics....

, Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 winners Milton Friedman
Milton Friedman
Milton Friedman was an American economist, statistician, academic, and author who taught at the University of Chicago for more than three decades...

 and Leon M. Lederman
Leon M. Lederman
Leon Max Lederman is an American experimental physicist and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate for his work with neutrinos. He is Director Emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, USA...

, and essayist Allan Bloom
Allan Bloom
Allan David Bloom was an American philosopher, classicist, and academic. He studied under David Grene, Leo Strauss, Richard McKeon and Alexandre Kojève. He subsequently taught at Cornell University, the University of Toronto, Yale University, École Normale Supérieure of Paris, and the University...

. A compendium of the debate, which has never been won, was published in 2005. The most recent Latke-Hamantash debate took place at University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 on November 22nd, 2011.

Background and history



A latke is a kind of potato
Potato
The potato is a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family . The word potato may refer to the plant itself as well as the edible tuber. In the region of the Andes, there are some other closely related cultivated potato species...

 pancake traditionally eaten during the Jewish holiday of Hannukah. Fried in oil, latkes serve to commemorate the holiday miracle in which one day’s worth of oil illuminated the temple for eight days. Hamantashen are triangular wheat-flour pastries with a sweet filling which are traditionally eaten on the holiday of Purim
Purim
Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from destruction in the wake of a plot by Haman, a story recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther .Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th...

.

A debate on their relative merits was first held in the winter of 1946 at the University of Chicago chapter house of the Hillel Foundation
Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, working with thousands of college students globally...

, sponsored by Rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

 Maurice Pekarsky. At the time, according to Ruth Fredman Cernea, editor of The Great Latke–Hamantash Debate, "...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
Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day is a holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. Thanksgiving is celebrated each year on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. In Canada, Thanksgiving falls on the same day as Columbus Day in the...

, with the exception of one year. Both foodstuffs are usually served at a reception afterwards, offering debaters and listeners an opportunity to evaluate primary source
Primary source
Primary source is a term used in a number of disciplines to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied....

s. Several long-standing customs are observed at the University of Chicago; the debaters must have gained a Ph.D. or an equivalent advanced degree, make a formal entry in academic clothing to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, and their number must include at least one non-Jewish participant to add gentility
Gentile
The term Gentile refers to non-Israelite peoples or nations in English translations of the Bible....

 to the proceedings.

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.

Notable Debates and Arguments


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", she comes to the conclusion that Machiavelli was Jewish, and like all wise people, for the latke.
  • Isaac Abella
    Isaac Abella
    Isaac David Abella is Professor of Physics at The University of Chicago. He specializes in laser physics, quantum optics, and spectroscopy. Isaac is the cousin of Irving 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
    Chauvinism
    Chauvinism, in its original and primary meaning, is an exaggerated, bellicose patriotism and a belief in national superiority and glory. It is an eponym of a possibly fictional French soldier Nicolas Chauvin who was credited with many superhuman feats in the Napoleonic wars.By extension it has come...

     and appeals to special interests.
  • Michael Silverstein
    Michael Silverstein
    Michael Silverstein is a professor of anthropology, linguistics, and psychology at the University of Chicago. He is a theoretician of semiotics and linguistic anthropology. Over the course of his career he has drawn together research on linguistic pragmatics, sociolinguistics, language ideology,...

    , professor in anthropology
    Anthropology
    Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

    , 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
    Wendy Doniger
    Wendy Doniger is an American Indologist and Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the Committee on Social Thought...

     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
    Dark matter
    In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

     thought to make up over 21 percent of the mass of the universe.
  • Allan Bloom
    Allan Bloom
    Allan David Bloom was an American philosopher, classicist, and academic. He studied under David Grene, Leo Strauss, Richard McKeon and Alexandre Kojève. He subsequently taught at Cornell University, the University of Toronto, Yale University, École Normale Supérieure of Paris, and the University...

     posited a conspiracy theory
    Conspiracy theory
    A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.-Usage:The term "conspiracy...

     involving Sigmund Freud
    Sigmund Freud
    Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

     and the Manischewitz
    Manischewitz
    Manischewitz is a leading brand of kosher products based in the United States, best known for their matzo and wine. Founded in 1888 and under family control until 1990, it is the world's largest matzo manufacturer and one of America's largest kosher brands....

     company.
  • Developmental psychologist Kenneth Kaye
    Kenneth Kaye
    Kenneth Kaye is an American psychologist, writer, and business consultant whose research, books, and articles connect the fields of human development, family relationships and conflict resolution....

     cited Freud's most important works, Constipation and its Discontents and The Goy and the Yid in proving that a latkedikh or a hamentashenlikh personality is determined by an infant's mother's breastfeeding behavior in the first two weeks of life.
  • According to literature professor Diana Henderson, "The latke is appropriate for lyric
    Lyric poetry
    Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

    , tragic
    Tragedy
    Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

    , and epic
    Epic poetry
    An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

     forms", but "There is very little poetry in the prune," a common hamentashen filling.
  • The physicist
    Physics
    Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

     Leon Lederman's contribution is entitled "Paired Matter, Edible and Inedible".
  • An entry by the economist
    Economics
    Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

     Milton Friedman
    Milton Friedman
    Milton Friedman was an American economist, statistician, academic, and author who taught at the University of Chicago for more than three decades...

     discusses "The Latke and the Hamantash at the Fifty-Yard Line".
  • Criminal lawyer Professor Alan Dershowitz
    Alan Dershowitz
    Alan Morton Dershowitz is an American lawyer, jurist, and political commentator. He has spent most of his career at Harvard Law School where in 1967, at the age of 28, he became the youngest full professor of law in its history...

    , during a debate at Harvard University, accused the latke of increasing the United States' dependence on oil.
  • In a memorable debate in the early 1970s at the Clanton Park
    Clanton Park
    Clanton Park, sometimes referred to as Dublin Heights or Wilson Heights, is a neighbourhood in the North York area of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is part of federal and provincial electoral district York Centre, and Toronto electoral wards 9: York Centre and 10: York Centre...

     Synagogue Purim Party in Toronto, Canada, attorneys Aaron Weinstock and Meyer Feldman - debating in their formal legal robes and wigs - debated with much hilarity. The result was a draw.
  • When he was President of Princeton University, Harold Tafler Shapiro argued the hamentaschen's superiority by pointing out the epicurean significance of the "edible triangle" in light of the literary "Oedipal triangle."
  • Harvard University's 2007 debate featured Professors Steven Pinker
    Steven Pinker
    Steven Arthur Pinker is a Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author...

     and Alan Dershowitz
    Alan Dershowitz
    Alan Morton Dershowitz is an American lawyer, jurist, and political commentator. He has spent most of his career at Harvard Law School where in 1967, at the age of 28, he became the youngest full professor of law in its history...

    .
  • In the 2010 Stanford Law School debate, Constitutional Law Professor Pam Karlan quoted from the majority opinion of Blackmun in the case County of Allegheny v. ACLU
    County of Allegheny v. ACLU
    In County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 , the U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of two recurring holiday displays located on public property in downtown Pittsburgh. The first, a nativity scene , was placed on the grand staircase of the Allegheny County Courthouse...

    , which said: "It is also a custom to serve potato pancakes or other fried foods on Chanukah because the oil in which they are fried is, by tradition, a reminder of the miracle of Chanukah." She noted that the Supreme Court has given no such recognition to the hamantash.
  • The most recent University of Chicago
    University of Chicago
    The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

     debate featured Chemistry professor Aaron Dinner, who argued from a standpoint of energy efficiency, pointing out the oil of the Latke must have at least eight times the energy density of traditional fuels.
  • In the fifth annual Latke Hamentashen Debate at Johns Hopkins University
    Johns Hopkins University
    The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

     in December, 2010, Professors Jonathan Flombaum and Hollis Robbins
    Hollis Robbins
    -Career:Robbins is a professor of Humanities at the Peabody Institute and Associate Research Scholar at the Center for Africana Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. She serves as an adviser of the Black Periodical Literature Project at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University and is a...

     made a successful case for the Latke on semiotic and philosophical grounds, drawing upon Baruch Spinoza and Jacques Derrida
    Jacques Derrida
    Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction and his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy...

     to emphasize the latke’s Différance and to argue that its joyous heterogeneity made it the better holiday food.
  • In the 2011 debate at MIT, particle physicist Allan Adams presented preliminary data from the LHC
    LHC
    LHC may refer to:* Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator and collider located on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, SwitzerlandLHC also may refer to:* La hora Chanante, a Spanish comedy television show...

     -- the Latke Hamantash Collider -- providing compelling evidence for Latke Theory.
  • In Yeshiva University's inaugural Latke-Hamentasch Debate (2011), Team Hamentasch emerged victorious.


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
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 humanism
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 grew out of the revival of the latke."

External links