Food for debate


Last night in a very crowded Mandel Hall, a panel of academic-gowned U of C professors solemnly weighed the pros and cons of two popular Jewish holiday foods. The ritual debate, presented by Hillel and sponsored by the Neubauer Family Foundation of Philadelphia, opened with a brief set by the University of Chicago Klezmer Band. Then Hillel’s Rabbi David M. Rosenberg welcomed all to the 58th annual debate, offering newcomers a helpful translation: the Yiddish word for “hamentashen” is “hamentashen.”

Following Rosenberg was longtime moderator and philosophy professor Ted Cohen, AB’62, who, for numerous and numerological reasons, announced, “Welcome to the 60th Latke-Hamentash Debate.” Cohen introduced the first panelist, Modern Hebrew Literature professor Menachem Brinker, who suggested using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a model for solving the far more controversial battle over the respective merits of the Chanukah potato pancake and the traditional Purim cookie.

Eschewing the political for the material, physics professor Robert Geroch showed a slide of what he claimed was the first page of Albert Einstein’s “On the fundamental significance of the speed of latke,” which, as with the first page of any scientific paper, came complete with abstract and introduction. He then demonstrated, using a giant pendulum made of a suspended bowling ball, how the hamentash defies the laws of physics.

Latkes and hamentashen were also used as symbols of the traditional rift between German and Eastern European Jews in America—SSA associate professor Harold Pollack asserted that the former prefer hamentashen and the latter latkes, laying out his points in the form of a thorough parody of Philip Roth’s [AM’55] Goodbye, Columbus. And finally, music professor Philip Gossett revealed that Italian operas were all written by a tailor named Moishe with a penchant for pseudonyms.

After the debate, audience members cast ballots in favor of latkes or hamentashen and proceeded to Hutchinson Commons to make a less intellectual and more direct comparison.

By Phoebe Maltz, ’05

Photo: debate moderator Ted Cohen, AB'62, feigns ballot box stuffing in favor of his choice, the latke (bottom).

November 24, 2004