Eat, eat.

Two nights before Thanksgiving, the University played host to another long-standing and food-related tradition in a packed Mandel Hall: the 59th Annual Latke-Hamantash Debate. Every year Hillel invites a panel of professors to consider which is the superior food—the latke, a potato pancake traditionally consumed during Hannukah, or the hamantash, a triangular pastry connected to Purim. History professor Ralph A. Austen, visiting assistant law professor Eugene Kontorovich, AB’96, JD’01, Harris School professor Colm O’Muircheartaigh, and linguistics professor Jerrold M. Sadock all weighed in on the matter. Philosophy professor Ted Cohen, AB’62, moderated, as he has for almost 30 years.

Equating latkes with the South Side White Sox and hamantashen with the North Side Cubs, Austen came down heavily on the side of latkes. “Let one thousand, nay, one million hamantashen bloom in North Side bakeries,” he said, “but keep them far away from the sacred realm of baseball.” Both O’Muircheartaigh and Sadock favored hamantashen. After poking fun at his Irish name and heritage, O’Muircheartaigh produced charts and graphs analyzing Irish scrolls that he claimed surveyed popular opinion on the two foods (“most people prefer hamantashen”), while Sadock reinterpreted Plato’s Cratylus as a dialogue between Rabbi Socrates and two of his students––the wrong-headed Cratylus, a stand-in for latkes, and the wiser Hermogenes, representing hamantashen. “Eat smart, eat healthy, eat hamantashen,” Sadock advised.

Kontorovich commented that it felt good to be tackling “the big questions” in light of how much time is devoted to “esoteric and irrelevant matters” in academia, and he examined the latke and hamantash “judiciously” to see if they violated international law: could either food, for example, be used as a form of torture? The answer, he asserted, is yes. Latkes, those “oily monsters,” can cause organ failure, while hamantashen, named as they are for King Haman, whom the Jews roundly defeated, constitute “an implicit threat” to captives that they will be eaten.

As always, Cohen said once the panelists were done, audience votes would be tallied and the winner announced at the post-debate reception in Hutch, and “as always, we do not care,” as the point is “the symposium itself.” After plugging Ruth Fredman Cernea’s recently released The Great Latke-Hamantashen Debate (University of Chicago Press), a compilation of past panelists’ arguments, Cohen declared the debate adjourned.

Hana Yoo, ’07

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Alimentary affair (left to right): Historian Ralph Austen drew parallels with Chicago baseball, equating latkes with the World Champion White Sox; Colm O’Muircheartaigh analyzed ancient Irish writings to prove Ireland's preference for hamantashen; yet another audiovisual asked the eternal question.

Photos by Hana Yoo, ’07

November 28, 2005