The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate

Front Cover
Ruth Fredman Cernea
University of Chicago Press, 2006 - Humor - 216 pages
Creation versus evolution. Nature versus nurture. Free will versus determinism. Every November at the University of Chicago, the best minds in the world consider the question that ranks with these as one of the most enduring of human history: latke or hamantash? This great latke-hamantash debate, occurring every year for the past six decades, brings Nobel laureates, university presidents, and notable scholars together to debate whether the potato pancake or the triangular Purim pastry is in fact the worthier food.

What began as an informal gathering is now an institution that has been replicated on campuses nationwide. Highly absurd yet deeply serious, the annual debate is an
opportunity for both ethnic celebration and academic farce. In poetry, essays, jokes, and revisionist histories, members of elite American academies attack the latke-versus-hamantash question with intellectual panache and an unerring sense of humor, if not chutzpah. The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate is the first collection of the best of these performances, from Martha Nussbaum's paean to both foods—in the style of Hecuba's Lament—to Nobel laureate Leon Lederman's proclamation on the union of the celebrated dyad. The latke and the hamantash are here revealed as playing a critical role in everything from Chinese history to the Renaissance, the works of Jane Austen to constitutional law.

Philosopher and humorist Ted Cohen supplies a wry foreword, while anthropologist Ruth Fredman Cernea provides historical and social context as well as an overview of the Jewish holidays, latke and hamantash recipes, and a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms, making the book accessible even to the uninitiated. The University of Chicago may have split the atom in 1942, but it's still working on the equally significant issue of the latke versus the hamantash.

“As if we didn’t have enough on our plates, here’s something new to argue about. . . . To have to pick between sweet and savory, round and triangular, latke and hamantash. How to choose? . . . Thank goodness one of our great universities—Chicago, no less—is on the case. For more than 60 years, it has staged an annual latke-hamantash debate. . . . So, is this book funny? Of course it’s funny, even laugh-out-loud funny. It’s Mickey Katz in academic drag, Borscht Belt with a PhD.”—David Kaufmann, Forward


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The great latke-hamantash debate

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What began in 1946 at the University of Chicago as a way to foster a sense of community among Jewish students and faculty members, these farcical debates about whether latkes or hamantashes are ... Read full review


POTatoes Rockin Latkes and Another Essenceial Soul Food
Accentuate the Positivists
Luminous Luscious Latkes Bewitching Beguiling Hamantashen
Combine and Deconstruct All Ingredients
Semiotics and AntiSemiotics
Shrouded in Mystery Spinning Latkes and Neutrinos
Appealing to a Higher Authority
Mythdefying Origins
Lovely Luscious Latkes and Hamantashen Fit for an ExQueen
List of Contributors

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About the author (2006)

Ruth Fredman Cernea is an anthropologist and the author of The Passover Seder and Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma. She is the former international director of publications and resources at the Hillel Foundations and former editor of The Hillel Guide to Jewish Life on Campus.
Ted Cohen is professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, where he has been moderator of the annual latke-hamantash debate for over twenty-five years.

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