Professor of Politics Melissa Lane described the merits of Latkes during the Annual Latke vs. Hamentaschen Debate, which marked the 70th year the tradition has taken place, as well as the 250th anniversary of The American Whig-Cliosophic Society itself.
“Now let me initiate you into the mysteries of the circle,” she said.
The satirical debate centers around which of the two foods is superior and was moderated by Rachel Calhoun, vice president of student life, whom Center for Jewish Life Student Board President Josh Roberts ’17 pronounced as more than qualified to host this timeless debate.
Latkes are a deep fried potato pancake traditionally eaten during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah or Festival of Lights. The triangular wheat-flour pastries known as Hamentaschen contain a sweet filling and are traditionally eaten on the holiday of Purim, which, according to chabad.org, “commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman’s plot ‘to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day,’ as recorded in the Megillah (book of Esther).”
Allison Berger ’18, president of Whig-Clio, noted the debate’s profound importance to the University’s tradition and to the community.
Calhoun also noted the significance of this cultural debate and connected it to her own family's tradition by pulling out two small black pouches from her pocket, which were made by her sister and contained black eyed peas. She explained that black eyed peas are traditionally eaten on New Year's Day in African-American homes for luck and good fortune.
She added that food often becomes an important representation for cultural and racial identities.
According to both Berger and Calhoun, the tradition of holding an academic and playfully clever debate between the two prime staples of Jewish holiday cuisine, Latkes and Hamentaschen, originated in 1946 at the University of Chicago.
In the debate, Team Latke was made up of Lane and Jonah Herzog-Arbeitman ’19 , a prospective physics major and a member of Quipfire. The opposing team, Team Hamentaschen, consisted of professor David Dobkin, the former dean of faculty and renowned computer science professor as well as self-proclaimed “underappreciated, inspiring artist,” and Paul Schorin ’19, who is also a member of Quipfire and was “born with a triangle heart filled with raspberry jam.”
Lane’s argument centered on the “Latke sensible particular” inspired by Plato. Paralleling the Latke to “celestial, heavenly spheres,” Lane concluded her argument by citing the “manifest superiority of the latke” and the “inadequacies of the Hamentaschen” by its triangular shape, which represented a sense of subordination to the circle.
Dobkin noted the antiquity of Plato’s logic and countered Lane's argument.
“Superiority of the circle – absolutely brilliant for people who believe that there are four planets,” Dobkin said.
Dobkin then showed a powerpoint with photoshopped photos of Hamentaschen on prominent figures such as United States President Barack Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Herzog-Arbeitman added that he was seeking the world anew with his Latke theory, which demonstrated a series of postulates that showed how the universe in every scale was built by the brilliant forms of the Latke.
Schorin, on Team Hamentaschen, who displayed an incomparable sense of satirical, clever humor that was highlighted by his own parody of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which he called Jamlet, in order to prove how people “don’t understand the real value of the Hamentaschen.”
He set the tone for his presentation by walking up to the podium, opening a bottle of grape soda and taking a sip before saying a word. He matched his humor with a fistful of salty jabs towards Team Latke without backing down. He highlighted the significance of the three points of the triangular Hamentaschen.
“Conversely, Latkes have no real points, and Latke debaters have even fewer,” he said.
The debate ended with a quick Q&A before audience members went to the lobby to enjoy the featured foods of the event, Latkes and Hamentaschen, as well as vote on the debate’s winners.
Despite strong arguments from both sides of the debate, Team Hamentaschen proved to be this year’s winner.
However, presenters noted that the biggest winner of the night was the performers’ and the debate’s ability to share with audience members the important tradition and legacy of Jewish culture and, more significantly, the power of food to bring people together.
“You can’t go wrong with fried potatoes or triangular cookies,” Berger said.The event took place in Whig Hall at 4:30 p.m. and was hosted by the Center for Jewish Life.