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The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate

With a Foreword by Ted Cohen
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

Read an excerpt and recipes.

250 pages | 4 figures | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2005

Education: Higher Education

Literature and Literary Criticism: Humor

Religion: Judaism


“Lincoln-Douglas, Kennedy-Nixon, Latke-Hamantash: the great tradition of American public oratory reaches a comic peak with the annual exchanges at the University of Chicago debating the merits of greasy potato pancakes versus heavy, prune-filled triangular pastries. No funnier intellectual tradition exists than these debates; argued by scholars from Allan Bloom to Martha Nussbaum, the debates here chronicled will cause almost as much of a belly ache (from laughter) as eating latkes or hamantashen.”

Sander L. Gilman, author of Jewish Frontiers

“This work captures the wistful magic of a vehicle that classically symbolizes the blossoming of Jewish wit and wisdom in the intellectual cauldron of the university. The latke-hamantash debate represents how timeless Jewish ideas and ideals can find expression on campus, marrying Western thought with Jewish humor, history, and philosophy in a distinct concoction that reaches us all.”--Richard M. Joel, President, Yeshiva University

Richard M. Joel

“Oy! What can I tell you? You want to revel in a festival of intellectual Jewish humor, even if you’re a goy like me? Especially if you’re a goy? So why don’t you buy this book and curl up in front of a fireplace and laugh yourself sick!”--Father Andrew M. Greeley


Father Andrew M. Greeley

"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."

Davd Kaufmann | Forward

"Esoteric yes, but a real hoot."

Chicago Tribune

“For six decades, some of the finest Jewish minds in America have broken their wits on the ultimate question. Which is superior: the oily potato pancake we consume on Chanucah, or the triangular prune- or poppy-filled Purim pastry?”

Jewish Chronicle (London)

“Every November, the University of Chicago celebrates the coming holiday season with a take-no-prisoners, academic smackdown. For an entire evening, disciplines are attached and defended, the political becomes personal and a particular issue is argued with a fervor not seen since Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe at the United Nations. . . . The issue: the relative merits of the latke and the hamantash. . . . This is a book that will make your mouth water and your sides shake. Letting down their proverbial hair, professors, Nobel Laureates and university presidents all take a turn at the podium, and the results are hilarious."

Jewish Herald-Voice (Houston | TX)

Table of Contents

Foreword, by Ted Cohen        
Food for Academic and Gastric Digestion
Round One- Metahamantashen; or, Shooting Off the Can(n)on
Freedom, Latkes, and American Letters: An Original Contribution to Knowledge
Bernard A. Weisberger        
Restoring the Jewish Canon
Allan Bloom         
Consolations of the Latke
Ted Cohen 
The Hamantash in Shakespeare
Lawrence Sherman    
Jane Austen’s Love and Latkes
Stuart Tave    
The Latke’s Role in the Renaissance
Hanna Holborn Gray       
The Approach through Bibliography
Leon Carnovsky  
L’éternel retour: The Dichotomy of Latke-Hamantash in Old and New French
Peter F. Dembowski    
The Apotheosis of the Latke: A Philosophical Analysis
Alan Gewirth   
"David Malament, Marvin Mirsky, Steven Watter, Harold Wechsler        
Round Two -POTatoes, Rockin’ Latkes, and Another Essence-ial Soul Food
The Latke vs. the Hamantash in an Age of (M)oral Crisis
Herbert C. Kelman  
Influences of Latkes, Hamantashen, and Jewish Cooking in General on the Roots of Rock ’n’
William Meadow   
The Fundamental Jewish Cuisine
Paul Root Wolpe      
StevenWatter, Godfrey S. Getz, Israel N.Herstein,Murray H. Loew    
Round Three- Accentuate the Positivists

The Voyage on the Bagel: In Honor of the Darwin Centennial
Elihu Katz and Jacob J. Feldman
The Latke and the Hamantash at the Fifty-Yard Line
Milton Friedman 
Hamantash, Bagel, or Latke: Who Has the Power?
Shalom Schwartz   
The Latke, the Hamantash, the Common Market, and Creativity
Jacob Getzels
Stephen Z. Cohen, Elihu Katz, Nancy L. Stein, Jacob Getzels, John Laster    
Round Four - Luminous, Luscious Latkes; Bewitching, Beguiling Hamantashen  Ode to the Latke
Edward Stankiewicz

The Ineffable Allure of Hamantashen
Barbara Maria Stafford

Bull’s Homage to a Latke: An Acrostic
Simon Hellerstein

Ralph Marcus, Roger Weiss

Round Five - Combine and Deconstruct All Ingredients

Madeleine, Oh, Madeleine; or, Meditation on Short, Plump Pastries
Françoise Meltzer

The Hermeneutics of the Hamantash
Emilie S. Passow

Marianne H. Whatley, Hasia Diner

Round Six - Semiotics and Anti-Semiotics

Heartburn as a Cultural System
Michael Silverstein

Latke vs. Hamantash: A Feminist Critique
Judith Shapiro

Latke vs. Hamantash: A Materialist-Feminist Analysis; A Reply to Judith Shapiro
Robin Leidner

Latkes and Hamantashen as Dominant Symbols in Jewish Critical Thought
Marvin Mirsky

The Hamantash vs. the Latke: An Archetypal Study
Eugene Goodheart

Zalman Usiskin, Harry Harootunian, Howard Aronson, Bernard S. Cohn, Ralph W. Nicholas

Round Seven - Shrouded in Mystery: Spinning Latkes and Neutrinos

From Cain to Quincy: Jewish Foods as Weapons of Violence
Robert Kirschner

A New Page in the History of Atomic Physics
Jerrold M. Sadock

The Scientific Method and the Latke-Hamantash Issue
Edward W. Kolb

Paired Matter, Edible and Inedible
Leon M. Lederman

Josef Stern, Morrel H. Cohen, Isaac Abella

Round Eight - Appealing to a Higher Authority

The Rights and Wrongs of Latkes
Geoffrey R. Stone

The Bioethical Implications of the Latke-Hamantash Debate; or, Small Fry, Deep Fry, in Your Eye, Northrop Frye
John D. Lantos

Harry Kalven, Jr., Philip Gossett

Round Nine - Mythdefying Origins

Euripides’ The Cooks of Troy: Hecuba’s Lament
Martha C. Nussbaum

The Secret History of the Hamantash in China
Judith Zeitlin

The Hamantash and the Foundation of Civilization; or, The Edible Triangle, the Oedipal Triangle, and the Interpretation of History
Harold T. Shapiro

The Archetypal Hamantash: A Feminist Mythology; An Exercise in the History of Religious Methodology
Wendy Doniger

Tom Mitchell, Bernard S. Silberman, Richard Lashof, Sol Tax

Try ’em, You’ll Like ’em: Lovely, Luscious Latkes and Hamantashen Fit for an Ex-Queen

List of Contributors

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