Stage is set for 71st Latke-Hamantash Debate

Herald Intern

On Monday, Nov. 6, the University of Chicago will hold its 71st Latke-Hamantash Debate. The debate, a school tradition dating back to 1946, features school faculty utilizing their expertise in a given field to weigh the merits and drawbacks of each holiday treat.

A latke is a fried potato pancake associated with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Hamantashen, on the other hand, are triangular, cookie-like pastries that usually feature a poppy seed, fruit, or chocolate filling. Hamantashen are eaten during the Jewish holiday of Purim. Their shape is inspired by the three-sided hat of the holiday story’s villain, Haman.

U. of C. faculty members from across the academic spectrum will lend their knowledge to the debate. In the past, faculty members with expertise in fields ranging from physics to economics to psychology have all contributed to the discussion, each bringing a unique take on the question of which festive food is superior.

The debate will take place in Mandel Hall, 5706 S. University Ave. The event is free and open to the public so the hall typically fills up quickly due to a large turnout. The debate will begin at 7:30 p.m., and those seeking good seats should arrive early.

“My favorite part of the debate is that faculty have a moment to share their academic passions and the tools of their discipline with the broad community,” said Anna Levin Rosen, executive director of the university’s Hillel organization. “I love that humor and Judaism provide the framework for this interchange. Jewish tradition celebrates knowledge and honors expertise as well as the consideration of the theoretical.”

Now entering its 71st iteration, Rosen lamented the fact that there’s only so much debating that can be done on the subject. The challenge, she said, is to maintain the essence of the debate’s tradition while continuing to put a fresh spin on it

“We have some surprises planned for this year that we know the community will enjoy,” Rosen said. “The traditional timing of the debate has been a source of frustration for students who are struggling to complete coursework and travel home for thanksgiving. We’re experimenting with an earlier date and hope that it will serve the community well.”

Rosen said the debate brings together the Hyde Park community in a way that honors longevity and experience.

“When long time Hyde Parkers attend the debate they bring narratives of its early days and revive the institutional memory,” Rosen said. “While there is an elitism to the esoteric nature of the presentations, the debate has always been free of charge and welcoming to all who want to attend and be part of a joyous tradition.”

Will this be the year we definitively crown a superior holiday treat? If 70 years of past debates teach us anything, it’s that this year’s debate will most likely fan the flames of speculation even further.