Tonight: The University of Chicago’s world famous Latke-Hamantash Debate

December 17, 2020 • 10:45 am

The famous Latke-Hamantash Debate of the University of Chicago, now copied by a lot of wannabee schools, takes place tonight. (It started here in 1946.) I’ve been to it a couple of times, and it’s always a hoot. The premise is that local scholars, using only data and analyses from their own academic fields, debate the merits of the two Jewish foods latkes (potato pancakes) and hamantashen (triangular cookies filled with prune or apricot paste, usually eaten during Purim). The debate continues the classical disputations of Judaism, and, like those, cannot be settled.

The debaters, nearly always Jewish, are required to wear academic gowns.

Here’s the entire debate from 2016—the 70th debate. As usual, it begins with a musical piece, and then an introduction. Then the real fun begins: the arguments. They were good that year. Shadi Bartsch, a classical scholar, is also married to our University’s President.

This year, sadly, it’s a virtual debate, but the show goes on, as it has yearly since 1946, but I’m sure it’ll be as funny as ever. You can read about this year’s debate here, which begins tonight at 7 p.m. Central (Chicago) time, and you can register here for a free webcast link, and learn who the three speakers will be. Usually there are at least six speakers, and the debate always ends in a tie. Afterwards, the audience and speakers repair to the nearby refectory, where the two items at issue are served to all.

Latkes (with applesauce, though sour cream is a popular topping as well:

The estimable hamantash, here in the classic prune-filled version:

The post-debate nosh in years past:

Images from the 65th Latke Hamantash Debate at Mandel Hall at the University of Chicago on November 22, 2011. (Photo by Jason Smith)

13 thoughts on “Tonight: The University of Chicago’s world famous Latke-Hamantash Debate

  1. When I first came to Seattle a million years ago, there was a bakery which sold Hamantashen not only at Purim but all year round. I thought I had arrived in Heaven, and have stayed mostly in Seattle
    ever since. The bakery, unfortunately, has departed.

  2. Latkes for sure! On the other hand, I just love Ma’amoul which are similar to Hamantash in that they are pastry wrapped around a filling and from the same part of the world. I get both date and walnut filled Ma’amoul from a bakery in the Little Arabia part of Anaheim, CA. Yum.

  3. You might as well have a debate over which is preferable: ice cream or lutefisk.

    Everybody loves latkes, because they are delicious. Wholesome and delectable.

    Hamantashan are evil pastries filled with horrible prunes or even worse – the dreaded death-black poppyseed mucilaginous desiccant of Hades. People consume hamantashen only out of guilt, because… Grandma made them.

  4. Do latkes sometimes have shredded onions in them?

    As far as hamantashan, I don’t think I’ve ever had one, but if they sometimes have poppyseeds in them, one argument against them is that they make you test positive for opiods. At least somewhere I once heard that eating poppyseeded stuff will do that.

  5. I really enjoyed watching this debate video. It is only appropriate that latkes win. In fact, I don’t understand how there could even be a debate on this matter.

      1. It is a challenge that all of the debaters failed at in this video. Defending Hamantashen, I mean. Their arguments were brilliant, though.

  6. There is also always gematria. Latkes are, as was definitively shown by Robin Leidner years ago, intrinsically oppressive to women. Go Team Hamantash!

  7. I am a pacifist: Give me lots of both! 🙂 I would not put apple sauce on my Latkes: I really do not like mixing sweet and savory (with the notable exception of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups). Give me sour cream and salt. Or maybe peppery cream cheese. 🙂

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