November 17, 2005
Vol. 25 No. 5

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    Faculty to serve up annual debate over Latkes, Hamantashen Nov. 22

    By Jennifer Carnig
    News Office


    In the birthplace of some of the most important intellectual movements of the 20th century — home to the likes of John Dewey, Milton Friedman and Saul Bellow — one of higher education’s most distinguished annual events is celebrating its 59th anniversary by asking the age-old question: Latke or hamantash?

    The Latke-Hamantash Debate continues this year at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22, in Mandel Hall, 5706 S. University Ave., in the Reynold’s Club. Making the tradition even more special this year is the premier of The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate, a new collection, edited by Ruth Fredman Cernea, highlighting the best of faculty speeches from years past.

    The debate concerns the relative merits of latkes, potato pancakes eaten during Hanukkah, and hamantashen, triangular-shaped pastries associated with Purim.

    Following the Jewish practice of kidding teachers and mimicking rabbinical tradition during Purim, the annual Latke-Hamantash symposia have become legendary for their lighthearted wit and the audacity of their participants’ tactics. In testament to the event’s originality, the debates have been copied at other institutions around the country and featured in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

    Ted Cohen, Professor in Philosophy and the College, will be back in the position of moderator, and joining him this year are Ralph Austen, Professor in History; first-time debater Colm O’Muircheartaigh, Professor in the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies; and Jerrold Sadock, the Glen A. Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor in Linguistics.

    The book on the debates, with a foreword by longtime moderator and latke and hamantash expert Cohen, is full of humor, poetry, storytelling, vulgarity and creative reasoning.

    Published by the University Press, the volume includes Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, the Paul Snowden Russell Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Economics; Hanna Gray, President Emerita of the University and the Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in History; Supreme Court scholar Geoffrey Stone, the Harry Kalven Jr. Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School; and international religious studies expert Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School. The collection showcases Jewish culture, higher education and the elusive Chicago sense of humor, and also offers recipes, a glossary and an overview of Jewish holidays. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Hillel.

    “In many of these lectures you will find the lecturer proving, with deductive rigor, and in the arcane terminology of obscure academic disciplines, plainly insane conclusions—for instance, that Machiavelli must be Jewish, or that their common commitment to potatoes shows that Jews and the Irish are pretty much the same,” Cohen writes in his foreword.

    The debate is “one of the most peculiar things that occurs here,” he continues. “It is at least as well attended, every year, as almost any of the concerts, recitals, lectures, symposia and exhibitions that crowd the academic calendar, and while those are one-time affairs, this happens every year. Its success is as mysterious as the funniness itself.”

    Copies of the book will be on sale at this month’s debate, and volume editor Cernea and Cohen will be signing copies at the reception.

    The 59th annual Latke-Hamantash Debate, which is free and open to the public, will be followed by an opportunity to sample the contested treats for $3 in advance or $5 at the door. For more information, call (773) 752-1127 or visit http://www.uchicagohillel.org. As always, spectators are encouraged to show support for their preferred victual by coming in a latke- or hamantash-related costume.