It’s one the great debates of the Chanukah season: so controversial that it’s been argued in the hallowed halls of the world’s great academic institutions by Nobel laureates of many disciplines without resolution. No, it’s not the controversy over whether Chanukah’s real miracle was a small vessel of sanctified olive oil that somehow lasted for eight days or that a small band of religious zealots somehow managed to prevail over the Syrian-Greek army. The debate isn’t even over whether the it’s called a “menorah” or a “chanukia,” which in the grand scheme of things is a mere generational difference of opinion.
No friends, the greatest debate is much more serious, and like much cultural squabbling, it’s over food. Now, Chanukah food in and of itself, can be highly controversial. Everyone agrees that Chanukah foods must be full of oil—specifically olive oil to “recall the miracle.” But which oil-soaked food item to serve is a matter of regional differences of opinion.
In Israel, people serve sufganiyot. Exotic as this tasty little treat sounds, sufganiyot are simply jelly-filled donuts. Here in the U.S., potato pancakes are the popular choice, served up, crisp and light with your choice of applesauce or sour cream. To be authentic, these pancakes, called “latkes” is Yiddish, must be fried in olive oil and consumed in large quantities in order to properly recall the miracle of the oil. To avoid conflict, many people serve both sufganiyot and latkes—all the better to remember the miracle of the oil.
No, the controversy of which I speak has been known to split families, academic departments and more than one marriage. It is, my friends, the Great Latke vs. Hamentashen Debate. And it has come to Blogcritics. In case you are unfamiliar with the pastry known as hamantashen (literally, in Yiddish “Haman’s pockets”), they are triangular cookie or sweet-bread pockets filled with fruit or poppy seed confection.
As some might cynically argue, latkes and hamantashen don’t even reside in the same holiday, let alone the same season; that there’s no argument to be had. True, latkes are consumed in the dark of winter during Chanukah and hamentashen in the early days of spring during Purim. But that doesn’t matter when Jewish epicurean pride is at stake.
So, every year at about this time, academics, college students (and the occasional middle-aged writer) participate in what has become the eternal (or infernal) debate about which is superior: latkes or hamantashen?
The Latke-Hamentashen debate began at the prestigious University of Chicago in 1946, and has spread to campuses across the country, including Stanford, Amherst, Swarthmore, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, MIT, Brandeis (of course), and Northwestern, to name but a few. Some of the more famous debaters include philosopher Allan Bloom, and Nobel Prize recipients Milton Friedman (economics) and Louis Lederman (physics).
There have too many bits of empirical and anecdotal evidence presented over the years to list here, but, in short, latke advocates in the physical sciences have often argued the aerodynamics of the elegant latke shape, and economists the impact on of latkes on the international potato market. Materials scientists may argue the versatility of the Hamantash design, and psychiatrists may dwell on on the Oedipal significance of memorializing the pocket (tash) of (arguably) one of history’s most evil men (Haman).
But you needn’t be a professor at an Ivy League school to debate the merits of latkes vs. hamantashen. Simply take the poll below and (if you wish) state your arguments in the comments thread. The more creative your argumentation the better and who knows how it might sway the ultimate vote by the end of Chanukah.
So go forth, gather (and then, of course eat) the evidence, and vote your choice. Latke vs. Hamentashen: it’s up to you! Happy Chanukah to all.