Can AI solve the Latke-Hamantash Debate?

Trio of UChicago scientists to participate in 77th annual event on March 24

Three University of Chicago scientists will weigh in on the Latke-Hamantash Debate—with a little help from AI—when the cherished tradition resumes this year at Mandel Hall.

The mock symposium examining the benefits of two Jewish holiday foods, which echoes the rigor and intellectual discourse at UChicago, will be held at 7 p.m. CT on March 24 at Mandel Hall and will be webcast live (register here).

This year’s 77th annual event, entitled: “Can artificial intelligence solve the debate once and for all: Chat LHD (a nod to Chat GPT)?” will include presentations from debaters Peggy Mason, professor of neurobiology; Borja Sotomayor, senior instructional professor of computer science; and Terry D. Johnson, senior instructional professor of molecular engineering.

Per tradition, arguments on which is the better food—the latke, a potato pancake traditionally eaten during Hannukah; or the hamantash, the triangular pastries with sweet filling eaten during Purim—must follow rigorous guidelines (as outlined in the 2006 book The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate). Arguments typically are framed according to the theoretical position and jargon of the participants’ academic discipline.

“The event gives faculty an opportunity to give warmth and humor to the students, in a serious time,” said Rabbi Anna Levin Rosen, executive director of UChicago Hillel, which organizes the debate. “It shows students that faculty are multi-dimensional and academic studies are the whole of a person.”  

Over the years, a number of renowned UChicago scholars have joined in on the jest: Nobel Prize winners Milton Friedman, Leon Lederman and George Stigler, essayist Allan Bloom, President Emeritus Hanna Holborn Gray, and more recently, Profs. Wendy Freedman (an astrophysicist who argued the universe was full of billions of galatkes, yet no gal-hamantaschen), and Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher who delivered her oration in full Greek costume. 

Bringing together the community

The debate originated at UChicago’s Hillel House in 1946, just after the conclusion of World War II. Anthropologist Sol Tax, historian Louis Gottshalk and Hillel director Rabbi Maurice Pekarsky created the event to foster a sense of community among Jewish students and faculty. While it drew just 30 people in its first year, the event has become so popular that it attracts more than 1,000 people to a packed Mandel Hall.

Amid a challenging time around the world, Levin Rosen reflected that this year’s debate “provides us a much needed opportunity to come together.”

This year’s event, which will coincide with the celebration of Purim, also will feature a choir performance from Rhythm & Jews and members of different communities from across the neighborhood, directed by Cantor David Berger of KAM Isaiah Israel of Hyde Park.

Those interested in attending the debate, either in person at Mandel Hall or via livestream, should RSVP here. Learn more at UChicago Hillel’s debate event page.