Food fight: Latke-Hamantash Debate returns with Dec. 17 virtual event

Founded in ‘a time of loss and hope,’ UChicago Hillel tradition enters 74th year

After years of filling seats (and stomachs) at Mandel Hall, the Latke-Hamantash Debate will soon make a fully virtual debut—continuing a decades-long tradition during an unprecedented historical moment.

Hosted by the University of Chicago Hillel, the 74th annual Latke-Hamantash Debate will stream live Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. To witness the latest showdown between the savory potato pancake and the sweet triangular cookie, spectators can register here for a free webcast link.

The event will begin with an expression of gratitude to the faculty and staff of the University who worked to create a safe learning environment for students this past academic quarter. In lieu of a post-debate reception with latkes and hamantaschen, viewers are encouraged to try their hand at creating the Jewish delicacies at home.

“The Latke-Hamantash Debate is grounded in recognition of the pairing of mourning and rejoicing that is at the center of Jewish ritual,” said Anna Levin Rosen, rabbi and executive director of UChicago Hillel. “More importantly, it’s grounded in food, which is the real heart of Jewish tradition.”

This year’s debate will introduce the possibility of reconciliation: “Latke and hamantash: Can they come together after all this time?”

On hand for Team Latke will be Kafi Moragne-Patterson, director of student civic engagement at the University Community Service Center, part of UChicago’s Office of Civic Engagement. Team Hamantash will be represented by David Pincus, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology. Dennis Carlton, the Daniel McDavid Keller Professor of Economics at Chicago Booth, will be a swing debater—discussing the merits and failures of both the latke and the hamantash.

For Levin Rosen, the 2020 debate also brings to mind the opening line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. “We are in a ‘best of times/worst of times’ moment,” she said.

In 1946, the Latke-Hamantash Debate was co-founded by UChicago historian Louis Gottschalk—an expert on the French Revolution, the backdrop of Dickens’ novel—along with anthropologist Sol Tax and Rabbi Maurice B. Pekarsky. “They created the event during a time of loss and hope that were at the core of the post-war American Jewish experience,” Levin Rosen said.

This year’s event also coincides with the last night of Hanukkah—when the hanukkiah, filled with candles, glows the brightest from the windows of Jewish homes.

“In this ‘season of darkness,’ we’ll celebrate the holiday of lights together—anticipating a joyous victory for either the latke or the hamantash,” Levin Rosen said.