Latke-Hamantash Debate brings back the food fight Nov. 19

Interdisciplinary group of scholars to continue the UChicago Hillel tradition

Intellectual discourse is nothing out of the ordinary at UChicago. But only once a year, during the Latke-Hamantash Debate, does the discourse take a culinary turn.

For 72 years, the much-loved UChicago Hillel tradition has gathered the greatest minds on campus—from Allan Bloom to President Hanna Holborn Gray to Nobel laureate Milton Friedman—to examine the comparative virtues of these savory and sweet staples of Hanukkah and Purim.

True to form, this year’s Nov. 19 event in Mandel Hall features an interdisciplinary lineup of UChicago faculty: fiscal policy expert Paula Worthington, philosopher Ben Callard and psychology scholar Leslie Kay, whose work on “olfactory neurophysiology” may prove particularly useful. The group will be moderated by Joshua Feigelson, dean of students in the Divinity School, a debate newcomer who hopes to “bring both an academic and a rabbinic persona” to the proceedings (tune in at 7:30 p.m. for a live webcast).

“I hope that this can be a model for intellectual argument,” Feigelson said. “I hope it provides some respite from the pressures of our political world.”

A rabbi at Northwestern University for six years, Feigelson spent another half-decade leading “Ask Big Questions,” a social startup dedicated to facilitating civic conversations on American college campuses. Like any good moderator, Feigelson refuses to take a stance on the foods in question. “I’m not going to tip my hand,” he said, although he has a firm sense for the tradition’s importance.

A sense of imagination—and cheekiness—has always been baked into the debate, which has since spread to similar events across the country. It also inspired a University of Chicago Press book that recounted the debate’s feminist, poststructuralist, bioethical, geopolitical and aerodynamic readings.

Feigelson said it’s the opportunity to be serious yet ridiculous that many attendees hold dear.

“The ability to laugh at ourselves is really, really important, especially for UChicago. It’s like being able to step out of ourselves, and both appreciate and chuckle at the University.”

The event is free and open to the public. For more information and to register, visit the UChicago Hillel website.