UChicago’s Latke-Hamantash Debate to celebrate 75th anniversary

Dec. 2 event to reflect upon event’s rich history, continue humorous academic tradition

Since 1946, University of Chicago scholars have vigorously debated the merits of two Jewish holiday foods: the latke, a potato fritter served at Hanukkah; and the hamantash, a triangular pastry served at Purim.

This year’s Latke-Hamantash Debate—held 75 years after the first debate—will take place virtually at 7 p.m. CT on Dec. 2. Free registration is available at this link.

Hosted by UChicago Hillel, the event will feature presentations by Sarah Hammerschlag, a professor of religion and literature, philosophy of religions and history of Judaism in the Divinity School; and Omri Ben-Shahar, the Leo and Eileen Herzel Professor of Law. Hammerschlag will represent the latke, and Ben-Shahar the hamantash. They will be joined by Adam Shaw, a professor in the Department of Computer Science, who will serve as a swing debater.

The conclusion will be delivered by David Barak-Gorodetsky, a historian and scholar of Jewish thought who is currently a visiting fellow at the Divinity School from the University of Haifa in Israel.

“There’s no limit to how much we can learn from our history: about ourselves, our future, who we want to be and how we want to build our world,” said Rabbi Anna Levin Rosen, the executive director of UChicago Hillel. “The core of Jewish tradition is knowing that the stories of our past inform who we are and who we can become.”

The debate was established after World War II by UChicago historian Louis Gottschalk, anthropologist Sol Tax and Rabbi Maurice Pekarsky. Since then, it has explored themes ranging from the foods’ metaphysical implications to their carbon footprints.

This year’s event coincides with a partnership between UChicago Hillel and the University of Chicago Library to digitize and archive existing magnetic recordings of earlier debates in the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, along with ephemera from past events.

Levin Rosen said that the debate is emblematic of the spirit of the University of Chicago, a community of scholars that pursues knowledge and engages in academic discourse. “The growing popularity and love for the debate proves that the core character of the University has not just been maintained, but is flourishing,” she said.