Today marks the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the miracle of the oil used to light the Menorah lasting eight days. As part of the eight-day celebration, lights on the Menorah are lit one per day and foods fried in oil are customarily eaten in reference to the Hanukkah miracle. This includes the Latke, a fried potato pancake originating from Eastern Europe.
The Latke’s fame goes beyond Hannukah celebrations. Since 1946 it has also been the subject of intense (but intentionally humorous) debate within the annual Latke-Hamantash debate held by the University of Chicago. Within the debate the merits of the Latke are compared to those of the Hamantash – a triangular pastry with sweet filling usually eaten on the holiday of Purim. Debate participants have included senior scholars, Nobel prize winners and University Presidents, all of whom don academic regalia to present their argument on which holiday food is better.
Participants are encouraged to use the specific technical language of their discipline, which has resulted in presentations discussing Machievelli’s thoughts on the debate (arguing he would vote Latke); applying feminist theory to conclude that Hamantash were worshipped in early matriarchal societies; and citing on numerous occasions the County of Allegheny v. ACLU case in which the US Supreme Court officially recognise the Latke but make no mention of the Hamantash.
Last year’s debate addressed the question ‘“Which [of the two foods] is better for our biosphere?”. Presented arguments including the role of the latke in celebrating the oil industry, the versatility of the potato in both the natural world and in cuisine, and the ecofeminist contextualisation of the Hamentash as a euphemistic object through which to celebrate female anatomy and the power of women to resist ’the exploitative dominance between men and nature’. This debate can be viewed on YouTube here.
This year’s debate is set to take place on the 17th of December over Zoom. Neither the Latke or the Hamentash have ever ‘won’, and indeed this year’s debate announcement includes the question ‘Can they come together after all this time?’.
I guess on the 17th we will find out!
Written by Islay Shelbourne, IHR MRes Student