Latke-Hamantasch Debate Becomes Verbal Food Fight

Bon mots flew thick and fast at the second annual latke-hamantasch debate, held March 26 for the Jewish holiday of Purim. "Purim is a day of merriment and craziness, and the debate uses silly arguments about the superiority of one food over another as a pretext to offer an evening of academic theater," explains Rabbi Devorah Jacobson.

And it was dramatic, with six debaters offering opinions on the supposed superiority of the latke (a fried potato pancake traditionally eaten on Chanukah) or the hamantasch (a triangular fruit-filled pastry associated with Purim). The aim was to dazzle listeners with plausible arguments presented with verbal flair, even though all the "facts" were bogus.

Arguing for the latke were Lucas Wilson (economics and African American studies), Karen Hollis (psychology), and Jeanne Friedman (physical education and athletics). The hamantasch was supported by Jonathan Lipman (history and Asian studies), Kevin McCaffrey (communications office), and Susan Scotto (Russian).

<<< Triangular logic--Professor Susan Scotto argues that the triangular hamantasch is most appropriate for a women's college based on its shapely similarity to the anatomical area highlighted by her G-string.
McCaffrey proclaimed the hamantasch's influence on jazz music, as exemplified by the triangular arrangement of many jazz trios and Thelonious Monk's song "Brilliant Corners." Scotto, sporting a hamantasch-shaped G-string over a bodysuit, argued in double entendre the suitability of hamantasch for a women's college, based on the pastry's shape. (She compared it to her triangular G-string.) Lipman related the hamantasch to similarly shaped Chinese characters meaning "humankind is one," arguing that this lofty linguistic heritage makes the hamantasch the more suitable model for a forward-looking society.

Friedman said the latke, "by providing brain and muscle power, opened a new world of physical activity," and traced the evolution of the balls used in various sports to similarly sized potatoes. Hollis claimed that data from Ivan Pavlov's notebooks on classical conditioning showed that circular (latke-shaped) stimuli worked better than triangular stimuli. Lucas Wilson, who admitted he'd never seen either food until that day, invoked complex economic theories and argued that "the hamantasch alleges a center that will hold, but we know in this society that the center will not hold."

A panel of judges and audience applause called the debate a draw, and moderator Arna Desser and Jacobson produced prizes for all debaters.