The Great Latke-Hamentaschen Debates

There are a many things that American culture has contributed to Jewish history and not all of them are accessible only to those on the “inside.” Consider the annual Latke vs Hamantaschen debate that is familiar to many college campuses. As reported in the New York Times, it is such a long-lasting annual tradition at the University of Chicago (beginning in 1946!) that it has recently been chronicled in a book. Imagine the best of this country’s Jewish minds absurdly debating which is better, which is the truer Jewish food, which region of the country has a better spin on the recipe. No talk here of Jewish law or ritual. Only Jewish culture—and comedy—at its best.

The Times article notes that one of the participants, Colm O’Muircheartaigh, a professor of public policy, is not even Jewish and “tasted the first latke of his life—and hamantasch, too—after last year’s debate.” If he feels comfortable celebrating Jewish culture, certain an unaffiliated Jew will too, or a young adult child of intermarriage who may be unsure as to his or her status with the community. Is it any wonder that, as the article points out, “By 1965, the crowd of 700 was more than double the number that attended High Holy Day services on campus. Now, the tradition has spread to more than a dozen campuses.”

What other imaginative doors into Jewish life can we envision?


  1. As a young upstart (last year was JUST our 25th year of Latke-Hamantash debates) I was delighted to read Rabbi Kerry Olitzky’s insight about the outreach implications of gastronomic humor.From the outset we went one step further than the University of Chicago - who cares which is tastier; we debate which is more critical to Jewish survival. And the verdict after just a quarter of a century? Humor and food wins each year! So, eat a little, laugh a lot and join in the company of others and Jewish life will flourish.
    Rabbi Abie Ingber, Hillel Jewish Studenet Center, Cincinnati

    Comment by Rabbi Abie Ingber — November 30, 2005 @ 8:30 am

  2. I was one of the early participants in the Latke-Hamantash debate at the University of Cincinnati Hillel (vs. Benny Kraut). Of course, Dr. Olitky is correct that the debate highlights Jewish culture, but it certainly also involves knowledge of Jewish law and ritual (which to my mind is part of Jewish culture). The point of the debate is to use the full arsenal of learning — Jewish and secular — to debate a matter of absolutely no consequence. This turns out to be good practice for how to debate matters of great consequence — hopefully by mustering the same arsenal of learning, and with the same good cheer.

    Jonathan D. Sarna
    Brandeis University

    Comment by Jonathan D. Sarna — November 30, 2005 @ 9:30 am

  3. Please advise me of the date for the 2007 Latke Debate at Chicago University. I live in Ohio and would like to plan to attend. Thank you.

    Comment by Marian Schwilk-Thomas — October 17, 2007 @ 10:10 pm

  4. We are not sponsors of the debate. I would recommend that you contact the staff at the Hillel there and they should be able to direct you. If you need some help locating them, we would be glad to help.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — October 17, 2007 @ 10:22 pm

  5. The University of Chicago Latke-Hamentaschen debate is always the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at Mandel Hall (at 57th Street and University) on the campus. This year it is on November 20 and begins at 7:30 pm. (I’m not affiliated with the debate, just a regular attendee.)

    Comment by A Reader — October 19, 2007 @ 10:03 pm

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