Latke or Hamantash? University of Chicago Profs Debate Superior Jewish Food

By Sam Cholke on February 12, 2013 7:18am | Updated on February 12, 2013 12:22pm

 Philosophy professor Ted Cohen said of the more than 25 Latke Hamantash Debates he has moderated, no discipline has proved superior in solving the argument over which is the best Jewish food.
Philosophy professor Ted Cohen said of the more than 25 Latke Hamantash Debates he has moderated, no discipline has proved superior in solving the argument over which is the best Jewish food.
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DNAInfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — Latke or hamantash? Neither is clearly the superior Jewish food, so for 60 years the question has been debated once a year at the University of Chicago.

At last count, the fried potato pancake, latke, was ahead of the fruit-filled pastry, hamantash, but the question is far from resolved. On Tuesday, debaters again will take the stage at Mandel Hall on the university's campus to offer the definitive proof offered by their discipline.

“The point is to present what appears as a scholarly treatise in your own discipline that makes fun of your own discipline,” said philosophy professor Ted Cohen, who has moderated the event for more than 25 years. “Since we are an institution known for our hyper seriousness, which is not unwarranted, this is probably a good thing.”

For those who can keep up with the often arcane humor, the debate is a chance to see academic luminaries satirize their own headiness with said headiness.

“At least one chunk of the audience can understand the very complex humor and arcane references,” Cohen said, adding that the best debaters tread that fine line between vivid humor and opaque intellectualism.

He said no single discipline monopolizes humor, a lesson Cohen learned through trial and error.

“That’s one of the ways I used, but it was so wrong — scientists turned out to be hilarious,” Cohen said.

This year, Susan Gzesh, executive director of the university’s Human Rights Program, will employ arguments from her discipline in favor of the latke.

“It’s your one chance to be a stand-up comedian — except in the classroom every day,” Gzesh said.

Glen Weyl will bring economics to bear on the debate, which Austan Goolsbee, President Barack Obama’s former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and a economist at the university, successfully employed in 2007.

Douglas Baird from the Law School will round out the panel in an odd three-person debate lopsided in favor of the latke.

“When people vote, they tend to vote for the latke,” Cohen said.

This year’s debate at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday is unlikely to resolve the debate, but will push the argument one step closer to resolution.

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