Jewish professors debate qualities of latke, hamentash

Amy Hackbarth

Lester Block has a message for the Christian public: “Give up latke for Lent.”

During his speech debating the merits of the Jewish pancake and its cookie counterpart, the hamentash, Block accused the latke of causing poor health and bowel irregularities.

“A friend told me, ‘latke binds you while hamentashen sets you free,'” the professor of health services and public policy said. “Gives a whole new meaning to the expression, ‘Set my people free.'”

Block blasted latkes and glorified hamentashen during the debate, which pits the foods against one another in speeches by four Jewish University professors.

University President Mark Yudof moderated the fourth annual event, calling the conflict between the foods “one of the great dichotomies that has dominated our world for centuries.”

University professor Elaine May also defended the merits of hamentashen, linking it to healthy sex lives, happy marriages and war triumphs.

When asked to defend May’s allegations of sexual dysfunction caused by latke consumption, latke defender and University professor Azzan Yadin replied, “I have twins.”

Yadin discussed the historic and linguistic origination of latke, which means “little oily thing.”

His co-defender, professor Judith Katz, said the superiority of latke can be found in its triumph over “latke-phobia.”

“If we’re still eating them even though people hate them, that says something,” she said.

While this is the fourth time the debate has been held at the University, it has more than 50 years of history nationwide.

The debate was created after an animated conversation between the founding Hillel: the Jewish Student Center director and professors at the University of Chicago on a Chicago sidewalk. It was 1946, and the professors were feeling the effects of World War II.

“There was a feeling of a lot of anti-Semitism and discomfort a lot of professors were experiencing,” said Amy Olson, executive director of Hillel.

After a brief stint in the early 1960s, the University began hosting the debate when Yudof moved from the University of Texas.

Every year, Olson said, a committee chooses four people from the approximately 300 Jewish University professors. The professors are asked to use their disciplines to bolster their arguments.

A plant biology professor, for example, compared the simple chemical composition of the potato to the complexity of wheat and fruit in her debate for hamentash three years ago.

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]