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January 30, 2015  RSS feed
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Text: T T T

USF profs to stage food fight over latke, hamantashen

Is it a matter of national security that the latke get booted off the Jewish holiday menu, or is the hamantash unworthy of its status after a noted MIT particle scientist inserted both foods inside his LHC – Latke Hamantash Collider –declaring that preliminary results supported the Latke Theory.

Since 1946 when the first Great Latke-Hamantash Debate was held at the University of Chicago, the merits of one Jewish holiday staple versus the other have been debated there. Over time other universities have held their own versions of the same debate.

Not to be left out of the verbal food fight that has raged for decades, always argued in the most lofty of academic terms, USF Hillel will host its first “Great Latke- Hamantash Debate” on Monday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at the University of South Florida.

In the spirit of Purim, and with fun and serious frivolity, USF Professor of History Dr. Philip Levy will defend the latke against fellow faculty member Dr. Emanuel Donchin, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology who will argue the merits of hamantash.

Professor Emanuel Donchin Professor Emanuel Donchin Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen will moderate the debate.

A latke, known in the secular world as a potato pancake, is traditionally eaten during Hanukkah. Fried in oil, the latke commemorates the holiday miracle in which one day’s worth of oil illuminated the Temple for eight days.

Hamantash are triangular–shaped flour pastries with a sweet filling that are traditionally eaten on Purim, during which the Book of Esther is read. As the story goes, Queen Esther and a relative, Mordechai, foil Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews. One explanation for the hamantash’s shape is that it is reminiscent of the three-cornered hat worn by Haman.

As is tradition in the University of Chicago debate and at other universities, the professors will apply the knowledge and tools of their respective academic disciplines to argue the merits of the latke versus the hamantash and attempt to resolve the age-old question: Which is Best?

Dr. Philip Levy Dr. Philip Levy Spoiler alert: the debate, regardless of venue, has never been won.

That however has never stopped some very distinguished academicians, including Nobel Prize winners and MacArthur Grant Fellows, from presenting some brilliant arguments.

Once, at Harvard University, criminal lawyer and professor Alan Dershowitz accused the latke of increasing the United States’ dependence on oil. While a report on the debate did not indicate if there was any quibbling over crude or vegetable oil when Dershowitz lambasted the latke, surely one would think that any dependence on oil must be a national security threat.

Other points put forward at various campus debates include these:

• A divinity school professor noted that hamantaschen are a womb equivalent and were worshiped in early matriarchal societies.

• One professor said there is a possible conspiracy involving the Manischewitz company and the University of Chicago Business School (no indication of which holiday offering was favored here).

• Citing Spinoza and Jacques Derrida, a Johns Hopkins professor argued that the latke’s joyous heterogeneity made it the better holiday food.

• The president of Princeton University favored hamantashen, pointing out that the epicurean significance of the “edible triangle” in light of the literary “Oedipal triangle.”

• A University of Chicago chemistry professor argued that from the standpoint of energy efficiency, the latke is eight times more fuel efficient than the hamantash.

The debate at USF will be at 7 p.m. in room CWY206 of the C.W. Bill Young Hall (the ROTC building) at 12303 USF Maple Drive on the USF Tampa campus. The event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are requested no later than Thursday, Feb. 19 via email at or by calling Suncoast Hillels at (813) 899-2788.

Parking is available near Young Hall; for more information on where to park, visit:

A post-debate reception featuring home-made latkes and hamantashen will be held immediately following the program.

Suncoast Hillels also plans to announce the winners of the Rutstein Judaic Essay Contest (for Suncoast Hillels’ students) and distribute $1,880 in prize money at the program.

About Emanuel Donchin

About Philip Levy

Donchin is a cognitive psychophysiologist.

He began his career as a research associate at Stanford Univer- sity’s Department of Neurology, and from 1969 to 2001 served as a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He is a distinguished Professor of Psychology at USF. He has published 190 articles and edited five books.

Levy is a historical archeo logist and has received international acclaim for his 2008 discovery of George Washington’s childhood home. He is the author of Where The Cherry Tree Grew: The Story of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home. His other fields of research include early America, Virginia history, and public history. He is a Professor of History at USF.

About Harry Cohen

Harry Cohen is a chair pro tem of the Tampa City Council and represents District 4. He is a practicing attorney and for the past 12 years has served on the committee for the Tampa Jewish Federation’s annual President’s Dinner, co-chairing the event in 2012 and 2014.

For more information about the Great Latke-Hamantash Debate or about the Hillels of the Florida Suncoast organization, visit or contact Linda Wolf, assistant director for Hillels of the Florida Suncoast, at (813) 899-2788 or

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