Which Jewish Food Is the Best?

Food and humor both have an integral role in Jewish culture, and perhaps no event exemplifies this as much as the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamantash Debate.

Latkes (potato pancakes served during Hanukkah) come up against competition from Purim cookies called hamantashen during the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamantash Debate.
Latkes (potato pancakes served during Hanukkah) come up against competition from Purim cookies called hamantashen during the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamantash Debate.

The lively event, which began in 1946, brings scholars and other experts together to argue the relative merits of two iconic Jewish foods: latkes, the potato pancakes served during Hanukkah, versus hamantaschen, the wheat-flour pastries with sweet filling traditionally associated with Purim.

Though lighthearted in nature, the debate nevertheless garners high-level debaters, all of whom have advanced degrees and are expected to don academic clothing and speak in the technical language of their particular discipline. Past participants have included Nobel Prize winners and MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship winners.

The debates follow a particular theme every year. For example, the 73rd event, which took place in 2019, focused on how the two foods relate to ongoing concerns about the environment. Following the "serious" debate, guests are invited to decide for themselves by tasting both latkes and hamantaschen at a reception.

Jewish food facts:

  • Latkes are meant to remind Jews of the miracle of Hanukkah, in which Jewish rebels defeated a Greek-Syrian tyrant and rededicated the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Despite there only being enough oil to light the menorah for one night, it miraculously lasted for eight nights, hence why the Hanukkah festival lasts for eight days.

  • Hamantaschen pastries recall the three-cornered hat worn by Haman, the villainous royal advisor in the story of Queen Esther, which is celebrated at Purim.

  • According to some estimates, approximately 40% percent of packaged food sold in America has some type of "kosher" designation.

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