The debate is timeless and seemingly unending (well, maybe not timeless but it’s certainly entertaining): which traditional Jewish food is better, the latke or the hamantaschen? On March 26 while students munched on hamantaschen and drank grape juice, Associate Professor of Physics Chuck Adler and Director of the Library and Media Center Celia Rabinowitz attempted to convince everyone that the fried potato pancake or the triangular Purim cookie, respectively, was the better Jewish delicacy at the “nearly annual” debate sponsored by Hillel.
Actually, according to moderator Assistant Professor of Physics Joshua Grossman, the mock debate originated at the University of Chicago in 1946 and since then has spread as far and wide as the diaspora. The academic reason for the debate is to “celebrate Jewish culture and academic learning,” though it’s really meant to spoof all of that, said Grossman, and “has all the seriousness and authenticity of professional wrestling.”
After giving a brief context of each food, Grossman commented that the event was actually closer to Passover than to Purim or Chanukah and suggested that we introduce a third contender: matzah. Though with some further consideration (matzah is flat, dry, crumbly, and tastes somewhat like “burnt glue”) he decided to drop it from the mix.
Professor Adler began the debate with his idea of LatKosmology, or the comparisons between the latke and the universe. Adler explained that the latke clearly embodies the cosmos in its small form, given that the swirl of the latke and the dollop of sour cream in the center are like the swirled Milky Way Galaxy with its flat, round, bulge in the center. Also, he concluded, the universe is lumpy like a potato pancake! The big bang is also like the hot oil that is necessary for a latke to cook – both created something astounding.
String theory, the idea that all matter is composed of tiny vibrations in space and time, is also applicable to the latke since it is composed of small potato strings, which like the theorized physical strings, have never been sighted. Finally, Professor Adler dissected the composition of the universe to that of a latke drawing incredible parallels. Ordinary matter comprises three percent of the universe, dark matter 24 percent, and dark energy 73 percent–the exact same ratios of salt, onion, and potato in a latke. He concluded his argument with a quote he attributed to Albert Einstein, “As for me, I cannot make myself believe that God plays Dreidel with the Universe,” and then rested his case.
Next, Rabinowitz took the podium, rejecting the laser pointer offered to her, and began by explaining traditions of Purim. The holiday, she explained, allows people to turn conventions on their head, giving the example of students being allowed to poke fun at their teachers. After trying to decide what the most unlibrarian thing to do would be, she quickly figured out how to best present her argument in the spirit of Purim. “This presentation,” she said, “is by and large plagiarized.”
Additionally, Rabinowitz took a few jabs at her opponent citing that the Book of Maccabees, the Chanukah story isn’t in the Torah, unlike the story of Purim. Her cookie, she explained, takes time to make; with the latke you just “throw potato in a pan.” She claimed her argument wasn’t “elitist,” but just a “humble little hamataschen” without fancy math or science examples. Instead, she listed why the three, the number of sides which comprise a hamantaschen, is exciting, and cited baseball (which has three strikes and outs), literature (which has the three Musketeers), and even physics (which has the proton, neutron and electron) as support.
She also gave famous examples of triangles, among them the Bermuda Triangle, the Golden Triangle, and the tri-corner hat, part of the foundation of our country. She concluded with an insightful observation: “triangles are a universal symbol of balance and harmony” and ended with an impassioned plea to “stop our reliance on foreign oil – no more latkes!” She also had one final quote from the Talmud (“It is the obligation of each person to be so drunk as not to be able to tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman,’” citing the a protagonist and the antagonist of the story of Purim), and ended with a punch from Midrash: “When all the other festivals will be abolished in Messianic times, Purim will remain.”
Though no official winner was announced, senior Mike Wright commented, “I was stunned at the beauty of the similarities of the latke and the universe and it has changed my opinion of not only life but also the potato.”
Ashok Chandwaney, sophomore, took the opposite perspective, saying “Celia Rabinowitz had pictures of a lot of things that were triangular. I think that’s a pretty convincing argument.”