Scholars tackle timeless theological problem

By Matt Johnston

The Newberger Hillel Center presented the 60th annual Latke-Hamantash Debate to a crowd of nearly 900 at Mandel Hall last Tuesday. Moderated by philosophy professor Ted Cohen, the event featured three academics facetiously debating the merits of two traditional Jewish foods.

Student a cappella group Rhythm & Jews set the evening’s light tone with its rendition of “Silent Night.” “Wait, wait, wait!” one singer yelled after the carol drew laughter from the audience. “We’re Jewish!”

Panelist Elliot Gershon, a psychology professor at the Pritzker School of Medicine, began the debate with an evolutionary perspective on the topic. His retelling of the Old Testament story of Queen Esther featured a fight between humans and chimpanzees with latkes and hamantashen as weapons.

“In desperate times these missiles could be eaten… were customarily disguised as food,” Gershon said.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy Yitzhak Melamed took the podium next, attempting to prove that hamantashen do not actually exist. Citing both seventh-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza and the Teletubbies, Meiamed demonstrated that triangles do not exist and, in turn, a triangular cookie such as a hamantash cannot exist.

“True philosophy leads to the latke,” Melamed said, though he spuriously attributed the quotation to moderator Cohen.

Rounding out the panel was Alison Boden, dean of Rockefeller Chapel. In an exaggerated Midwestern accent, Boden parodied Protestant preachers, even going so far as to call for audience support with the line, “Can I get a witness?” Boden ostensibly told the story of Esther, though her accent caused her to confuse Biblical figure Haman, the namesake of the hamantash, with 1980s American superhero He-Man.

Closing the debate, Cohen said, “As usual, perhaps one side has prevailed, but, as always, we don’t care.”

The printed program backed the sentiment: “Assuming that they fail to put the issue to rest, we look forward to seeing you here again in Mandel Hall for next year’s debate on Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 7:30 p.m.,” it read.