Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Latke vs. Hamentashen, The Great Debate

There's serious work that goes on at MIT. And then, thankfully, there is not.

A debate was held to determine which is superior among two traditional Jewish foods: The latke (a potato pancake served during Hanukah) or the hamentashen (a prune-, poppy seed-, or apricot-filled triangular pastry).

(Wow, you should have seen what the Blogger spell-check suggested for some of the words in that sentence! Latte, larked, Hank, lamentation, fomentation, emendation, among others.)

Back to the debate. Six of the world's greatest scientists joined Rabbi Michelle Fisher, executive director of the MIT Hillel, to offer their "proofs" that their assigned food was superior to the other. It was heartening to see the degree to which academic credentials and principles of scientific discovery were applied to this high purpose. One participant was Robert Weinberg (Course 7*), a Founding Member of the Whitehead Institute, and a pioneer in cancer research most widely known for his discoveries of the first human oncogene — a gene that causes normal cells to form tumors — and the first tumor suppressor gene. "Trust me, I am an expert," he noted. When facts faltered, character assassination was brought to bear. Said Weinberg of the other side: "Remember, in debates like this your opponents' motives are ultimately vastly more important than the arguments they make."

The other participants on Team Latke were Sanjay Sarma (Course 2) and Allan Adams (8). Team Hamentashen comprised Steve Wasserman (20), Shaoul Ezekial (16), and M. Fatih Yaniak (20).

A secret ballot was held at the end. Not a paper ballot. Audience members promised to bend their heads down and look at the floor as Rabbi Fisher asked people to yell, first, if they liked latkes, and, then, if they liked hamentashen. You can see the result in the video below.

A reception followed the debate, with samples of both treats.

If you cannot see the video, click here.

* Unlike other colleges, MIT departments are called "Courses." Courses are called "classes." All Courses have an English name, of course, but are usually known by their number. To make it trickier, the designations have changed over the decades.


e-Patient Dave said...

Re spell checking and Hebrew: funny - I'm speaking at an event in Israel next month, and the Google Translate for the event's Hebrew web page converted "ePatient Advocate" to "electronic patent attorney"!

You CLEARLY have too much time on your hands if this is what you're up to. Get to work - the patient movement needs you. :-)

Elaine Schattner said...

That's hilarious, Dave, about the Hebrew translation.

Paul, I agree we need a spell-check for Yiddish-derived words in English usage. There must be a database -

As for latkes vs. hamentashen, it's a matter of the holiday and appropriate timing for each. Please tell the guys at MIT that's the answer to the question they're trying to solve.

Paul Levy said...

But, Elaine, we are halfway in between the two holidays...

nasov said...

Only at MIT! This is hilarious. My argument would be that you can buy the hamentashen but there is, nowhere on earth, a place to buy an edible latke. You have to make your own. This requires shredding potatoes until you bleed, squeezing them of water until they bleed, and frying them until the kitchen is spattered, then enduring everyone's else's opinions of your latkes at the table. Flour or no flour? How much oil and what kind?

So the only logical conclusion is to go to someone else's house for Hannukah for latkes, then stay home on Purim until the hamentashen are delivered.

AmyT said...

OMG, I love this! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

this is exactly what i love about mit -- it's a big crowd of wonderful geeks who love what they do, don't take themselves too seriously, and do everything they do with intensity, passion and creativity. it's a fabulous place to be a scientist.

Kathy said...

Latkes and hamantaschen -- why should you have to choose? They are both delicious and should co-exist.

Anonymous said...

NOT only at MIT!

The annual Latke - Hamantash debate has been held at the University of Chicago since 1946.

Other schools to hold such debates include Stanford, Bowdoin, Wisconsin, Harvard, Haverford, Johns Hopkins, Wesleyan, Williams, Princeton, Swarthmore. . .

Lots of fun!

Anonymous said...

Mount Holyoke College also has sponsored a version of this important debate for years!