The argument that latkes are better than hamantashen or vice versa may seem, on its face, silly. And it is.
And the silly debate on March 8 at Adas Israel Congregation made the case for each holiday food’s merits while debaters kept a straight face.
Take Diana Cohen Altman’s argument, in a style reminiscent of President Donald Trump, of urging Jews to take pride in their heritage by embracing both foods and not letting other cultures steal them.
“Over the last eight years we have seen many latkes and hamantashen be made elsewhere besides on our shores,” said Altman, a board member of the Jewish Study Center, which has been running these debates for 26 years.
“We make the greatest latkes and hamantashen,” Altman continued. “We should not be the victims of bad deals when it comes to our own cuisine.”
While Altman declined to opine on which is better — the hamantashen of Purim or the latkes of Chanukah — international law attorney Allan Gerson came down cleanly on the side of Purim’s three-sided sweet treat.
Gerson said the effort which goes into making hamantashen represents the struggles of the Jewish people throughout history.
“The making of the filling. The kneading of the dough. The folding of it into triangles. The baking of it just right. This takes effort. It takes work. And it takes the kind of resilience against odds that the Jewish people are known for,” he said.
Latkes “can’t hold a candle” to hamantashen because fried potato pancakes commemorate the miracle of the oil burning for eight days in the Chanukah story — something which required God’s help. Purim, Gerson noted, required no miracles, which he referred to as “the stuff of alternative facts.”
Social activist Zahara Heckscher asked whether latkes are white and if they benefit from white privilege. She pointed out that latkes can be made from cheese, carrot, cabbage, spinach, sweet potato and fried plantains — foods of color — in addition to potatoes.
“No, I proclaim, latkes are not really white,” she said.
Heckscher said hamantashen do not possess the same level of diversity that this rainbow of latkes does. “Let latkes of all kinds be welcomed at our Chanukah tables and throughout the year,” she declared.
The debate was dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Max Ticktin, the founder of the Jewish Study Center. Ticktin, who died last year at the age of 94, brought the debate to Washington from the University of Chicago, where it originated in 1946.
Rabbi Aaron Alexander spoke about the complex and arcane rabbinic rules concerning hamantashen. There is a simple workaround, he said.