The University of Chicago News Office
November 21, 1996 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421

Panelists Eat Their Words at the 50th Annual Latke-Hamentash Debate

With enough cheerful wit to warm the coldest November evening, the 50th annual Latke-Hamentash Debate will be held at the University of Chicago at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, in Mandel Hall.

Following the Jewish practice of mimicking teachers and spoofing rabbinical tradition during Purim, distinguished panelists will draw upon their academic disciplines to extol the virtues of latkes (potato pancakes) or hamentashen (triangular pastries).

To celebrate the symposium’s first half-century, organizers are planning a serenade by a Jewish student a cappella group and an academic procession that will include past debate participants. Panelist Philip Bohlman, University of Chicago Associate Professor in Music, will attempt to lead the audience in song.

“The symposium has become an amazing event. People from all over the city come every year,” said Ted Cohen, Professor in Philosophy, who started participating in the debate as a panelist over 20 years ago, but who has since become the regular moderator. “It started off as something that could be held in Hillel’s small living room, but when Rabbi Daniel Leifer took over 32 years ago, it was re-conceived and re-energized.

“Last year we had several hundred people in Max Palevsky Cinema–people were sitting in the aisles. That’s why we are moving it to Mandel Hall for the first time. Danny turned it into an enormous institution.” Leifer, Director of the Hillel Foundation for 25 years, died earlier this year. The Hillel Foundation is the University’s center for Jewish life.

In addition to Bohlman, panelists this year are University of Chicago faculty members Isaac Abella, Professor of Physics; Richard Epstein, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School; and Martha Roth, Professor in the Oriental Institute.

Spectators are encouraged to show support for their preferred victual by coming to Mandel Hall dressed in a latke- or hamentash-related costume. The debate is followed by a reception at which latkes and hamentashen will be served.

Cohen noted that when the Latke-Hamentash symposium started, there must have been an element of daring for those involved. “When this started 50 years ago, it was just after World War II. It was a real risk to have such a public display of Jewishness. It’s much different today.”

He added, “This is a chance to let loose some whimsical energy.”

The symposium will be held at the University of Chicago at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, in Mandel Hall, 5706 S. University Ave. The symposium is free and open to the public. The fee for the post-debate feast is $3. For more information, call the Newberger Hillel Center at (773) 752-1127.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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