The 72nd Annual Latke vs Hamantash Debate (2018)

The 72nd Annual Latke vs Hamantash Debate (2018)

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PRESENTER: Good
evening, everybody. How are you all doing? I was hoping for something
more substantive, but that’ll do for now. We are Chicago Rhythm and Jews. We are UChicago’s premier and
only a capella group, as well as the oldest– wait, what did I say? The premier and only Jewish
a capella group on campus. There are lots of
lovely a capella groups. You can find us on Spotify. We are going to be going on tour
to New York City this winter. We should have an album out,
prepared towards the end of the school year. You can’t hear [INAUDIBLE]
snide commentary over here. And tonight, we are
singing [SPEAKING HEBREW],, which we thought
was appropriate, given that it’s Thanksgiving,
because it’s about coming home and about sort of being
able to find home, no matter what situation you’re in. And also Hashanah,
which is about peace. I hope you enjoy the show. [A CAPELLA SINGING IN HEBREW] Thank you all for
coming, and check us out on Facebook and Twitter. [PIANO PLAYING] [PIANO PLAYING “POMP AND
CIRCUMSTANCE”] ANNA LEVIN ROSEN:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here tonight
to bring the sharpest minds of our generation
together to address one of the most pressing
conundrums of our moment– Latke or Hamentasch. I’m Anna Levin Rosen. I’m one of the rabbis at
University of Chicago Hillel. And this evening, we
will frame this question through the lens of the cosmos. Which of these
Jewish holiday foods is the most out of this world? We’ve always been a people
connected to the firmament. On the second day
of our creation, the Torah says that
the heavens is created. And by the fourth day,
is the moon and the sun. And this happened far
before human beings or any Jewish culinary
tradition came into practice. And stars are often
offered as one of the most poignant
metaphors for the future of the Jewish people. In Genesis 22:17, we read that
God has promised to Abraham, I will bless you. And God says, may
your descendants be as the stars of the
sky, and as numerous as sands on the seashore. May your descendants be stars. I’m not quite sure that
that’s what God had intended, but so it goes. When we talk about
space exploration, we ask the question,
what does this have to do with the
Latke and the Hamentasch? Everything, of course. Let us begin with Kennedy. While we thought that
President Kennedy was a faithful Catholic, his
commitment to space travel had its own Semitic character. His famous speech began,
“we set sail on this new sea because there is new
knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won. And they must be won and
used for the progress of all people.” This sounds universalist
enough, but then he said, as I remember
hearing my rabbi quoting when I was a child, “we
Jews too go to the moon. Because that goal we will
serve to organize and measure the best of our
energies and skills, because that is one challenge
that we are willing to accept.” So space travel is
inherently Jewish. Because when have
we ever as a people done anything the easy way? But back to the
Latke and Hamentasch, the foods of the
holidays of Purim, and the stories of
Hanukkah and Purim. They both translate
well to space. We begin with Purim. The story goes like this. In Shushan, the capital
city of the Persian Empire, a beautiful woman, Esther,
hides her Jewish identity, and encouraged by her uncle
Mordecai, marries King Ahasueros. Haman, the King’s top advisor,
seeks to destroy the Jews out of jealousy for
Haman and a desire to plunder the
Jewish communities. Now, we think, what does
Purim have to do with space? Mordecai discovers the
plot and tells Esther. And Esther calls out
to the King and says, “Shushan, we have a problem.” The King says, “what is it?” And she tells him
that the villain is trying to destroy her people. It is one small step for
Haman, but one giant leap against mankind. Now on to Hanukkah. It was when Jerusalem
came under control of Antiochus III, the
Seleucid King of Syria, who allowed the
Jews to live there and to continue
practicing their religion. But then his son,
Antiochus IV Epiphanes proved less benevolent. Ancient sources recount that
he outlawed Jewish religion, and he ordered the Jews
to worship Greek gods. And in 168 BCE, his soldiers
descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands
and desecrating the city’s holy second temple. When the holy space
station was desecrated, and the Maccabee astronauts
were determined to have it working again, fuel was low. There was only enough power
for the lights of that space station to last for one day. But by a Hanukkah
space miracle, there was enough jet fuel
to last eight days, allowing for more oil– well, you know the story. And since we’re talking
tragedy, as we always are, we take a moment to think
about Jews in space. I’d like to remember
one of the heroes that our family honors,
because my children are obsessed with astronauts. We think often of Ilan Ramon. He was the first Israeli
astronaut to fly for Nasa, and he was aboard
the space shuttle Columbia, in which he and
six other crew members were killed on reentry. Ramon is the only
foreign recipient of the United States
congressional space medal of honor. And although he didn’t
identify as religious, before he planned his
trip he investigated how he could recognize
the Sabbath in space, because there’s no 24-hour days. But now onto something a little
more lighthearted, Gematria. In this theme of space,
we are in a moment right now, in a debate
as great as the one between Latke and Hamentasch. The space race. The space race– this space
race privatized space travel. Who will launch it for real? The shelves of bookstores
are overflowing with books like rocket
billionaires, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the new space race. And everyone has
their own theory. Little did we
know, the questions of this new space race and
the Latke versus Hamentasch are interlinked. Tonight, we may find
an answer to both if we engage in the
classic Jewish method of making meaning where there
is none, through Gematria. By attaching a
Hebrew number to each of the 22 letters of the
Hebrew alphabet, the Aleph-Bet, we look at problems that
plague humanity and add more and more layers of complexity. Right here, we have Latke– these are two Yiddish words– and Hamentaschen. Latke totaling 210,
Hamentaschen totaling 455. So we ask, what do these have
to do with the new space race? We look at Elon Musk
and add up his digits, landing at 350, which
one might assume is the temperature at which
you bake Hamentaschen. But it is also the
exact temperature at which you fry Latkes. And so, we were stuck. Until we look at SpaceX. 60 plus 80 plus 60 for
the Hebrew, and what’s the Gematria for x? Well, if you know your
Roman numerals, we get 10. So we now know that SpaceX,
210, has the exact same Gematria as Latkes. And so, whoever wins might be
the victor of the modern space race. Thank you to Caleb,
Cameron, Chase, and Noa for helping me realize
that rabbis can be funny. And at a certain point, you just
need to turn the question over to another rabbi. So without further
ado, please, Ruth. RUTH LANDIS: Good evening. My name is Ruth, and I’m the
president of the Hillel student leadership board. We are really so glad
that you’re all here, and we want to thank
everyone who has helped make this great event happen. We especially want
to thank our partners at the University, the
Gemunder Family Foundation, who has generously
sponsored this evening, and the hundreds of people
who support Hillel every year. Tonight especially,
we are grateful to be part of a university with
such talented faculty and staff who are committed
to the really tough questions of our times, especially the one
that we’re addressing tonight. Without further ado, introducing
for his very first performance as debate moderator,
Dr. Josh Feigelson. JOSHUA FEIGELSON: Good
evening, and welcome to the 72nd annual
Latke-Hamentasch debate. My name, as mentioned,
is Joshua Feigelson. I’m Dean of Students
in the Divinity School here at the
University of Chicago. And it is my distinct honor
to serve as the moderator for tonight’s debate. I realize I am stepping
into large shoes. Previous debate moderators
have been legendary professors, some of whom even sported
British accents, which gave them an extra
air of distinction. So I approach this august
roll with what I hope is an appropriate degree
of fear and trembling. It goes without saying, that
this year’s debate takes place at a pivotal moment in
our nation’s history. Polls have shown greater
polarization this year than ever before, with some
historians speculating that the country is
riven by deeper division than at any time since the
infamous Latke-Hamentasch disputations of the
mid 13th century. It is, of course, seared
in our cultural memory that those disputations resulted
in rifts between the Latke and Hamentasch communities that
lasted for decades, in fact centuries, until they
were momentarily set aside during the second matzo
ball congress, held in Krakow in 1906. There we go. Indeed, the data are troubling. As this slide shows,
the Pew Research Center reports that a higher
percentage of the public hold extreme pro-Latke
or pro-Hamentasch views than at any time
in recent memory. If we dive further
into the data, we can see in this
series of scissor graphs, the sharp partisan divide– indeed, it is sharp– sharp partisan divide
between the pro-Latke and pro-Hamentasch camps. Perhaps, most striking
and reflecting our deep national
fracture, are the charts in the top right and bottom left
that I draw your attention to. Hear me baby, hold together. All right. Fully 69% of pro-Latke citizens
say they can be friends on social media with
people who like Latkes– not surprising– but only 24%
of pro-Hamentasch citizens say the same. And even more
striking, fully 75% of pro-Latke adults say they
would not allow their child to marry someone who prefers
Hamentaschen, with the numbers reversed when we turn
the question around. Additionally, we can
see the declining trend in bipartisanship, whereby just
12% of Hamentaschen supporters say it is socially acceptable
to like both Latkes and Hamentaschen, whereas 44% of
Latke supporters say the same. And we can observe a couple
of sociological changes. First, a uniform
decline in respondents who say they have
a relative, perhaps most typically a grandmother,
who makes poppy seed filled Hamentaschen. And number two, a striking
increase in Latke-eaters who put ketchup on their Latkes. Research conducted
by the Institute for Latke-Hamentasch
politics, ILHOP, here at the
University of Chicago suggests this reflects
both food tastes among the millennial generation,
as well as aggressive lobbying by the ketchup industry. Further, we know that
our media is divided, and that segmentation strategies
are increasingly pushing us apart by building highly
granulated profiles based on socioeconomic factors
and social media usage. The latte-sipping
Subaru-driving avocado toast-eating Hamentaschen
partisan on the one side, and the pickup truck
driver who gets coffee at the local Denny’s
and loves his Latkes. As Pew summed up
their findings, quote, “for more than two decades,
partisan polarization has been a powerful force
in American politics. Today the divide between
pro-Latke and pro-Hamentaschen citizens on fundamental
values dwarfs the demographic religious
and education differences. What is striking is how
little common ground there is among partisans today. Even on issues on which
Latketeers and Hamentascheners have moved in the
same direction. For example, growing
numbers in both parties say matzo ball consumption
should be accepted rather than discouraged. The partisan differences are
wider today than in the past.” Now, Jewish tradition
is, of course, no stranger to deep
division and debate. As the mission of the
wellspring of Jewish law edited by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi in
the second century famously says, “every argument that
is for the sake of heaven, it is destined to endure. But if it is not for
the sake of heaven, it is not destined to endure. What is an example
of an argument for the sake of heaven? The argument of
Hillel and Shammai. What is an example
of the argument not for the sake of heaven? The argument of Korach and
all of his congregation.” That’s real, by the way. The rest– OK. In a forthcoming dissertation
here at the Divinity School, doctoral candidate
[INAUDIBLE] Zimmer elucidates a recently
discovered manuscript from the famously reclusive
12th century great-grandson of [HEBREW] Rabbi
[HEBREW] of minds, who comments on this passage. [HEBREW] So he says, “what was the
subject of these arguments? The Latke and the Hamentasch. And some say it was about
the labor unionization of graduate students who
teach in the university, whether they are considered
students or workers. And this requires
further study.” And I hope that I still have
a job since the provost is in the audience. So you see that these
debates go back at least as far as 12th century Ashkenaz,
and potentially much farther. Without spoiling
what is sure to be a landmark work
of scholarship, I will add that [INAUDIBLE]
Zimmer has given me permission to share that his
forthcoming dissertation will draw on [HEBREW] fragments,
recently discovered letters of [HEBREW],, never before
heard audio recordings, and archival documents
provided by Dean John Boyer to argue that the
Latke-Hamentasch debate here at the University of
Chicago is in fact, a direct descendant
of similar debates held by the Jewish community
of Cologne in late antiquity. So stay tuned for that one. But back to our own time. All of the foregoing
serves to remind us that tonight’s debate comes
at a critical juncture, when the need to find ways for
pro-Latke and pro-Hamentasch citizens to live
together is acute. As your moderator, my
hope and expectation is that our debaters will,
in the very best traditions of the University of Chicago,
offer us intelligently constructed,
rigorously researched, and passionately
advocated positions, along with family recipes. I also hope and expect
that in so doing, they will model for us the
culture of intellectual inquiry for which the
university is known, and that our country and
world so desperately need. I am also happy to announce the
involvement of the provost’s office in the selection
of tonight’s debaters. You will note that they
come from the disciplines of philosophy, psychology, and
economics, and that two of them teach in the college, with
Professor Worthington teaching in the Harris School
of Public Policy. All of these scholars
are therefore generating significant
revenue for the university. And on behalf of
the Divinity School, I want to say thank you
for enabling us to be here. The format for tonight’s debate
will follow standard Oxford rules, as well as the rules
of Hoyle, a noted Hamentaschen partisan, and the
rule of St. Benedict, famous for his apologetics
on behalf of the Latke. OK, that’s as far
as I should go. So without further
ado, I am now going to introduce Benjamin
Callard, our first debater. That’s right, yes. Ben was born in a small
Jewish village or shvitz in Poland in 1871. That part of his life now
seems to him looking back on it like some peculiar dream. He attended Central High
School in Philadelphia, alma mater of Noam Chomsky,
and Larry “Three Stooges” Fine, got his B.A. from Brandeis
and his PhD from Berkeley, and has taught in the
philosophy department at the University of Chicago
for the past 10 years. Last year he received the
Janelle and Mueller award for excellence in pedagogy. Professor Callard. BENJAMIN CALLARD: Thank you
all very much for coming. So I’d like to thank Rabbi
Anna Levin Rosen and Hillel for the invitation to
participate in this debate. It’s a great honor. When I first got her
email, I decided to read up on the history of the debate. And I learned what many
of you already know, that the debates began in
the 1940s among a small group of Gentile professors in
response to the unwelcoming atmosphere at the time. It’s easy to forget what it
was like in those dark days. Gentiles were outsiders
at the University. And in American
society, more generally. Though Gentiles contributed
their share, and more than their share, to
the national culture, even writing, ironically,
most of the endless Hanukkah songs that start
playing on the radio earlier and earlier every year. They were frequently
given the cold shoulder. Often they felt the need
to hide their background, a Harris would quietly
become a Horowitz, a Stewart would
become a Steinberg, just to have a chance at
being given a fair shake and making their way in
their chosen profession. One chilly evening in
1946, here in Hyde Park, as the fall quarter headed
once again towards Hanukkah and the Gentiles
on campus got ready with a sigh for eight
consecutive nights of Chinese food, this
little group of professors decided to start
an informal event to let off steam and
celebrate their heritage in an atmosphere of safety. The lobster ham and cheese
debate, as it was then called, slowly gained in popularity
and outgrew its original venue in the Hillel building. And as Gentiles finally
broke into academia in substantial numbers
and were allowed to live their identity publicly
without fear of ostracism or reproach, what had been
a small private gathering became a beloved university
tradition for all. You might assume,
as I did at first, that the question before us
is, which of these foods– Latkes or Hamentaschen
is more delicious? If that were our
question, there would be no point in holding a debate. The answer would be so
obvious as to be not even worth stating. But as Rabbi Levin
Rosen emphasized, and as the posters advertising
tonight’s debate indicate, we’re faced with a much subtler
and more difficult and more interesting question–
which of these foods is more out of this world? Here, answers do
not come so easily. Our question is a
metaphysical one, and must be addressed
with gravity appropriate to that subject. So Ludwig Wittgenstein
tells us at 5.62 in the Tractatus
Logico-Philosophicus, “the world is my world. The world and life are one. I am my world.” But just as Descartes’
cogito, “I think, therefore I am” should
not be understood as an autobiographical
remark, but rather as an invitation for the
reader to become a meditator him or herself. It is clear that Wittgenstein
doesn’t mean Wittgenstein by “I,” he means me. And if, to anticipate
my thesis tonight, Hamentaschen are out of
this world, while Latkes, by contrast, are in it. It follows by a simple
logical substitution of co-referring expressions
that if Latkes are in the world, and I am the world,
then Latkes are in me, where they should be. At the same time,
Wittgenstein claims at 6.41 that goodness, quote, “must
lie outside the world.” If this is right, and
Hamentaschen are out of this world while Latkes
are trapped inside it, then Hamentaschen and only
Hamentaschen are good. I will return to
this thorny issue in the second hour of my talk. Wittgenstein did not discuss
Latkes and Hamentaschen in the Tractatus, but
being from Vienna, he spent page after
page discussing these sachertorte, a
mouthwatering Viennese chocolate cake. To give just one
example, he asserts the following proposition on the
first page of the book, 1.13– “Die Tatsachen im logischen
Raum sind die Welt,” which, if my German
doesn’t fail me, is the sachertorten in
logical space are the world. Wittgenstein makes
this remark at 6.44 in the Tractatus, “not how
the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.” Here, he’s raising the
classic Leibnizian question, “why is there something
rather than nothing?” The question Martin Heidegger,
a perennial Hillel person of the year award nominee,
called the fundamental question of metaphysics, elsewhere
in that same book, “Introduction to
Metaphysics” in 1953, he makes some ominous
comments about the relation between Jewish
food and politics. Most notoriously,
he speaks of, quote, “the inner truth and greatness
of noshional socialism.” We must acknowledge
the philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser’s reply to
Leibniz, “if there were nothing, you’d still be complaining.” Wittgenstein tells us
in “Culture and Value”, because that’s just
how he is, that, quote, “the Jew must see to it
that, in a literal sense, all things are as
nothing to him.” But what is nothing? With this question, we need
all the help we can get. I hope that here tonight, we
can at least agree that nothing is nothing, not even nothing. Everything is something. But this only takes us so far. In my core course this
quarter, my students I have been reading Aristotle’s
“Nicomachean Ethics” and his doctrine of the mean. In this spirit, I
propose to attack the question of
nothingness by considering a food exactly
equidistant between Latkes and Hamentaschen, the donut. So they’re fried
in oil like Latkes, but they’re dessert
pastries like Hamentaschen. Jerry Seinfeld, a
philosopher whose very name means “field of
being”, has recently provided the
canonical discussion of the metaphysics of donuts. So there it is. The crucial claim
is that a hole is, quote, “such a freaky
metaphysical concept to begin with. You can’t sell people holes. A hole does not exist.” But Seinfeld’s trenchant
comments notwithstanding, holes, thank goodness, do exist. If they didn’t, it
would, for example, have been much harder to get
into Mandel Hall tonight. And [INAUDIBLE] Seinfeld,
you can sell people holes. You sell someone a cheese
grater, you sell them holes. If you’re skeptical, try
selling one without the holes. It’s the holes that
people are interested in. Though the German-Jewish
journalist, Kurt Tucholsky, was right to observe
in 1931 that, quote, “there is no such thing
as a hole by itself. All the same, the
rest of the greater is just a necessary
condition on the holes. The holes are what
they’re paying for.” This conflation of
holes with nothing and our general confusion
about the nature of nothing infiltrates even our symbols. For example, we use the symbol
zero, in other words, a hole, precisely because we think
both that holes are nothing and that zero is nothing. But this just shows
the error of our ways. Because not only are
holes not nothing, zero is nothing either. Zero is a number, and
a perfectly good one. As Fraga says, “it
functions as an answer to a how many question. For example, it answers,
alas, the question, how many pull-ups could
I do even if my very life depended on it?” Holes are made of
nothing, but this does not mean that they are nothing,
since you can make something out of nothing, as
I am doing tonight. Seinfeld, like so
many philosophers before him, including the
great British empiricist philosophers, John Latke
and David Hamentaschen, is assuming that something must
be material in order to exist– a strange mistake for a
comedian of all people to make, since he manufactures
immaterial things for a living. Where are jokes? What is their shape? How quickly do they move? How much do they weigh? Holes, unlike jokes, do at
least have spatial location. You can point to them. There’s the hole. This is what philosophers in
the philosophical literature call the host of the
hole, or what lay people called the good part. Not only is the donut
hole immaterial, but the donut host– this part of the donut hole– isn’t identical to
any matter, either. The way to see
this is by applying Leibniz’s principle of the
indiscernibility of identicals. If a is identical to b,
then if you destroy a, you necessarily destroy b. But if you eat and
digest a donut, you destroy the donut,
but not the matter, which simply assumes a much,
much less appealing form. The holes are made of nothing. They may contain something. This something is
called the guest, in the philosophical
literature on holes. For example, most donut
holes have air in them. This is because nature
abhors a vacuum. I’m told the feeling is mutual. But while you can fill
a hole with many things, you can’t fill it
with just anything. This could become a
very different talk at this juncture,
but my kids are here, so I’m going to remain on the
side of propriety and decorum. So you can’t fill a
hole just anything. A hole in the earth filled
with water is possible. But a hole in the
earth filled with earth is, at best, an ex-hole. A hole cannot be identified
with empty space, because when you walk along
53rd Street with holes in your pants, either for
fashion reasons or otherwise, the holes are moving, but
the regions of space you and your holes move
through are not. I’ll end my discussion of holes
with my favorite quote about them, again, from Kurt
Tucholsky from 1931– this is one of my favorite
quotes about anything– he says, “the strangest thing
about a hole is its edge. The edge is still
part of the something, but it constantly
overlooks the nothing– a border guard of matter. Nothingness has no such guard. While the molecules
at the edge of a hole get dizzy because they
are staring into a hole, the molecules of
the whole get Firmy? There is no word for
the opposite of dizzy. For a language that was created
by the something people, the hole people speak a
language of their own.” Hamentaschen are Haman’s
pockets, or in other words, bags. I only recently learned
the pockets are bags, but that’s what they are. They’re little bags
sewn into your clothes. I find that very
upsetting, but you know. What is a bag,
metaphysically speaking? Is this a bag, for example? You might think a bag
needs to face this way. But that isn’t right. So for example, balloons
it turns out, are bags. Again, I didn’t know that. But look it up. So I think hats maybe
head bags, maybe. Like a hole, a bag is defined
by the space it encloses. Yet a bag is not a
hole, nor does it contain a hole, or
at least not a hole you discover until you get
home from your shopping trip. The defining joke of topology
is that typologists cannot tell a coffee mug apart from a donut,
since the two are homeomorphic. You can turn the
one into the other by stretching and bending,
but not cutting or gluing. In this way, and
in only this way, Latkes and Hamentaschen
are exactly the same and keep each other
company here on earth, while donuts being holy
are transcendental. But while a bag is not a
hole, it pretends to be one. In other words– and please
pay attention to this. This is my final slide. It’s the crucial
move of the talk. A bag, and more
specifically a pocket, for example, a Hamentasch
is something pretending to be something,
which, as we just saw, is itself a something
pretending to be a nothing. Hamentaschen, in
short, are simulations of simulations of nothingness. Their reality is doubly
disguised as illusions. In this way Hamentaschen
are, I would argue, divine. That is real, but
elusive or hidden. What better proof that
Hamentaschen are out of this world? Latkes, by contrast,
are chaotic. They were there
in the beginning. The shapeless tohu wa-bohu
spoken of in Genesis. Nothing could be more
worldly than a Latke. As Aristotle said,
“natural substances are a union of form and matter. In this way, we might
conclude that neither Latkes nor Hamentaschen exist,
at least here on earth. For a Latke is all
matter and no form, while Hamentaschen is
all form and no matter. This conclusion, if we
were forced to make it, shouldn’t trouble us. Almost nothing exists, why
should Latkes and Hamentaschen be any different? But this troubling conclusion
would be premature. Latkes, though messy, do
have a little bit of form. Hamentaschen, for
all their austerity, do have a little bit of matter. But still, we can take
them to represent these two aspects of reality, and can
therefore conclude, I think, that Hamentaschen belong to
the realm of Plato’s forms, and are therefore
definitely more out of this world than Latkes. The only question
that remains is this– should food be
out of this world? Is it a virtue in food
to be other worldly? And the answer,
of course, is no. Who wants an abstract coffee
or an ethereal ice cream cone? Food is for here and now. And so the very fact that
Hamentaschen are more out of this world entails, I think,
that Latkes win this contest. Thank you. JOSHUA FEIGELSON: Thank
you, Professor Callard. Next up is Professor
Leslie Kay, who is a professor in the Department
of Psychology in the cognition and integrative
neuroscience programs. She also trains
graduate students in computational neuroscience,
neurobiology, and biophysics. She is a member of the
Institute for Mind and Biology where she served as
director for many years. Her laboratory studies
behavioral neurophysiology of the olfactory
sense, mostly in rats. This will be Professor
Kay’s 19th winter at the University of Chicago. She has many years of
experience eating both Latkes and Hamentaschen, and
she is our next debater. LESLIE M. KAY: Gosh. So first, I’d like to thank
Rabbi Anna Levin Rosen for inviting me to participate. This is perhaps the most
thrilling single thing I’ve been invited to do in all
my time on the faculty here. As a lifelong fan
of the Latke, I am happy to use my extensive
training as a scientist and as a specialist
in the chemical senses to argue the supremacy
of this delicious food. I was trained in the
Chicago tradition, but in a different place– St. John’s College. I learned there, as we
do here, to go directly to the original texts for
explication of a problem. In the course of this intensely
dialectical education, I was exposed to a previously
unknown dialogue of Plato’s, in which Socrates
discusses how to evaluate the Latke and the Hamentasch. As we know, the Jews learned a
lot of things from the Greeks. But it is less well
known that the Greeks learned from the Jews. Few people know that Socrates
learned from the Jews about the importance
of the sense of smell. His intense study
of Jewish texts allowed him to predict in
the 5th century BCE, not only the inevitability of the future
holidays of Purim and Hanukkah, but also their symbolic foods. Tonight, I will
summarize for you Socrates’ argument from
this important dialogue, with some excursions into
modern science and culture. And the Lord God
formed the human out of the dust of the ground and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the
human became a living soul. From the beginning, it
is clear that the nose is more important than the mouth. God did not animate Adam by
giving him mouth to mouth. He blew into his nose. I do not suggest you try this. You might end up swapping
out someone’s soul for your bad breath. The Talmud tells
us that smell is the sensation that can delight
the soul without engaging the body. This is true. Which, in good
platonic fashion, we should take as a sign
of holiness or purity. Now, in the Garden of
Eden, the sense of smell never experienced sin. Eve heard the serpent. She saw the fruit, which,
in some interpretations, is an apple. She touched the fruit. And she tasted it. Nowhere is smell mentioned. It’s true. The great Hasidic
scholar, Rabbi [INAUDIBLE] depending on which
camp you’re in, presents this as true evidence
that the sense of smell is pure and more
holy than the others. This is also true. It remains in the state
it was before sin. This evidence is
why Socrates claimed that we should base our
evaluation primarily on the sense of smell. This insight has also led
me, as a neuroscientist, to re-evaluate what we know
about brain organization. I announce here, for
the very first time, a breakthrough in
understanding mammalian brains. You see here a diagram
of a human brain, showing how sensory
information arrives in the cerebral cortex,
which many believe is where thinking happens. All sensory stimuli
except for odors are processed in the
thalamus before being distributed to the cortex. This organization has
puzzled neuroscientists for a very long time. So going back to the
textual evidence, we can now assign the
thalamus as the origin of sin, and its distribution
into sinful thoughts. Olfactory information,
on the other hand, goes directly from the
nose to the cortex, bypassing the thalamus. The olfactory bulb is the first
place in the cerebral cortex to receive smell
input from the nose. It is anterior to, or
before, the thalamus. And thus, before sin. So olfactory thoughts
are pure thoughts. Smell is also what
makes taste into flavor. Taste without smell is just
sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. Umami is a savory flavor,
as in meat, soy sauce, or small amounts of MSG. This is true. We smell via two
routes, and both are important for appreciating
say, a glass of wine, but also food. The idea of the wine or the
food requires both inputs– the orthonasal route, or what is
listed here as nasal olfaction, is when we sniff
and smell something by breathing in, drawing
air through the nose. This is normal. The retronasal
route is activated when we put foods in
our mouths and smell by air passing backwards
out of our noses, as long as you chew
with your mouth closed, like your mother taught you. Now I’m going to
show you a video. This video shows two things. The first is a
great demonstration of airflow and
retronasal smelling. The second thing is to remind
us that cold things have little taste and little smell,
because odors don’t volatize well when food is cold. So there is little to smell
by sniffing cold food, and the little bit
of retronasal smell comes from being
heated up in the mouth. Watch as this boy
eats a cereal ball frozen with liquid nitrogen.
He only tastes sweet. There’s no flavor, just
sweet in this treat. And that’s from the
sugary syrup, in which he dips the frozen ball. See, if you chew with
your mouth closed, you would have the
full experience. So smell is what makes
taste into flavor. So which of these foods provides
the better flavor experience? They both smell delicious in
different ways while cooking, while hot. But we eat the Latke hot. Right? We have retro plus
orthonasal makes more smell. The full smell
experience, importantly, involves the nasal pathway,
the one by which the almighty breathed life into Adam. More smell, more holy. The Hamentasch we eat cold– mostly retronasal smell of
a cold food, so less holy. But how else can smell tell
us about which food is better? In Numbers, God commands
the Jewish people to provide a pleasing odor as an offering. God wants to smell stuff. If we were to take Hamentaschen
and Latkes as offerings to the temple, which
set of ingredients would be holier or better? What kind of odor
does God desire? The odor comes from the stuff
that’s burned on the altar. And that odor depends
on the ingredients. So let’s deconstruct the two
samples to see what’s in them. On the Latkes
side, olive oil was a part of every
offering at the temple. It is not traditional to
cook the Latkes in olive oil, but vegetable oil is close. If you add schmaltz
to the vegetable oil, it makes them less vegetarian,
but more delicious. This would also be
consistent with what’s called a bird offering. On the Hamentasch side,
in biblical times, there was no
granulated white sugar, but historians explain that date
syrup, referred to in the Torah as honey, was probably
used as a sweetener. Produce was also given
in many offerings. Eggs were commonly eaten,
but not mentioned relative to the sacrifice. Butter and vanilla, we’ll
discuss these in a bit. Both recipes
contain wheat, which is the main component of
many offerings in the temple. Of what form was this wheat? Unleavened. Everyone knows that matzo
meal makes a better Latke than flour. But baking powder? Really? Forbidden for an offering. What about sugar? In Leviticus 2:11, we
read, “for you shall not cause to go up in
smoke any leavening or any honey as a fire
offering to the Lord.” No sugar. Things are not looking
good for the Hamentasch. What other smells are
pleasing odors to God? Let’s take a peek
inside the temple, where the offerings were made to
see if we can figure this out. I have some actual
photographs from the time of the second temple. This is a real thing. You can buy these kits. This is from the courtyard
outside the inner sanctum. Sacrifices were offered
here, and the leftovers of the sacrifice were eaten
by the priest and his staff. The people could
offer unleavened items baked in an oven, cooked on
a griddle, fried in a pan, or roasted. All meal offerings were made
with oil and salt, and no sugar or leaven. Vegetables could
also be offered. Onions were common. Potatoes and poppy
seeds, not so much. But where does it say that
God wants vanilla and butter? Furthermore, the Talmud
describes the pan offering as a crisp preparation
that is fried in a shallow pan over the fire. And it consists of flat cakes
over which an additional oil is then poured. Sounds like a Latke. The ingredients of a
Latke could therefore become a Latke as they are fried
on the range top or the altar. There is no oven here
for baking cookies, as we can plainly see,
even in the holy of holies. What did it smell like in there? We’ve already
established it could smell very much like Latkes,
at least with the vegetarian offerings. Inside and all over the
temple was the smell of holy anointing oil and
incense, which contributed to the pleasing odor. What did that smell like? These are the ingredients
of the incense, as described in Exodus– or the anointing oil,
as described in Exodus. The oil is on everything,
including the priest’s clothes, so this must have been a
pervasive scent in the temple. The entire batch contained
close to 40 pounds of spice in a gallon and a
half of olive oil. That’s really strong perfume. About one third of
the mixture was myrrh. Maybe you’ve smelled that. Calamus has a greasy
or nutty smell. It probably blended
nicely with the olive oil. One sixth by weight was Ceylon
cinnamon, or cinnamomum verum– somewhat less spicy cinnamon
than what we commonly use. But wait. What is Cassia really? Here it is as a tea. But the anointing
oil was not for tea. Cassia is also a
type of cinnamon. In fact, this is
common cinnamon, what we use everyday from
the Cassia cinnamomum tree. So half the weight
of the incense is cinnamon, with
the odor coming from large quantities of a
chemical called cinnamaldehyde, obviously. Yes, really. So what did it smell like
in the holy of holies? This is a horrifying
possibility. Could malls all over
America be bringing us a whiff of the divine without
our even being aware of it? Is Cinnabon a holy food? Probably not. Even aside from the
leavening, why not? No sugar, no vanilla, no
butter in the holy of holies. So let’s recap on
the holy odors. In addition to cinnamon,
myrrh, and a few other things, the holy incense which was
also described in Exodus, contains saffron, frankincense,
and salt. Some of these are described in
the Talmud, which has actually a recipe from
the second temple [INAUDIBLE].. Cooking onions and produce,
oil and matzo meal, plus cinnamon and other spices. These are holy odors. Butter, vanilla, sugar, unholy. Where does the cinnamon go? None in the Hamentaschen, but
the Latkes have applesauce. Many scholars argue
that the fruit of the tree in the Garden
of Eden was an apple. So to conclude, I will read the
conclusion of Plato’s dialogue [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH],, which
puts this all together. Socrates says, “so
knowing that the nose is the root to all that is holy,
we mix the odors of frying potatoes, onion, matzo, and
oil to make a pleasing odor.” If we add applesauce,
we can thereby redeem the sin of eating
from the tree of knowledge by the addition of the holy
cinnamon to the applesauce. The Latke, therefore,
is not only an offering to the
god of the Jews, but also a redemption
for all humanity. [INAUDIBLE] replies, “it
must be so, Socrates.” I rest my case. JOSHUA FEIGELSON: Hamentasch
has taken it on the chin so far. So we look to Professor
Paula Worthington to try to shore up the position
for the Hamentaschen lovers out there. Professor Worthington
is a senior lecturer at the Harris School of
Public Policy, where she also serves as academic director
of the school’s policy labs program. At Harris, she teaches courses
in state and local government and cost benefit
analysis, and advises students completing
applied projects for public and nonprofit
sector clients. She’s consistently
recognized for her excellence in teaching having
received nine, count ’em nine,
best teacher awards since joining Harris in 2004. While on leave from
Harris this year, Worthington served
as senior economist at the Council of
Economic Advisors in Washington D.C.
In Hyde Park, she is a member of Kayyem Isaiah
Israel congregation, where she and her husband have served
as board members and officers. Her sons were
[INAUDIBLE] mitzvah, and she is a sometime member
of the temple’s klezmer band. Professor Worthington. PAULA WORTHINGTON: Good evening. Good evening. Thank you, Dean Feigelson,
for your kind introduction. And thank you Rabbi Rosen for
inviting me to participate in this evening’s debate. I’m really glad
we’ve set aside time to focus on things that are
really important, like food, Jewish holidays, food,
academic freedom, food, intellectual creativity, and of
course, food, before the debate and after. So where to begin? My academic home, the Harris
School of Public Policy, prides itself on its
evidence-based approach to policymaking. We are critical thinkers
who apply scientific methods and rigor to all sorts
of problems and issues. Social impact down to a
science, that’s our mantra. My colleagues at
Harris investigate timely, relevant, and
important public policy issues. For example, my
colleague Damon Jones has found that unconditional
cash transfer programs may not damage the work incentives
of recipients after all. Another example comes from
my colleague Chris Berry, whose research has
highlighted the regressivity of local property
value assessments. Tonight, however, we meet not to
debate workforce or tax policy, but instead to assess
the relative merits of two traditional Jewish
treats, Hamentaschen and Latkes. So applying the Harris School
toolkit, what can we say? Let’s start with prices. I know, I know. You’re thinking
that economists are cynics who know the
price of everything and the value of nothing. But bear with me, because after
extensive online research, I found that Zabar’s sells
both of these goodies. So you can buy Hamentaschen
for $12.98 for 13 ounces. And you can buy Latkes
for $12.98 a pound. They seem kind of
similar in price. The problem is that these prices
are for different quantities. So we need to standardize
prices based on weight. So it’s a minor adjustment,
but on a standardized per item basis, we find that
Latkes are a little more expensive than Hamentaschen. But there’s another problem. No one ever eats just one Latke. In fact, people eat at
least three, for sure. So we need to price per
serving, not per item. And there’s yet another problem
as we think about prices. We also know that
no one eats Latkes without all kinds of condiments. So eating a bare
naked Latke would be like eating this
instead of this. So we need to make sure we
adjust for condiments, too. And after all of
those adjustments, I estimate that on a condiment
adjusted standardized per serving basis, Latkes
are nearly four times as expensive as Hamentaschen. So given these prices,
how much will people really want to buy and consume? The theory of consumer
behavior can help us here. Utility maximizing
consumers will choose the bundle of
Latkes and Hamentaschen that maximizes their utility
or well-being given prices, income, and preferences. So the consumer chooses just
the right amount of each good, so that at the margin, the last
dollar spent on Latkes yields these same additional
satisfaction or additional utility
as the last dollar spent on Hamentaschen. I think this graph kind of
sums it up pretty nicely. So we can become a little
more formal with this by turning to the
Cobb-Douglas utility function to examine consumer
decision making. We write utility as a
function of several items, including the number
of servings of Latkes, the number of servings
of Hamentaschen, and then a couple of
arbitrary parameters that I’m just going to make up– a scaling factor, and a
Cobb-Douglas preference parameter. So by choosing these
parameter values to match basic consumption
patterns in the United States, I can calculate the
welfare loss to consumers if they were unable to consume
Latkes or Hamentaschen at all. So how much worse
off would consumers be if they couldn’t eat Latkes
or couldn’t eat Hamentaschen? Well, my calculations indicate
that driving Latke consumption to zero would decrease
consumer welfare by $20, while decreasing Hamentaschen
consumption to zero would decrease consumer
welfare by only $5. So this tells us that
on a per serving basis, the enjoyment from
Latkes is $20, and the enjoyment from
Hamentaschen is only $5. So it seems like we’re done. We value the
enjoyment people get from consuming a
serving of these treats, even after taking into account
the prices they pay for them. And Latkes seem like
the clear winner. But there’s a problem. What about the impacts
of consuming these treats even on people
who don’t eat them? Fortunately, at
the Harris School, we have a lot of experience with
the perfect analytical tool– cost-benefit analysis. Using this method,
we can systematically assess and evaluate
the benefits and costs to all of society arising
from the consumption of Latkes and Hamentaschen,
thus scientifically answering the question,
which treat is best? Of course, Harris is not
the first or only place where CBA, or
cost-benefit analysis, has been applied to
pressing questions, such as, what are the
benefits and costs of living life itself? Well, The Onion’s rigorous study
of the pros and cons of living considered the
values of tangibles, such as median income
and home ownership costs, as well as intangibles,
such as finding inner peace, establishing emotional
closeness with family members, and brief moments of joy. Unfortunately, The Onion
study concluded that it was unwise to go on living. But seriously,
cost-benefit analysis has long been a foundation
for our government’s approach to regulation and rulemaking. President Reagan signed
Executive Order 12291 requiring CBA for all major new
proposed rules and regulations. President Clinton signed E.O.
12866 revising and expanding review processes and procedures. President Obama signed E.O.
13563 requiring consideration of values that are difficult
or impossible to quantify, including equity, human
dignity, fairness, and distributive impacts. And President Trump
signed E.O. 13771 requiring federal agencies to
eliminate two existing rules for every proposed new rule. So what is our situation? In our case, we wish to
calculate the net benefits experienced in society from
consumption of these two treats. Our approach is
grounded in the belief that we should make choices
that maximize the net benefits to society, where
the net benefits are defined as the difference
between benefits and costs. So which treats generates
higher net benefits to society? We need to catalog the
impacts to be sure. We know that one
of the key impacts is the direct benefits
of consumption, which we’ve already calculated. We know that Latkes
generate $20 in consumer surplus per serving, compared
with only $5 for Hamentaschen. But we must also consider
indirect consumption benefits, or co-benefits, defined as
impacts that are typically unrelated or secondary
to the secondary purpose of the rulemaking. And of course, we must
consider externalities, which are the costs
imposed on individuals who are not actually
consuming the treats at all. Once again, we have
a problem though. What if a program or a
policy generates both winners and losers? In the present case, what
if eating these treats improves the welfare
of some people, but makes other
people worse off? Who’s better off? Who’s worse off? And how can we
compare these impacts? We know there are winners
from consuming Latkes and Hamentaschen. Even more winners if we
consider that kids sometimes enjoy helping in the kitchen. But let’s not forget
about the losers here. So how do we add up these
impacts across people? Fortunately, we
have a solution in standard cost-benefit analysis. We’re going to apply the
Kaldor-Hicks criterion and describe a policy
or program as desirable as long as the winners
from the policy can, in principle,
compensate the losers. Now in the present case, we note
that children’s obligations, without measure, include
honoring their mothers and fathers. So surely, we think that the
undying love and affection from child to parent
is enough to compensate a parent for the
occasional messy kitchen. So with that behind us, we
now turn to the co-benefits of consumption. How should co-benefits
be treated? One approach is to
consider and count all of the impacts of a
proposed rule or policy, whether from the
intended purpose or not. Until recently, US regulators
commonly used this approach when analyzing the impacts
of proposed health, safety, and environmental regulations. Since 2017, however,
regulators have moved to disregard such
incidental benefits in their analysis. Some observers, of course,
have welcomed that change in regulatory practices. The thing is, these
co-benefits can really affect the outcome of a
cost-benefit analysis. Consider the EPA’s
Clean Power Plan. The EPA’s most
recent analysis shows that the primary
benefits from the rules generate annual climate
benefits of only $500 million by 2030, while the ancillary
health benefits from reducing fine particulate matter
and sulfur dioxide would be 10 to 20
times as great. With these co-benefits in
place, the Clean Power Plan passes a net benefits
test, and is a good idea. But without them, it isn’t. In the present context,
we must consider the possible co-benefits
from consumption. Let’s consider Latkes first. Latkes or higher calorie. They are higher fat. And they are loaded with
cholesterol and sodium. Worse, as we’ve
already understood, we don’t eat them naked. We eat them loaded. All right, so the
numbers are really bad. And sadly, for Latkes, the
co-benefits of consumption are actually negative. So how do we monetize
those impacts? Well, we’re going to take
the approach of looking at how much people pay
to avoid bad things, like cholesterol, and use
that to indirectly value the good thing they
want, like good health. So we start by
observing that the US market for cholesterol drugs
is over $10 billion a year. If cutting Latke
consumption to zero meant no further need to buy and
take these prescription meds, that would save an estimated
$16.46 per serving. So sadly, the co-benefits
of Latke consumption are indeed negative. Hamentaschen on
the other hand, I think the situation is reversed. We note the obvious benefits
for digestive health coming from selective
Hamentaschen consumption. Those health benefits
come all quite naturally, eliminating the need for
supplements or medications. Clearly, Hamentaschen
generate lots of ancillary health benefits. So how do we monetize
those benefits? Well, we consider that the
over-the-counter market for digestive health products
was $5 billion last year. And since regular consumption of
Hamentaschen with prune filling keeps people more regular, I
estimate that this consumption saves digestive health related
spending of about $15.38 per serving. And now we must
consider the possibility of negative externalities. Executive Order
13563 clearly directs us to consider even
hard to value impacts, such as the scents
and odors associated with frying and baking
these holiday treats. Do your neighbors like
it when you prepare these treats in your kitchen, or not? In absence of relevant
data, I expect that people hate the
smell of used cooking oil, but love the scent of
freshly baked cookies. This tilts the analysis in favor
of the Hamentaschen, of course. And of course, no contemporary
discussion about externalities is complete without touching
on carbon emissions. The logic here is
straightforward. Making these treats
requires energy. That means putting more carbon
dioxide into the atmosphere. So what do the
numbers look like? Let’s take a look at the math. Don’t worry, calculations are
really simple, straightforward. The key point is that
baking Hamentaschen requires more energy, hence generates
more carbon emissions than does frying Latkes. But how should we value
those carbon emissions? Economists and
others have worked for years to estimate the
social cost of carbon, or the value of
damages associated with the emission of one more
metric ton of carbon dioxide. A US Interagency Working
Group has previously estimated this cost
at $40 per metric ton. With that estimate, I find
that the costs are indeed higher for Hamentaschen,
which, thus, contribute more to global warming
than do Latkes. Finally, every
cost-benefit analysis includes a table
summarizing its results. So let’s take a look. Here it is. This table tells us
that Latkes generate lots of consumer surplus,
but also generate negative health impacts,
odors, and atmospheric damage. Hamentaschen, on the other
hand, produce modest consumer surplus, but also generate
significant positive health impacts and pleasant aromas,
while admittedly contributing more to climate change. Now, those of you who can
do the math in your heads have probably already
figured it out. But these numbers
clearly indicate it’s Hamentaschen for the win. So Hamentaschen generate
higher net benefits to society, generating $20.36
per serving, compared with a paltry $3.53 for Latkes. Key points to remember– consumers love Latkes
and can eat just one. Co-benefits are crucial here. And hard to quantify impacts
are hard to quantify. Social cost of carbon matters in
principle, but not in practice on a per serving basis. We conclude by noting that
both treats taste good, but Hamentaschen are
better overall for society. And with that, I’ll
leave you to consider what kind of tikkun olam lies
ahead for you this holiday season. Thank you, and Chag Sameach. SETH JOACHIM: Good evening. My name is Seth, and I’m
a senior engagement intern and member of the
advisory board at Hillel. Thank you all for
coming out tonight. And thank you to all
the parents, alumni, and friends of Hillel who
are watching the debate live online all over the world. The Latke-Hamentasch debate,
which originated in the Hillel building on Woodlawn
72 years ago, has changed dramatically
over the years. These days, versions
of the debate can be seen around the country
on many college campuses. With that being said, an event
of this size cannot be done without the help of many
different people who deserve a brief moment of appreciation. First of all, I want
to thank Dean Feigelson and the wonderful debaters
for the rigorous inquiry into this very heated matter. While I, like most
people, made up my mind before entering this event, your
thoughtful and rigorous debate further helped me
remain convicted in my original decision. I would also like to thank
the staff of Reynolds Club, Carl Fogel on the
piano, Rhythm and Jews, and all the volunteers
and staff at Hillel who worked tirelessly
behind the scenes to make tonight a success. Thanks to the Gemunder
family and all of you who supported this debate
and Jewish life on campus all the 364 days other than today. This year, we’ve transitioned
the debate to Monday night before Thanksgiving,
as opposed to Tuesday night. We hope this change
will allow you to consume more food tonight,
knowing you have plenty of time to regain strength for
the Thanksgiving meal. Besides, a nice prune
Hamentasch should help you get ready
for the food marathon to come later in the week. Now that the debate
is concluded, it’s time for you,
the audience, to vote. To encourage everyone to
fill out those ballots, I will quickly demonstrate
why your vote matters. According to data about the
election just a few weeks ago, 115,861,500 people, or 49.2%
of eligible voters, voted. This means your vote was
worth 0.00000086% of the total decision. In Mandel Hall,
there are 364 seats. And based on this data,
only about 375 of you will actually vote. This means that tonight,
your vote counts for 0.27%. Putting all this together,
compared to election day, your vote is 313,950 times
more valuable than it was. So make it count. Finally, the
University of Chicago is usually a place where
theory trams for practice. Tonight, however,
it’s up for you to decide if that
should be the case. Rather than simply pondering
the ultimate Jewish food, you can try these
treats in practice. After the debate
concludes, you are all welcome to join us for
a post-debate reception in McCormick Lounge to try
both Latkes and Hamentaschen, all for a small donation of $5. Leave the theory of
the debate behind, and enter the real world. Lastly, please remain seated
while the debaters process out. Thank you, and have
a good evening. [PIANO PLAYING]

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