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8 Great Arguments from the Latke-Hamentash Debate

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Every year, a few weeks before Hanukkah begins, eminent scholars don their formal academic robes and convene in one of the great Gothic halls at the University of Chicago to present their arguments on the most important question of our time: Latke or hamentash?

The hamentash is a triangular pastry with a sweet filling served during the Jewish holiday of Purim. The latke, of course, is the fried potato pancake eaten during Hanukkah. The merits and drawbacks of each have been passionately expounded upon since the first Lake-Hamentash Debate held in 1946. The rules of the debate, according to Ruth Fredman Cernea in the introduction to her book The Great Latke-Hamentash Debate, are that "all participants must hold a PhD or equivalent degree; arguments should be framed according to the theoretical position and jargon of the participant's academic discipline; and each symposium must include someone who is not Jewish—to lend a note of 'gentility.'"

The tradition of the latke-hamentash debate has since spread to other universities. Nobel Prize winners and MacArthur "Genius" Fellows alike have held forth on the metaphysical, philosophical, semiotic, sociological, literary, and historical implications of latkeness vs. hamentashness. Naturally, sentiment tends to veer toward the latke. In celebration of Hanukkah, here are eight great arguments (one for each night) from the last several decades of the Latke-Hamentash Debate.

1. From "Latkes, Hamentashen, and the History of Science," by physicist Morrel H. Cohen.

"How else was Kepler able to arrive at the ellipsoidal shape of the orbits of the planets around the sun but by contemplation of the appearance of the well-cooked latke? How else to account for the decrease of the vigor of Italian science in the late Renaissance but by the displacement of the latke by pasta and its subsequent degeneration to mere gnocchi? Can one believe that the fall of an apple is sufficiently inspiring to lead Newton to the theory of universal gravitation? But the slither of a latke to the floor as one attempts to cut it: that is thought-provoking in the extreme. Would that Newton could have admitted the truth."

2. From "Notes toward a Reinterpretation of American Literature" by Marvin Mirsky, professor of humanities.

"In the famous chapter 43, entitled 'The Whiteness of the Whale,' Melville confronts us with the fundamental and profound duality of the monstrous creature. Is the whiteness a symbol of virtue and goodness, or is it the emblem of terror and evil? Is the whale a three-dimensional latke, wallowing in its gargantuan and blubbery circularity, bodying forth the benign and virtuous aspect of nature? Or is the whale a gigantic hamantash, tapering from its massive triangular head to its tail fins, and incarnating the darkness, the malevolence, the evil in the universe? Ahab takes the whale for a hamantash, and carries his ship and crew with him to destruction."

3. From "Freedom, Latkes, and American Letters: An Original Contribution to Knowledge" by historian Bernard Weisberger.

"As anyone who has read Fredrick Jackson Turner knows, the seeds of American democratic institutions were planted on the frontier. And as any student of American history knows, the frontier was a place where the simplest and crudest instruments of life had to do double duty. In cookery, the uncomplicated frying pan was the pioneer's first resource; the axe, rifle, and skillet were the weapons in the conquest of the wilderness. And what kind of dish do we make in a frying pan? I assure you, it is not the high-priced confection. That demands an oven—a more complicated piece of engineering—to say nothing of such exotic, un-American, and civilized ingredients as prunes or poppy seeds."

4. From "The Apotheosis of the Latke" by philosopher Alan Gewirth.

"Let us begin with Plato. It is not generally known that Plato's immortal writings, nowadays called 'dialogues,' were originally called 'dialatkes.' They were so called, of course, because they provided such a well-rounded, succulent intellectual feast. It was Plato's writings of dialatkes that gave his whole philatkophy its rich and yeasty flavor, both spiritual and earthy. It is even less well known that Plato's greatest pupil, nowadays called Aristotle, was originally named 'Aristlatke,' from the Greek word 'aristos,' meaning 'best,' and 'latke.' In other words, Aristlatke was so called because he was the best of all latke-eaters who participated in Plato's dialatkes."

5. From "The Scientific Method" by astrophysicist Edward Kolb.

"Sadly, the quark structure of latkes and hamantashen has received precious little attention from scientists. This is due, no doubt, to the scandalous state of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy budgets. What I will unveil now is the outline for a sound scientific program to study the latke/hamatash quark structure. This program is courageous in scope, bold in vision, and, I am most proud to say, damned expensive…This new machine, the Superconducting Super Hamalatkatron, or SSH for short, can be constructed at the modest cost of 8.264 billion dollars, a price which includes tax, tip, and dealer prep…The food would be accelerated to high energy using the single strongest force known, the force of guilt."

6. From "Euripides' The Cooks of Troy: Hecuba's Lament" by philosopher Martha Nussbaum.

Up, unhappy head, up from the dust.
This is no longer Troy.
And I, Hecuba, was the chief cook of Troy.
Now we are routed by the Greek onslaught
that laid waste the gleaming kitchen of the kings.
--Greeks greedily gorging on my cakes
(both the round cakes and the sweet pointed cakes)
with a gluttony that knew no moderation.
Alas, the battle of the kitchen lost. Alas, my ruined royal garments.
Yield to fortune, yield to spilled dishwater.
Don't hold life's prow against the swelling tide of garbage.

7. From "Heartburn as a Cultural System" by anthropologist Michael Silverstein.

"The riddle of the latke and the homntash can never be 'solved' as such, as it were, until these two are viewed as gustemes of a gustemic poetry of music that is full of sound and fury—at least of prune filling—but that signifies nothing if not heard in its textual plentitude, which we must deconstruct before we can digest. With all due respect to my learned colleagues here assembled, arguing over the priority of invention, or using external criteria of worth, are clearly just the most subjective and unconvincing of partisan strategies. No, once you've caught a code, you've seized the germ of the system of symbols, only in terms of which can any symbol's meaning be understood. It is an edible logic of—if you're not careful with the dough—the concrete."

8. From "Restoring the Jewish Cannon" by philosopher Allan Bloom

"What is bad is not that the economists say that man can live on latkes or hamentashen alone, but that they are vulgar materialists, not understanding the unique Jewish blending of matter and spirit in them which defies economists' categories. They think that consumer preference should determine the value of these sacred objects, repeating Locke's error that labor is the source of value. They think that there are proper terms of comparison between latkes and, say, pizza. Survival, bodily need, is all they know—as though anyone who was interested in health would eat Jewish food...Practically, the first thing to be done is to remove this debate from the control of the Manischewitz heretics and their agents, the Business School, and return it to the philosopher-kings; for only when wisdom and latke-hamantash coincide will evils cease."

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Richard Bouhet // Getty
4 Expert Tips on How to Get the Most Out of August's Total Solar Eclipse
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Richard Bouhet // Getty

As you might have heard, there’s a total solar eclipse crossing the U.S. on August 21. It’s the first total solar eclipse in the country since 1979, and the first coast-to-coast event since June 8, 1918, when eclipse coverage pushed World War I off the front page of national newspapers. Americans are just as excited today: Thousands are hitting the road to stake out prime spots for watching the last cross-country total solar eclipse until 2045. We’ve asked experts for tips on getting the most out of this celestial spectacle.


To see the partial phases of the eclipse, you will need eclipse glasses because—surprise!—staring directly at the sun for even a minute or two will permanently damage your retinas. Make sure the glasses you buy meet the ISO 12312-2 safety standards. As eclipse frenzy nears its peak, shady retailers are selling knock-off glasses that will not adequately protect your eyes. The American Astronomical Society keeps a list of reputable vendors, but as a rule, if you can see anything other than the sun through your glasses, they might be bogus. There’s no need to splurge, however: You can order safe paper specs in bulk for as little as 90 cents each. In a pinch, you and your friends can take turns watching the partial phases through a shared pair of glasses. As eclipse chaser and author Kate Russo points out, “you only need to view occasionally—no need to sit and stare with them on the whole time.”


There are plenty of urban legends about “alternative” ways to protect your eyes while watching a solar eclipse: smoked glass, CDs, several pairs of sunglasses stacked on top of each other. None works. If you’re feeling crafty, or don’t have a pair of safe eclipse glasses, you can use a pinhole projector to indirectly watch the eclipse. NASA produced a how-to video to walk you through it.


Bryan Brewer, who published a guidebook for solar eclipses, tells Mental Floss the difference between seeing a partial solar eclipse and a total solar eclipse is “like the difference between standing right outside the arena and being inside watching the game.”

During totality, observers can take off their glasses and look up at the blocked-out sun—and around at their eerily twilit surroundings. Kate Russo’s advice: Don’t just stare at the sun. “You need to make sure you look above you, and around you as well so you can notice the changes that are happening,” she says. For a brief moment, stars will appear next to the sun and animals will begin their nighttime routines. Once you’ve taken in the scenery, you can use a telescope or a pair of binoculars to get a close look at the tendrils of flame that make up the sun’s corona.

Only a 70-mile-wide band of the country stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will experience the total eclipse. Rooms in the path of totality are reportedly going for as much as $1000 a night, and news outlets across the country have raised the specter of traffic armageddon. But if you can find a ride and a room, you'll be in good shape for witnessing the spectacle.


Your eyes need half an hour to fully adjust to darkness, but the total eclipse will last less than three minutes. If you’ve just been staring at the sun through the partial phases of the eclipse, your view of the corona during totality will be obscured by lousy night vision and annoying green afterimages. Eclipse chaser James McClean—who has trekked from Svalbard to Java to watch the moon blot out the sun—made this rookie mistake during one of his early eclipse sightings in Egypt in 2006. After watching the partial phases, with stray beams of sunlight reflecting into his eyes from the glittering sand and sea, McClean was snowblind throughout the totality.

Now he swears by a new method: blindfolding himself throughout the first phases of the eclipse to maximize his experience of the totality. He says he doesn’t mind “skipping the previews if it means getting a better view of the film.” Afterward, he pops on some eye protection to see the partial phases of the eclipse as the moon pulls away from the sun. If you do blindfold yourself, just remember to set an alarm for the time when the total eclipse begins so you don’t miss its cross-country journey. You'll have to wait 28 years for your next chance.

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Pop Culture
IKEA Publishes Instructions for Turning Rugs Into Game of Thrones Capes
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Game of Thrones is one of the most expensive TV shows ever produced, but even the crew of the hit HBO series isn’t above using an humble IKEA hack behind the scenes. According to Mashable, the fur capes won by Jon Snow and other members of the Night’s Watch on the show are actually sheepskin rugs sold by the home goods chain.

The story behind the iconic garment was first revealed by head costume designer Michele Clapton at a presentation at Los Angeles’s Getty Museum in 2016. “[It’s] a bit of a trick,” she said at Designing the Middle Ages: The Costumes of GoT. “We take anything we can.”

Not one to dissuade customers from modifying its products, IKEA recently released a cape-making guide in the style of its visual furniture assembly instructions. To start you’ll need one of their Skold rugs, which can be bought online for $79. Using a pair of scissors cut a slit in the material and make a hole where your head will go. Slip it on and you’ll look ready for your Game of Thrones debut.

The costume team makes a few more changes to the rugs used on screen, like shaving them, adding leather straps, and waxing and “frosting” the fur to give it a weather-worn effect. Modern elements are used to make a variety of the medieval props used in Game of Thrones. The swords, for example, are made from aircraft aluminum, not steel. For more production design insights, check out these behind-the-scenes secrets of Game of Thrones weapons artists.

[h/t Mashable]


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