A female student smiles while holding a hamantaschen close to the camera

Credit: Will Kirk

Great debate

Latkes vs. hamantaschen: Experts divided on Jewish holiday foods

Hopkins Hillel Hanukkah event brings students and faculty together for an evening of shtick and snacks

The Hillel Student Board of the Johns Hopkins Jewish Students' Association once again kicked off Hanukkah by pitting two staples of Jewish cuisine against each other: latkes, a fried potato pancake eaten during Hanukkah, and hamantaschen, a triangular cookie filled with chocolate or jam eaten during Purim.

This year's Great Hamantaschen-Latke Debate featured JHU President Ron Daniels and Ed Schlesinger, dean of the university's Whiting School of Engineering, as well as professors Mirit Bessire, Steven David, and Dylan Selterman, who drew from their fields of study to try to prove the superiority of their preferred holiday treats.

As a professor of psychology, Selterman argued that people are naturally more drawn to latkes due to their shape. "Studies show that people prefer curved, circular shapes compared to angular triangular shapes," Selterman said. "I compared the hamantaschen shape to the monster from Stranger Things."

Of the five panelists, only one argued in favor of the hamantaschen—President Daniels. But despite the cookie's lack of popularity among the debaters, it bested the latke in post-debate voting among attendees and was crowned this year's victor. No hard evidence of vote tampering exists, but David, a political science professor, said he has lingering doubts about the vote's legitimacy.

"A voice vote was held, and after some suspicious goings on, hamantaschen won the day," he said.

Presumed foul play aside, David said he was pleased with the event, noting that "The room was packed—students were sitting on the floor—and the atmosphere was joyous and electric."

The festivities also included catering from David Chu's China Bistro—plus latkes and hamantaschen—and the lighting of the menorah, with President Daniels lighting the first candle.

Monica Davis, executive director of Johns Hopkins Hillel, called the event an "incredible success."

"[The] event brought in over 150 participants from faculty to students to board members and community members," she said. "We extend our greatest gratitude to President Ron Daniels, his wife, Joanne, and all of the faculty and administrators who took part in our event. We're so glad we could join together as a community to celebrate this holiday."