March 2014: From TBS President Bryan H. Pines

March 2014: From TBS President Bryan H. Pines

We will be celebrating the holiday of Purim on the evening of March 15th. It seems like we just celebrated Chanukah and Pesach will be quickly arriving soon. All are such joyous occasions celebrating triumphant historic events and freedom. The miracle of Purim is not as clearly seen as the other two holidays. G-d guided us with a watchful hand but is not mentioned in the Book of Esther. It is truly the story of concealment and hidden beauty. This is exemplified by the hamantash. It is a plain cookie pastry with its beauty hidden inside. Colorful, tangy, or sweet, it is always a wonderful surprise. My monthly column has not mentioned food in quite some time. The focus has been on the brain, so now with food being an important part of the upcoming holidays; we will go back to discussing gastronomy.


            The Latke-Hamantash Debate began in 1946 at the Hillel chapter house at the University of Chicago. This has become an annual event attracting university presidents and Nobel Prize winners. Which is the worthier food; the greasy potato pancake or the poppy seed pastry? Ruth Fredman Cernea, editor of the book: The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate said it provides a “rare opportunity for faculty to reveal their hidden Jewish souls and poke fun at the seriousness of everyday academic life”.

            A classic debate was waged at Harvard Hillel in 2007, when criminal appellate attorney, Alan Dershowitz argued with world renowned author and professor, Steven Pinker. In defending the hamantash, Professor Dershowitz claimed that the latke is responsible for the increased United States dependence on oil. He suggested a nine step program to battle the addictive nature of the latke. Steven Pinker, whose books include: The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, used his expertise in linguistic analysis to argue that “latke” to “latkes” is a progression of a regular plural form while hamantashen belongs to a limited contingency of irregular plurals that end in “en”. Pinker also stated that “the poppy industry supports drugs, terrorism, inner-city crime, and civil war in Latin America” and called for divestment from companies that buy or sell poppy seed hamantashen. Pinker felt that “in times of famine, those of our ancestors who chose latkes and sour cream over hamantashen were more likely to survive and reproduce.” Ultimately, there was no clear winner at this heated debate at Harvard but the audience was thoroughly entertained by the event.

            While we find humor in the debate between latkes and hamantashen, we will always find food to tell our story and pass on our traditions generationally. As plain as the hamantash is on the outside, it is bursting with sweetness on the inside. This is allegorically why Purim is a beautiful and joyous holiday and why we have fun wearing costumes. I especially love holidays that are celebrated together communally. Every member of Temple Beth Sholom contributes to the Shul by providing unique personal life experiences along with an individualized set of talents. We recognize the value in maintaining a strong Jewish community and fostering this diversity. Similarly, life would be mundane without the choice of hamantashen flavors. Not everyone likes mun hamantashen as much as I do. Join us while we read the Megillah and celebrate on Purim.

Bryan H. Pines

TBS President