By: Jared Scharf  | 

The Case for Hamantashen

It’s one of the great debates of our time: Latkes or Hamantashen? As we approach the festival of Purim, The Commentator is looking at both sides of this heated debate. Below, one of our editors, Jared Scharf, explains why the hamantash is superior. Read the case for the latke HERE.

I do not wish to demean the widespread merriment and value of the latke. The latke, like the hamantash, is a cultural and ritualistic delicacy; both are a sine qua non to their respective holiday and both contain a rich history spanning several centuries. However, for reasons relating to geometry, Kabbalah, self-esteem, diversity, Jewish identity and olfaction, I must propound the hamantash’s superiority to the latke. 

Firstly, a latke is round while a hamantash is triangular; a triangle is geometrically stronger than a circle and is more useful in measuring angles. Additionally, one can not draw a perfect circle, while a perfect triangle can be simply made by making all three sides of the triangle equal.

The three corners of the triangle can be seen to represent Chabad, the three cognitive foundations of the Sefirot, emanations of Hashem. Additionally, they may represent some of the Sefirot and their anthropomorphic counterparts, for example, Chesed [kindness], represents the right arm, Gevurah [strength], represents the left arm and Tiferet [beauty], represents the torso. The hamantash represents kabbalistic perfection, as two extremes, Chesed and Gevurah, are balanced through the emanation of Tiferet. Balance, a quality thoroughly mentioned by Maimonides in his Code of Law (Hilchot Deot) is a significant value emphasized in Judaism, and is manifest in the hamantash. Dissimilarly, the latke is round; one should not, like the latke, be in circles, aimlessly spinning without progressive direction. Rather, one should be balanced, able to take two extremes and utilize them appropriately; the hamantash represents this value, as it maintains a perfect balance of filling and dough. 

The hamantash is stronger than the latke not only qua geometrical perfection, but also qua self-esteem. The etymology of “hamantash” is derived from the Yiddish word for “pouch,” and the moniker “Haman.” As Purim celebrates the day in which ancient Jewry defeated its enemy, Haman, the ritual of eating a pastry named after Haman indicates the Jewish philosophy of devouring the enemy; Haman tried to destroy the Jews, and now the Jews ingest him. Contrarily, the latke destroys the Jew, as the oil and carbs acquired via consumption are detrimental to one’s digestive system and metabolism. The hamantash is a reminder to use the enemy, the weakness, as a catalyst for growth and productivity, and in this case, for consumption productivity. 

Perhaps most importantly, hamantashen taste better. Additionally, unlike the latke, there are many varieties of hamantashen, including, inter alia, apricot, raspberry, chocolate, strawberry, prune, grape, date, apple, poppy seed, peanut butter and if you’re feeling ambitious, halva. 

The process of making the latke requires grating, the act of peeling away layers of the potato and stripping it of its identity. Furthermore, the subsequently unrecognizable potatoes are mixed with salt, eggs and oil, until its identity has been recreated. The latke represents assimilation. The hamantash, however, absorbs new content within its three geometrically perfect and kabbalisticly evocative corners. The hamantash maintains its identity, its form, while allowing in just the right amount of flavor to enhance it, no different than the philosophy of Torah Umadda.

Author’s Note: The Seforim Blog contains two interesting posts which address the history of the hamantash, found here and here.


Photo Caption: The hamantash has several qualities that help it rise above latkes.

Photo Credit: Pixabay