In Defense of Latkes 

Posted by mendel Wednesday, December 1, 2010 5:04:44 PM

A wonderful neighbor of mine, let's call him Mr. Rogers, spoke to me about one of my Chanukah posters - the one with the surgeon general's warning on it. He said some people were unhappy with it. How can you tell people not to make latkes on Chanukah? It's minhag avoseinu(custom of our fathers). Mr. Rogers had not seen the poster himself, but the other(s?) mentioned the Jewish Community Health Initiative. This is a very kind friend. If he is concerned that something could be a problem, he will speak to me privately about it and mention gently the issue and why he is concerned for me. He always listens to my responses. We all need friends and neighbors like Mr. Rogers.

I responded very simply. I am not saying not to have latkes on Chanukah. The surgeon general's warning that "Chanukah may be hazardous to your health" is an attention getter, but the message is we need to think about what we eat, and the amount of oil in most people's diet is excessive. The theme of the campaign (appears on each poster) is "More Oil - Good for the Menorah, bad for your Heart". Note the word "More". The words were chosen carefully. We need to think about the issue, and most of us need to cut down. Some people will get annoyed at the poster, and that is to be expected. I believe that most of the people who find the poster annoying are reacting defensively. They need to cut down on oil, and they don't want to face the subject. These people aren't thinking about eating a healthier diet. We want more people to think about this. Hopefully the poster sparks some discussion. It is the start of a long campaign.

Anyway, Mr. Rogers got me thinking. Minhag avoseinu to eat latkes? First of all, the minhag is to eat foods made with oil - an allusion to the miracle of the oil. Latkes is a common way to do it. Well, for Ashkenazi Jews, anyway. We can make latkes without  completely drowning the poor latkes whom we never taught to swim (allusion to another poster that I haven't posted yet). We can also take napkins and thoroughly pat down the latkes to remove excess oil. We don't need to eat it every night. To commemorate the miracle of the oil maybe we need to make enough latkes for 1 day and make it last for 8 days!

Here's a heretical question for discussion - should people stop making latkes and use a less unhealthy option? When people started to eat latkes on Chanukah most people worked hard physically. In our times most people are sedentary and there is rampant obesity (is it minhag avoseinu to be obese?), with far too many of our people suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes - maybe we need to make changes. Imagine the impact on our children, "No Latkes? Why is this Chanukah different than all other Chanukahs?", and we answer "eating latkes swimming (or drowning depending on whether a latkeguard was by the pool of oil) in oil is unhealthy. Many people suffer terribly or even die from eating a lot of unhealthy foods".  Obesity kills over 1,000 Americans a day. Would this be a strong message? Imagine if the Gerer Rebbem, Shlita, made an announcement that people should not eat latkes this year as a sign that from now on we are going to be more strict about the mitzvah from the Torah to "guard our health". What impact that would have! Think about how many of his chassidim would adhere. If people made big changes during the year, then next Chanukah they go back to eating latkes because it isn't a problem to eat latkes on Chanukah, but we need to watch year-round what we eat.

What do you think? Is the poster "out of line"? Is it OK to switch from latkes to a different food made with less oil? Am I just a rabble rouser?

Be like Mr. Rogers and let me know what you think.

"Won't you be, won't you be, please won't you be my neighbor"

Copyright, mendel singer
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