The Great Debate: Sour Cream v. Applesauce


Written for the 4th night of Channukah.

On the fourth night of Channukah.

By Rabbi Mark Melamut

Ok, so we won’t be able to solve this one because it really depends on our palate and preference for sweet or savory or both.  Just as the fried potato remains a resilient spud that goes hand in hand with Hanukkah, so will this debate continue.  What though is the essence of Hanukkah?  It is of course debated among Jewish thinkers.  Enjoy these toppings, if you will, at the “latke bar” of Jewish thought.

David Hartman – On the teaching, “It is incumbent to place the menorah by the door of one’s house on the outside.  If one lives in a place above one story then it is placed at the window.  However, in times of danger, it is placed on the table in the privacy of one’s home.”….The major question, which we must ponder on Hanukkah, is whether the Jewish people can develop an identity that will enable it to meet the outside world without feeling threatened or intimidated….Jewish self-enlightenment is a prerequisite for opening our windows to the marketplace.  Then we can absorb as well as propagate light.”

Mark Twain – The Jewish people have made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and have done it with hands tied behind them.  They could be vain and be excused for it.  The Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away.  The Greek and Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; others have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.  The Jewish people saw them all…no weakening of parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind.  All things are mortal but the Jewish people; all other forces pass, but the people remains.  What is the secret of their immortality?

Theodore Gaster – Behind the narrative of Hanukkah lies something deeper – something, which was indeed expressed in that particular event but which itself transcends it.  What Hanukkah celebrates is the inalienable right of human beings to their own character and identity…Hanukkah is no mere antiquarian relic, but an occasion of ever-living, contemporary significance.

Herman Wouk – The oil burned, the legend says, for eight days.  This Midrash is an epitome of the story of the Jews.  Our whole history is a fantastic legend of a single day’s supply of oil lasting eight days; of a flaming bush that is not consumed; of a national life that in the logic of events should have flickered and gone out long ago, still burning on.  That is the tale we tell our children in the long nights of December when we kindle the little lights….

With a spoonful of enlightenment, a dollop of survival and a touch of inalienable rights and history, our latkes are  smothered with morsels of meaning.  As for taste, I prefer a dollop of apple sauce right next to just a touch of sour cream.  Enjoy!

Hag Urim Sameach and Happy Hanukkah,

   Rabbi Mark

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