19 April 2010


Latke vs Hamentash: A Materialist-Feminist Analysis:

To summarize briefly an account that is richly nuanced (in fact, often incomprehensibly convoluted), Shapiro, an anthropologist, begins with the conjecture that the circles and triangles conventionally used to designate women and men on kinship charts are in fact iconic representations of latkes and hamentashen.

She argues, “(I)t is ultimately impossible for us to know whether, in the last analysis, the latke and hamantash should be considered as semiotic representations of the two sexes or whether the two sexes should be seen as semiotic representations of latkes and hamantashen. What is not, however, in doubt, is the association of latkes with the female principle and hamantashen with the male” (Shapiro 1990:3).

What is it that leads Shapiro to argue as a feminist that latkes, which have so clearly been part of the oppressive apparatus upholding the most retrograde patriarchal elements of Judaism, are a more appropriate symbol for women than hamentashen? I will argue that such an interpretation is possible only if analysis remains at a symbolic level which so decontextualizes the subject that there is no trace of the lived experience of the relevant social actors.

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