A perfectly valid reason to order a "Cheeseburger without cheese" is based on religious faith – specifically Judaism.

Cheeseburgers and Jewish Law

Along with the Torah1 as a primary source, the practice of Jewish faith is governed by the Shulchan Aruch, a distillation of biblical prose into practical law. An important part of Jewish religious law concerns a Jew's diet. Dietary law, ostensibly concerned with cleanliness, is called the Kashrut. The adjective that applies to food compatible with the Kashrut is "kosher". This is a lengthy way of saying that many practicing Jews choose to eat kosher. Please bear with me here – I'm attempting the daring stunt of making 5000 years of religious tradition dovetail with an 80 year2 old entree in junk food culture.

Cheeseburgers as viewed by distinct groups of jews

Perhaps the best-known injunction of the Kashrut is to not eat meat from pigs or other cloven-hoofed animals. A lesser known rule admonishes Jews not to consume meat and milk (or milk products) in the same meal3. At this point, the connection between Cheeseburgers and the Kashrut should begin to clarify: Clearly, a proper, God-fearing Jew should eschew Cheeseburgers, not chew them. Alas, like most things Jewish, it ain't that simple.

How a Jew approaches a Cheeseburger depends on what kind of Jew (s)he is. Jews, especially in the USA, place themselves into four major categories based on, umm, the depth of their faith:

  • Orthodox: The label for the fundamentalist, Torah-thumping literalist. These folks pray several times a day, wear special "jewish" clothing and generally sleep, breathe and eat Judaism. Even sans the cheese, consider the following list of horrors, as viewed through the Kashrut, inherent in a hamburger:
    • The mincemeat could contain pork, or at least have been through the same grinder, or fried on the same griddle, or served on a plate that previously served pork;
    • Even if pure beef, it was likely not slaughtered by the exact ritual prescribed by the Kashrut;
    • Even if the meat was OK, the same might not hold for the grease it was fried in, the buttermargarine on the bun, the condiments, or the bun itself. IF IT AIN'T SANCTIONED BY A RABBI, THAT BAKERY DOESN'T BAKE KOSHER BUNS, PERIOD!

    It follows that an Orthodox Jew would sooner declare an impromptu fast than come within grease-spattering range of a Cheeseburger. Orthodox Jews are either fairly well-to-do or fairly thin, 'cause it's not cheap living exclusively kosher. Manishevitz is in no danger of going bankrupt.

  • Conservative: These folks hold the traditional values but are less strict in following them. They may not pray quite as often as the Orthodox, and possibly not always in Hebrew. While they most likely keep kosher at home, they may (literally) pig out when going out. That Cheeseburger eater next to you could be a Conservative Jew. Or he could be a goy, just like you. It's no use following him to the bathroom to find out; while only 2% of Americans are Jewish4, as many as 77% are circumcised5. If he appears to be henpecked by his wife, that may be a better indicator.

    On the other hand, many conservatives operate like my parents: They keep "kosher style" both at home and out of it. "Kosher style" means that the major rules of the Kashrut are followed, but one doesn't insist that every bite is guaranteed kosher. The "kosher style" Jew will eat a beef Hamburger but not a MacBacon or a Cheeseburger. It is from this group you're most likely to get an order for a "Cheeseburger, hold the cheese!"

    "Why not a hamburger," you mask ask. Well, it may be psychological. Some Jews love to put fake Bacon Bits on their salad; it's nominally forbidden, but technically allowed. Similarly, a Cheeseburger is a no-no, but it's OK without the cheese. Well, sort of. There's a distinct twinkle of satisfaction to be had from, umm, pulling a fast one on God. Or having the freedom to do what one normally can't. Or something like that.

  • Reform: "Reform" is to Judaism what "Liberal" is to mainstream American politics: Imagine elder rabbis sadly shaking their wise heads and sighing, "there goes the neighborhood." A Reform Jew believes in God and may go to Synagogue once in a while, but other than that will tend to cherry-pick from the smorgasbord of Jewish tradition. Reform Jews are the folks who did an end run against the rule about starting a vehicle on the Sabbath: They invented the Sabbath Clock to make an elevator automatically stop at every floor, all day long, so they don't have to push a button to use it. A Reform could proudly proclaim his/her Judaism while chewing on a pork chop and flushing it down with a milk shake. Then again, it's not unknown for Reforms to keep strictly kosher, either.

  • Non-Practicing: means being Jewish by descent but not by faith. The same title applies to both, so the "Non-Practicing" tag is needed for disambiguation. Needless to say, a Non-Practicing Jew's eating habits are unlikely to be influenced by the Kashrut. Except, of course, in cases like mine: My Conservative parents never let me eat pork, so my body's not used to the protein. Now when I try to eat it, chances are it won't stay down.

Lessons Learned

If you see someone ordering a Cheeseburger without cheese, then

  • if they're black, they're either a Masai nomad or Sammy Davis, Jr;
  • if they're white, they're either Jewish or just someone who prefers Cheeseburgers without cheese. But if they're Jewish, they're definitely not Orthodox and probably not Reform.


1 aka "The Old Testament" of the Bible or "The Five Books of Moses".


3 Interestingly enough, the Masai nomads of Africa follow a similar rule; see http://teacherlink.ed.usu.edu/tlresources/units/byrnes-africa/meland/index.html .

4 http://www.jafi.org.il/education/100/concepts/demography/demtables.html

5 http://www.cirp.org/library/statistics/USA/


I capitalize "Cheeseburger" because I consider it a product name; for all I know it might be a trade mark. I don't consider it as generic as hamburger, which accordingly I don't capitalize.

I capitalize Orthodox, Conservative and Liberal because in this context they're more than adjectives: They're the names of cultural groups.

Political, Cultural and Religious Correctness Disclaimer

This is a light-hearted treatise on Cheeseburgers and Judaism. I have a passing familiarity with both, but I may not have all my facts straight about either. If I've offended any Cheeseburgers, I'm sorry. If I've offended any Jews, they can kiss my tuchus.