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The Jewish Ethicist: Phony Collect Calls

The Jewish Ethicist: Phony Collect Calls

When you're stuck at the pizzeria with no ride home and no money to make a call, calling the operator may seem like the best solution.


Q. Sometimes when I have to call a friend or relative for a ride I find myself without change. So I call the operator and ask to make a collect call, and the name I give is a code. Like if I say that Luigi is calling, it means pick me up from the pizzeria, but if Wayne is calling it means pick me up from the hockey rink. And then my friend refuses to accept the call. Is this okay?

A. It can certainly be frustrating to have absolutely no way to get in touch with your ride. But the solution you've adopted, while used by many people, is not an ethical one. You are making unfair use of the telephone system as well as the operator's time.

While using the "ring" method, where four short rings signals that you need to be picked up, also makes unfair free use of the telephone system, at least it doesn't involve lying and doesn't cost the phone company much (though any amount of stealing is wrong). But using an operator is a significant burden on the phone company. Keep in mind that even in today's competitive market for phone services, the surcharge for an operator-assisted call is generally between one and two dollars.

The real message here is simply stated: For temptation, as for other ills, preventative medicine is the best cure. Remember to bring change with you, borrow change or a cell-phone from a friend, or memorize a calling card number. Even borrowing from a stranger, while it may be a bit embarrassing, is preferable to stealing from the phone company.

If all else fails, just call collect using your real name and have the other side accept the call. The aggregate cost of these calls over the entire year probably won't amount to more than a few dollars, which is a small price to pay for your integrity.

Send your queries about ethics in the workplace to

The Jewish Ethicist presents some general principles of Jewish law. For specific questions and direct application, please consult a qualified Rabbi.

The Jewish Ethicist is a joint project of and the Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology. To find out more about business ethics and Jewish values for the workplace, visit the JCT Center for Business Ethics website at

JCT Center For Business Ethics

Copyright © JCT Center for Business Ethics.

July 29, 2001

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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Theresa Anderson, July 31, 2001 12:00 AM

A kind and true answer!

Thank you Rabbi for putting so succinctly a clear answer for a sincere question.
When we can arrive at Torah True answers then such a burden of decision is lifted and the temptation disappears!

(1) Ellen Rosen, July 30, 2001 12:00 AM

Good advice to grow up on

I was glad to see the issue of lying and integrity reinforced several times in different ways. And I was glad to see several solutions put forth. Added to those, we have the easy-to-purchase $5 calling card which probably would last this young man several years. He must get himself into this jam frequently as he has such a well-thought out scheme of different names for different locations. If he would only put as much effort into buying a phone card or carrying change as he does in his unethical behavior, he would experience the integrity that comes with personal responsibility. Unfortunately, these behaviors are learned and reinforced at home.

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