Volume 31 Number 29
                 Produced: Wed Feb  2  6:30:08 US/Eastern 2000

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Caller ID and Cell Phones - updated version of "Collect Call" game
         [Ed Bruckstein]
Collect call game (5)
         [Daniel M Wells, Joshua Hosseinof, Avi Feldblum, Stan Tenen,
Daniel M Wells]


From: Ed Bruckstein <elbendi@...>
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2000 11:39:16 -0500
Subject: Caller ID and Cell Phones - updated version of "Collect Call" game

With the proliferation of caller ID and cell phones, the "Collect call"
shtick is now somewhat dated.  Let's update it for the new technologies.
Would one be allowed to call someone who has caller ID, let the phone
ring twice (just to let the caller's phone number register on the Call
ID box), and then hang up, with the intent that the fellow with the Call
ID box will call back, presumably at a lower per-minute rate than that
available to the caller?  Would it be any different if you just wanted
to signal "I'm home" and didn't want a call-back?

If someone's Cell phone has incoming calls for free, could they call a
friend, provide their number, and ask for a return call?

Is this theft of service?  Is the company that owns the pay phone or
that provides the cellular service, for example, being robbed of its
opportunity to charge a high per-minute rate (certainly more than a
"Shove Pruta" [penny's-worth]) and getting nothing in return because it
obtains no revenue on the outgoing call from a landline phone just
signaling to a caller ID box, and then may have to handle the incoming
return call (when there is one) for free?

Or, is this part of the cost of doing business?  Telephone companies
know that people will signal one another as in "Let the phone ring twice
to let me know you're home", and they forgive this revenue up front.  In
the US, callers aren't charged for the use of the lines, only for calls
completed.  Doesn't that mean that phone companies know some "signaling"
is going on, but that it's so insignificant that they are "mevatair"
(forgiving) up front?  And don't Cellular-service providers know that
when they offer incoming calls free, they will (NOT may) be taken
advantage of, but are willing to do it because it increases their
revenues overall and increases users reliance on the phone which is
their real objective?

Eliezer Bruckstein


From: Daniel M Wells <wells@...>
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 17:57:27 +0200 (IST)
Subject: Collect call game

An interesting point to consider is that the collect call initiator
doesn't pay for the call whether connected or not.

Thus it may call into question whether there is a gnava on the side of
the called party refusing to accept the call.

Or perhaps the initiator is guilty of assisted crime.


From: Joshua Hosseinof <hosseino@...>
Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2000 13:06:14 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Collect call game

I would have to agree with Russell Hendell about the "collect call game"
not being prohibited according to halacha - What I am writing below are
some of the technical issues involved in phone billing.  I hope that we
at least agree that as long as the phone companies involved do not incur
any expense, it should not be prohibited.

1. If we are dealing with international calls, the way the international
phone companies reimburse each other is based on the total number of
originating minutes for each country.  So if there are 3 million minutes
from Israel to the US, and 2 million from the US to Israel, then Israel
has to pay the value of 1 million minutes to the US.  The various
Israeli international phone companies, each pay according to their
percentage share of international phone traffic.  Every pair of
countries agrees on an amount that both sides of the call will be paid
for the phone calls between those two countries.  Let's say the amount
for israel and the us is 20 cents a minute (it's probably lower than
that).  Reuven in Israel calls Shimon in the US for five minutes.  Bezek
charges $5 for this call.  It pays 1 dollar to the US fund, and keeps
the four dollars for itself.  Shimon calls reuven for 5 minutes.  AT&T
charges $2.50 for this call, it keeps $1.50 for itself and pays $1 to
the Israel fund

2.Usage of the phone company's network, whether it's international or
local doesn't cost the phone company anything per se.  These are fixed
lines with fixed costs regardless of usage.  The phone companies incur
costs when their traffic crosses onto someone elses network and then
they have to pay someone for that usage.  But again, even if your call
crosses five different phone companies networks, each phone company does
not incur any charges to themselves, and are not charged anything by the
other phone companies if the call is not completed properly.  There is
no extra elictricity charge to a company based on a circuit being in use
for phone traffic or not - the only exception may be the last part of
the local loop (the mile or so of copper wire from the phone company to
your house) and even that I am not so sure about.  Whatever amount of
electricity is used is so small as to not be measurable.

3. The phone company tariffs are all codified so that there is no charge
for incomplete, unanswered or busy calls.  Or in the case of collect
calls, no charge for cases where the other end refuses the call.

4. If an operator answers the call, you can legitimately say that the
phone company is incurring a cost in that you are tying up this
operator's time, when that operator could be doing something else.  And
when a computer answers the collect call, and you give a false name as a
code, then that might be considered fraudulent, since the phone
companies are expecting you to give your real name.  (Now if you
pre-arranged with someone to refuse collect calls based on your real
name, and you used an automated service like 1800-collect, it's hard to
see what the illegality of it is - since all of this is codified by the
FCC in the tariffs for the phone companies, "dina d'malchuta dina" (law
of the land) would probably apply, and as long as the action is not
considered illegal, or improper by the phone companies tariffs, I don't
see why halacha should say that we must act more righteously in such a
case than the phone company tariffs.

5. Phone companies do not charge us for sending a message, they charge
us based on the length and time of day of the completed call.  If they
charged us for sending a message, then they would have to charge based
on the number of words you speak during your phone call.

6. In this day and age there is callerid - I can see the calling phone
number and decide not to answer it - I have gotten a message and that
person has not payed for a call - But I am paying for the message in the
form of the monthly fee for callerid.

So if we're trying to determine which method actually costs the phone
company - using an operator probably does, using a computerised system
probably doesn't, and just ringing the number once or twice with the
other side not answering doesn't cost anything at all.

From: Avi Feldblum <mljewish@...>
Date: Wed, 2 Feb 2000 06:28:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Collect call game

On Tue, 1 Feb 2000, Joshua Hosseinof wrote:
> I would have to agree with Russell Hendell about the "collect call game"
> not being prohibited according to halacha - What I am writing below are
> some of the technical issues involved in phone billing.  I hope that we at
> least agree that as long as the phone companies involved do not incur any
> expense, it should  not be prohibited.

A very quick point (as I want to get an issue out and then need to get to
work early today). I'm not sure if I agree that the consideration is
whether or not we cause the phone company to incur any additional
expenses. The alternative way I look at it is whether I have used a
revenue producing time/code slot without paying for it (e.g. I have used
resources of the company that it is thier intention it should be revenue
producing without paying for it). I'd be interested to hear from people on
the list whether this is the a halachically valid distinction or more of a
baal nefesh (someone who is careful about things) level. This distinction,
which Stan also refers to is important in how the issue is presented, in
my opinion, both for adults and in particular for any Yeshiva which may
forbid it's students to do this.

OK, quickly, when you are calling a number, the information (say what
shows up on the caller ID) is carried on an out-of-band channel called
Singnalling System 7 (SS7). SS7 is never revenue producing, and the
network is provisioned that it almost never is the network bottleneck. So
it would seem to me that it should never be an issue if you can use SS7 in
a legal manner to transfer some information from you to the receiving
party. Once you are using a timeslot on the in band channels, at that
point you are using the revenue producing part of the network, and it is
the companies desire that this usage be recovered. In some cases, e.g.
collect calls, some amount of usage is not charged by the company, in
order to allow the reverse billing condition to be established. While by
their strict tarriffs you have not violated thier rules, I strongly
suspect that if asked, they would view this as improper usage of their
network. So even if this does not constitute theft or some other part of
the first 4 portions of the shulchan aruch (code of law), I would think
that it is in my opinion a violation of the 5th portion of the shulchan
aruch (which is the one that is not written) and surely one who strives to
be a baal nefesh or a charud le'dvar haShem (awestruck by the word of God)
would refrain from doing this.

Avi Feldblum
mail-jewish Moderator

From: Stan Tenen <meru1@...>
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2000 10:15:55 -0500
Subject: Collect call game

When we limit discussion too narrowly, we sometimes miss the more
important issues.  I've gained enormous respect for Russell Hendel from
his postings here, and I'd have to go along with my sense that from a
narrow, halachic perspective he may be correct that there isn't anything
absolutely prohibiting the "Collect Call Game."  Nevertheless, this
discussion is disturbing, because I think it misses the bigger picture.

It is not appropriate to do everything and anything that isn't
specifically or generally prohibited.  There are other issues.  For
example: do we want observant Jews to gain the reputation for "cutting
corners," and taking every possible advantage of a situation?  One mark
of maturity is to voluntarily refrain from even inconsequential actions
that might be onerous to others, or might leave a wrong impression.
Observant Jews are not cheaters.  But a phone company surveying its
collect-call patterns might find a correlation with observant Jewish use
(perhaps by zip and area code), and they might publish that.  How would
it appear to others to find observant Jews who could be casually
classified as behaving in a way similar to anti-semitic stereotypes?
Are we going to issue a public statement pointing out the fine details
of halacha?  I don't think that most people would buy that.  They'd just
see that observant Jews feel free to take every advantage the free
enterprise laissez-faire caveat emptor capitalist system permits.  (Are
we Jews first, or are we capitalists first?) Is that the message we'd
like to send? It doesn't matter if this is somewhat far-fetched and not
likely to happen.  In principle, it is the message we're sending if we
condone -- and worse, practice -- the Collect Call Game.

But forget non-observant reaction.  What lessons do our young children
learn from this?  Does it teach the proper use of personal discretion,
or does it teach aggressive, get-all-you-can-for-free behavior?  Does it
teach our small children that it's okay to cheat non-observant people
because it's not really cheating?  How confusing is that to a small
child, who obviously can't follow either the halachic argument, or the
fine points of corporate telephone law and policy?

Do we have only 613 mitzvot, or are there many right and wrong actions
that we're supposed to deduce for ourselves and use at our own
discretion?  Just because there's a loophole in halacha or public law,
does that mean we should take advantage of it?

This may confuse or clarify the issue, but for me, there is a similarity
with the earlier discussions (a year or two ago) re sending a mother
bird away before taking her eggs.  It seems to me that when we need to
eat the eggs, we must send the mother bird away.  But it also seems to
me that we don't need the fine points of halacha to tell us that as
caring human beings, who have empathy for all creatures, we don't need
to be specifically told not to send the mother away and not to take the
eggs, just to gain a notch on our mitzvah belt -- when we don't need the

What these two situations have in common, is the need for common sense.
Thank God, God didn't give us 613 million mitzvot, and instead, trusted
us to develop halachic judgement and good common sense for all the
details that couldn't possibly be covered by even 613 billion mitzvot.

There's no need to steal, even a second, even from a giant telephone
corporation (unless it's a matter of life and death), and there's no
need for us to gain the merit of one more technical mitzva at the
expense of the life of a bird-to-be (when that's not a matter of life
and death).  And, in my opinion, there's no need for halacha or a posek
to tell us this.


[PS from Cynthia Tenen -- IMO, it's exactly this kind of halachically
permitted but morally confusing behavior (the Collect Call Game) that
could inhibit the development of honest common sense in small children
-- they learn by example, and trying to make sense of behavior they see
for themselves.  If what they see *doesn't* make plain sense, honestly,
how are they supposed to learn?]

Meru Foundation   http://www.meru.org   <meru1@...>

From: Daniel M Wells <wells@...>
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 13:47:32 +0200 (IST)
Subject: Collect call game

>  FREE PHONE - one of the Yeshivot monthlys had some letters about this.
> Someone wrote to the Israeli phone co. -bezek- & asked them if calling
> people early in the mournig to wake them up for a minyan, knowing that
> they will not answer the phone, is this gezel(steeling). The answer he
> received was - that they did not know what he was talking about! However
> since the law of a pruta is no differnt than 100 shekel, some Rabbanim
> gave different p'sakim there.

Which p'sakim and based on where in the Shulhan Aruch.

As with the collect call game thread, it would appear that where a
company offers a *Unilateral, no conditions or strings attached*
service, and especially where the company doen't look at non connection
as stealing rather as 'not having made a profit this time', then it
would be interesting to hear an halakic basis for maintaining that theft
occured as a result of use of the service.

By the way if one is contributing to the profit and loss of the company,
should one check if the company has a Heter Iska before calling.



End of Volume 31 Issue 29