By Mordechai Schmutter

Welcome to “How Should I Know?”: the occasional column in which we attempt to answer any and all questions that people send in, depending on how you define the word “answer.” Let’s jump right in.

Dear Mordechai,

What can I do to eliminate the constant annoying phone calls that I get offering me solar panels, lower interest rates, and the opportunity to have someone daven for me at an obscure kever somewhere in Europe?


Dear D.,

What, you’re going to daven for yourself at an obscure kever somewhere in Europe? You can’t get to every kever. Sometimes it’s worth it to just pay someone else to do it.

You don’t actually have to pick up the phone, you know. We basically just do it to stop that annoying ringtone that we’re sick of.

But OK, that’s an easy answer. These places don’t stop calling. If you knew who it was, you wouldn’t pick up, but their Caller ID isn’t always completely honest.

I like to call them on it. Whenever the Caller ID isn’t what the place advertises to be, I say, “How can I trust whatever you’re selling me when you can’t be honest on your Caller ID?”

Of course, some places aren’t out-and-out dishonest. The caller ID says something like “Unavailable.”

Wait. If you’re unavailable, why are you calling me?

“I’m not. It’s a machine.”

What I want to know is: “How come I never get calls from ‘Available’?”

Maybe because that sounds like a shidduch thing. Like if you’re single and desperate, you want to change your name on the Caller ID to “Available.”

But what I’m trying to work toward here is that if most of these companies are going to call you using a machine, why don’t you have your machine pick up the calls? What a shidduch! Though, chances are, their machine will get flustered and start speaking before the beep.

Dear Mordechai,

Why does the dentist say, “You should feel a slight pinch,” right before he jabs you with the needle?


Dear V.,

Actually, he wants you to think that he’s pinching you, like you were born yesterday and don’t know that needles are involved. It’s not like you can see what he’s actually doing over there, because your nose is in the way.

“I’m going to hold this needle next to your face, and then I’m coincidentally going to take that moment to pinch you, and then I’m going to put the needle down.”

No, it’s going to feel like I’m getting stabbed. Are you pinching me with the hand that’s holding the needle?

You’d think that by this point they’d have developed the technology to do this in an easier way. OK, maybe it will still hurt, but definitely not as much. Like maybe as much as a pinch. So maybe he’s just lamenting that technology hasn’t advanced yet:

“You should feel a pinch. But you won’t; you’re going to feel a needle. Possibly more than one.”

You just don’t hear the end of that, because of the screaming.

Dear Mordechai,

If rice is not good for weight loss, how come everyone who’s on a diet eats rice cakes? How does combining it with cake make it better?


Dear A.R.,

Maybe it’s the psychology of making us think we’re eating cake when we’re not.

Actually, it’s mostly air. It’s like eating Styrofoam packing peanuts. But they don’t want to call it “peanut cakes” because of allergies.

And it makes sense, because what’s the point of packing peanuts? I ordered a Chanukah present, not a hundred Styrofoam pieces that blow all over the house when my kids get excited that I hope are not made of actual peanuts or rice because there’s no way I’m going to find them all come Pesach because they’re now stuck to everyone’s sweaters and most vertical surfaces.

The point of the Styrofoam is that it fills up the box so your item doesn’t rattle around inside, but it doesn’t actually make the box any heavier. Isn’t that what you want it to do in your stomach?

That, and it squeaks when you rustle it.

Dear Mordechai,

How can I teach my kids not to use other people’s toys or bikes when they’re left outside in public places? And on a related note, how can I teach my neighbors to put their things away?


Dear L.,

The way to teach your neighbors to put their things away is to let your kids play with it. But that’s not great for chinuch. Of your kids. It’s great for the chinuch of your neighbors. So you really have to pick who you want to be mechanech here.

But if you’d rather not teach anyone anything, you can do what you do when your kids leave a mess and you’re too tired to teach them about cleaning it—go into your neighbor’s yard on your own before your kids get up and start putting things away, while muttering, “I can’t believe I have to pick up everything myself.” This way your neighbors will maybe come outside and help you out of guilt, assuming they have their windows open.

“No, officer. I’m not stealing anything. I was cleaning up their backyard … Actually, I have a better idea. Can I borrow your bullhorn?”

And it doesn’t matter if you don’t actually know where things go. Just keep moving items around to other places on their property, so they wonder what’s happening, and they stop leaving things outside.

You should do the same thing when you find packages on their front porch.

On the other hand, you also run the risk that your neighbors left these items outside for a reason, and now they keep coming out to find it moved. Like maybe they’re saying, “I can’t figure out how to throw out this bike. I keep leaving it outside and finding it back in the shed!” And then the wife will think the husband did it, and the husband will think the wife did it, and everyone’s going to be secretly annoyed at the other person, all because you don’t want to teach your kids that touching someone else’s stuff is stealing. Unless you’re cleaning it.

But anyway, this question only comes into play when it’s a neighbor you can quietly educate. What do you do if your kids are playing with something they found out in the middle of nowhere?

The way my parents used to teach me not to touch these things is that they said, quote, “You don’t know what kind of germs are on it.” Because I knew what kind of germs were on everything else. The science here is that if something is on the ground, it was probably dropped by someone with Ebola. Or else a passing dog already inspected it.

But this might not work with your neighbors, because you might actually know what kind of germs your neighbor has, especially if your neighborhood is in each other’s business enough that people just keep their stuff out on their front lawn. Because to be honest, this question probably comes up in Lakewood way more than it comes up in, say, Brooklyn or Passaic. In a lot of the world, people don’t dream of leaving things outside like that. But in a small development, people say, “All my neighbors are Jewish; they don’t steal.”

Well, they all have kids, and some of those kids haven’t learned not to steal yet. We haven’t gotten that far in Sefer HaMitzvos.

Also, it happens to be that sometimes when neighbors leave their things outside in a nice neighborhood, it’s because they don’t mind people using it. Of course, the proper thing to do is ask, but all I know is that if this were my cheshbon for leaving things outside, I’d rather people just use them than make me get up to answer the door so they can ask.

So the best idea, if your neighbors keep leaving things outside, is to teach your kids to knock on the door and ask. That way, your kids learn something but you don’t have to teach them, you don’t have to be confrontational with your neighbors or the cops, and your neighbors learn that they can either put their stuff away or have to keep getting up to answer the door about it.

Got a question for “How Should I Know”? Leave it on the porch.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to


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