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How Far Do I Need to Go to Return a Lost Object?

How Far Do I Need to Go to Return a Lost Object?

Practical guidelines for Hashavat Aveidah

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Question:

My daughter just learned about the mitzvah of hashavat aveidah, returning lost objects to their owner. She is very excited, and I too think the concept is so beautiful, especially in today’s times, when people feel so much entitlement.

In her enthusiasm, my daughter is going overboard

The problem is that in her enthusiasm, my daughter is going overboard in trying to execute this mitzvah. Here are the circumstances we’re facing:

  1. In the park next to her school, my daughter found a child’s lone glove. She’s insisting that we take it home and post signs to publicize it so that the owner might retrieve it. The glove is quite worn and in poor condition, and I doubt that anyone will fret about the loss. I also insisted that we leave it exactly where it was, because in all likelihood, if the owner does search for it, he or she will come to the location where it was lost. Who is right?
  2. Our cousins, who live in another country, recently came to visit. Now that they have returned to their home and I’m getting our house back in order, we’re finding all sorts of things that they left behind, like single socks, small hair clips, half-used bottles of moisturizing cream, scribbled drawings and small craft projects. Do we need to mail these things back to them? Are we obligated to pay the cost of postage? What if they won’t even need or use most of it?

I really want to help my daughter do what’s right. Please give me some guidelines about the parameters of this special law.

Answer:

The mitzvah of hashavat aveidah, returning a lost a object, is indeed a very important mitzvah. Not only are we obligated to try and return a lost object, we are also prohibited from simply ignoring the object and leaving it lying on the ground.1

But, before getting into how far a person is obligated to go to return an object, we first need to outline which objects one is required to pick up and return to their rightful owner.

In general, the object needs to have at least the minimum value of a perutah (a Talmudic-era coin), both at the time of its being lost as well as when it is found, in order for one to be obligated to return it.2 Today, a perutah is equivalent toThe object needs to have at least the minimum value of a perutah about two cents.3

When deciding whether something has the value of a perutah, we calculate based on how much the owner would value it. Therefore, if something is worthless by itself (like a single shoe or glove) but has significant value for the owner who has the other half of the pair, one would be obligated to return it.4

However, if the item appears to have been left at the spot for a very long time, we assume that the owner gave up hope of finding it, and one is not obligated to return it.5 In this case, if the glove appears to have been left outside for a very long time, you are not obligated to pick it up and return it.

Practically speaking, this means that one is required to try and return items like the single glove or your cousins’ expensive moisturizing creams, but not the scribbled drawings or hair clip (assuming it’s a cheap clip).

As for leaving the object where you found it, that is done only either (a) in a situation in which you aren’t obligated to return it, or (b) when there are no identifying markings, it looks like it was intentionally placed there, and it is in a secure area.6

Having said that, the question now is: how much effort must you exert in returning the lost object to the owner, and what do you do if you can’t find the owner?

In general, all one is obligated to do is inform the owner that you have found his or her lost object.7 But you are not required to spend any of your own money to return the lost You are not required to spend any of your own moneyobject8 unless you know for sure that you will be paid back.9

In light of this, with regard to the glove, all you are required to do is hang up signs in places like the school and synagogue, which many people in the neighborhood frequent. You are not obligated to spend money on any advertisements.10 Furthermore, if by busying yourself in trying to find the owner, you will have to take off some time from work (i.e. you will not be making the money you normally would have at that time), then that too is considered an expense that—although laudatory—you are not obligated to make.11

As for the items your cousins left in your house, the simplest solution would be to contact them and find out if they want the items returned, and if they would be willing to pay for postage. If for whatever reason they cannot be reached by phone, mail, e‑mails, etc., then you are not required to ship the items to them unless you know for sure that you will be reimbursed.

If a long time has passed since you publicized your find and no one has come forward to claim the object, you are permitted to use the object, provided that you evaluate how much it is worth and write down all identifying features. That way, if anyone ever comes forward, you will be able to return it.12

You can be extremely proud and encouraging of your daughter. In an age when people are busy thinking more about themselves, she has learned and taken to heart the importance of helping others.

Footnotes
2.
Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 262:1.
3.
See Shiurei Torah 3:42, where Rabbi Chaim Naeh writes that a perutah is equivalent to 1/40th of a gram of silver (0.0008 troy oz.), which is worth (at the time of writing this article) about two cents.
4.
See Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Kuntres Hashavat Aveidah 4; Mishpetei Aveidah, Moznei Tzedek 3–4.
5.
Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 262:5.
6.
Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 260:9–10.
7.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Kuntres Hashavat Aveidah 22.
8.
See Sefer Meirat Einayim (Sma), Choshen Mishpat 426:1.
9.
Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, Choshen Mishpat, Hilchot Metziah u-Fikadon 33.
10.
Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:45 (vol. 7, p. 255).
11.
Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, ibid. 33–34.
12.
Igrot Moshe, ibid.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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mzk Potomac via chabadpotomac.com September 9, 2015

"pistachio" manages to quote concepts from Buddhism and Christianity. Well, this is a discussion of the Jewish religion.

The commandments of the Torah are both obligations and guidelines. The author is discussing the "commandment" part - things that must be done regardless. God has not given us "statutes we may not live by" - they are limited in a way that allows every Jew to fulfill them.

Beyond the rules, they are also guidelines, which is why Jews typically return things they are not obligated to return.

It is really easy to treat them as "guidelines" alone. The result is that one does what one feels like. This is not the way of the Torah, nor is it a law of life.

This is why rules such as "love your neighbor as yourself" are only internal laws. It would be unfair to expect the entire world to accept this as an absolute, in-all-cases obligation. Instead, God only required it of one group of people. Reply

Josh P. Seattle, WA January 14, 2015

The mitzvah of hashavat aveida is so important that a person, in his or her zeal to perform it, might harm himself financially in order to return an item which the former owner may have lost hope in finding, rendering it abandoned and ownerless.

This said, while you are not obligated to spend your own time or money in order to return a lost item, it is certainly praiseworthy to do so if it is within your means to do so responsibly. In all cases, it might be as simple as asking the owner about it.

The Rabbi is emphasizing the money and time because we are also expected to treat halachah as a law we can live by. If your preoccupation with hashavat aveida leads you to sustaining a hardship for yourself, you are expected to be responsible to your financial and time commitments. Reply

sarah FNQ Queensland Australia December 26, 2014

Why are you so insistent about reimbursement of the cost of sending objects back to the relative. also cost in the Talmudic-era coin of whether to pick something up or see it as value ie a picture has no monetary value but could be important to the person. Who are we to decide if an object has value monetary or otherwise.
Also you stating that you are not required to spend any of your own money to return the lost unless you know for sure that you will be paid back. There seems to be a lot about money, value, etc. This does not sound like a mitzvah. Reply

samuel chennai, india December 19, 2013

1. Following the 613 mitzvot out of compulsion of sorts wont make it right. If it is followed out of love for our G-d, one would wonder why He has stopped with 613. The joy in keeping it is immeasurable and unfathomed.

2. A teacher in a yeshiva is the most richest person in the world. He has no comparison and the souls he directs in the right path are his reward Reply

pistachio Viva el Peru ! December 19, 2013

Am I to assume that if I would live accordingly to 613 COMMANDMENTS that I would live a perfect life, eliminate all retributive karma and insure my place in the upper worlds. I believe it best to be led to make decision by principle, ethic, reason and our God given sensibility and freedom of will. Certainly, it is more the Spirit of the Law rather than the Letter that is intended by the Guidelines given to us from above.

Finding an object that has been separated from it owner is not Theft. If the article has little or no value it is pointless to pursue its former owner. If you can discern that the item may have monetary worth or personal and sentimental value to its owner then by all means it is necessary to make attempts to return.

The characterization of "sad" , shaking a pointed finger at a reference to a title of a Theatrical Script is a bit sophomoric Shoshona-better for you to have smiled at a subtle attempt toward levity and humor. Reply

walter elliott Orange/Newark, NJ December 18, 2013

Please keep my wife, Naomi, in prayer to find her wallet..
She just told me she lost her wallet 12 hours ago. It has her drivers license and other i.d. therein.
The wallet is somewhere in or around Dobson, NC - her hometown.
All power and glory to G_d!
Thanks! Reply

Dena Jeerusalem December 18, 2013

My friend was at the Kotel with their 11 children, one found a very fat wallet, gave it to his mother who informed the Kotel police and gave them their phone number. They went home, started counting it, got tired and stopped at $80,000 (there was a lot more) called the Jerusalem police and gave them their number, and about two hours later a lady with a foreign accent called, was able to correctly describe the wallet and the amount and she and her husband came over to claim the wallet.

That couple had come to Israel to buy an apartment and lost the money! Can you imagine carrying around such a lot of money? They offered them a reward, of course they refused it.

My friend is a very poor family, her husband a teacher in a yeshiva, and they have a lot of gemachim (loans). But she told me that after that coup[le left the children started singing and dancing with joy because Hshem gave they the opportunity to fulfil the mitzvah of returning a lost object. Reply

Shoshana Israel December 18, 2013

One of the 613 Commandments is to return lost items. How and when is explained very nicely in this article. It's sad that Peru, Dec. 11, calls this "nothing".
Probably he didn't realize that it a Devine law given by the King of Kings, telling us how to live our lives. Reply

Samuel Chennai India December 18, 2013

Thank you Mr. Donald Weinshank. Now I have shalom. Reply

L Newington Australia December 17, 2013

In response to Warren; "Our ancestors never cease to amaze me".
Tell me what has changed.
In subscribing to Australian Jewish website J/Wire, this has come across to me very vividly, Isi Leibler, David Singer, Henry Benjamin and Ronit Fraid automatically come to mind, [of course there are others] whether local or overseas news, political or other.
Some of their contributions can be taken as history lessons, and a great rescourse for students as well as for those with a genuine interest in all things Jewish. Reply

Donald Weinshank 48823 December 16, 2013

There is a beautiful discussion in Mishnah Bava Metziah.

ArtScroll Mishnah series (Nosson Scherman, Meir Zlotowitz), Seder Nezikin Vol 1(b), Tractate Bava Metzia, ch. 1, 2.

• When to keep (scattered produce, scattered money, small sheaves in a public domain….),
• When to leave (a utensil in heap of garbage) and so on.
• When to announce (aka advertise a valuable item ): Three festivals and seven days after the last festival so that people have time to go home and spread the word

And this: “Anything that works and eats shall work and eat” (example: donkey)

Our ancestors never cease to amaze me for their attention to truth in detail. Reply

Angela Hoffberg Richland, MS December 13, 2013

We need to follow our hearts. If we do that, we're following God. Reply

Anonymous UK December 13, 2013

I am 82. I was fortunate in having good parents who gave me a decent upbringing.
The standards they instilled seemed to be the norm at that that time. I now watch
quite a lot of television, mainly factual programmes such as 'Caught Red-handed'
and 'Crime Watch' etc. I find myself disturbed by the lack of conscience and baffled by the sheer deviousness of the perpetrators. This seems to be a different
world from the one in which I was raised and I find this quite depressing. How refreshing it is to find that traditional Jewish values are as relevant as always and
there are people who abide by them today and teach them to their children - not
all of them Jews. This article is as refreshing as a draught of clean water.
Thank You. Reply

Anonymous New Port Richey, FL. December 12, 2013

I don't know how old your daughter, but if she is young and doesn't understand that the glove might have been left there because the owner no longer wanted it then I think it is beautiful that she wants to do the mitzvah. I think her age has a lot to do with the situation. You should be very proud of her in any case. If she is very young and doesn't understand the law behind returning a lost item try to explain to her that the glove might have been left there on purpose because it is old and of no use to the owner any longer. I wish you had mentioned her age. Reply

Walter Elliott Orange/Newark NJ December 12, 2013

I once personally returned an NYPD parking placard - the type you see in windshields - to a Brooklyn ambulance company.
I found it while crossing a vacant lot in Newark's Central Ward. How it got there, I don't know.
I arrived at the ambluance's address a subway ride later, only to find it closed mid-Passover. I affixed a Post-it note of my address and where I found it, slipped it through their front door mail slot and went home. Reply

walter elliott Newark, NJ December 11, 2013

Good topic - great discussion.

What about an identification card (library, driver's license, work id) that had just expired?

Thanks! Reply

pistachio Peru December 11, 2013

" Much Ado About Nothing " Reply

Fruma Delray Beach, FL December 11, 2013

Easy--Just call the school and tell them about it. Describe the boy, and leave it up to them. Reply

Samuel Chennai, India December 10, 2013

I found Rs120 ($2 dollars) on the terrace of an apartment block where my sister lives. My brother in law is the secretary of the tenants association. I gave the cash to him, knowing too well that he would spend it. But I had no means of finding the owner and didn't know it I should leave it. As I thought, my brother in law spent it. What do I do? Should I give the money to a charity or leave it at that. I am glad I saw this today, because it has been worrying me. Reply

Samuel Chennai, India December 10, 2013

I found Rs120 ($2 dollars) on the terrace of an apartment block where my sister lives. My brother in law is the secretary of the tenants association. I gave the cash to him, knowing too well that he would spend it. But I had no means of finding the owner and didn't know it I should leave it. As I thought, my brother in law spent it. What do I do? Should I give the money to a charity or leave it at that. I am glad I saw this today, because it has been worrying me.

Thanks
Reply