Sheva Brachot by Leil Hasder Muktzeh pot lid A Goy who leaves money on Sjabbat wrong name in a ketbuna

Returning a lost object to a gentile

Category: // By Rabbi: הרב הילל מאירס // Answer date: 13.01.2021

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Question:

I have been travelling and I am staying in a Hotel for a few days. Last night I found a wallet with money in it. What should I do with it? Am I allowed to keep the money? Do I need to track down the owner? Should I turn it into the Hotel front desk?

Answer:

I assume the money and wallet belongs to a Non-Jew. Even though if you would find a Non-Jew’s wallet you technically cannot return it but we rule that you should. One is that if you return the object it will make a Kiddush Hashem. Another reason is that if it was a larger sum of money it is possible that the police might track you down and this will cause a Chilul Hashem. Anyway a large sum of money is required by law to return it and we say Dina DeMalchuta Dina.
The Gemara in Baba Kamma 113a is a discussion about if and why stealing from Non-Jews is forbidden. The Gemara says : It is permitted to keep his lost item, as Rav Ḥama bar Gurya says that Rav says: From where is it derived that it is permitted to retain the lost item of a gentile? It is derived from a verse, as it is stated with regard to the mitzva of returning a lost item: “With every lost thing of your brother’s” (Deuteronomy 22:3), indicating that it is only to your brother that you return a lost item, but you do not return a lost item to a gentile.
The Gemara questions this derivation: But say that this applies only where the item has not yet come into the Jew’s hand, as he is not obligated to pursue it in an effort to find the lost item and return it. But in a case where the item had already come into his hand, say that he must return it to the gentile. The Gemara answers that Ravina said: It is understood from the verse itself, as it states: “And so shall you do with every lost thing of your brother’s, which he has lost, and you have found” (Deuteronomy 22:3), which indicates that the verse refers even to an item that has already come into one’s hand. It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Pineḥas ben Ya’ir says: In a case where there is a concern that keeping an object lost by a gentile will result in the desecration of God’s name, it is prohibited even to retain a gentile’s lost item.
The Gemara states that even though stealing from a Goy is prohibited, but you may keep a lost object of his, since there is no obligation to return it. This would even apply if you know exactly who the Non- Jew is. However the Gemara qualifies if the Non-Jew finds out who has it and the fact that he didn’t return it, if it will cause a Chilul Hashem, that the Non-Jew will think he stole it, or would think badly about Jews, that they are money grubbing, it is forbidden to keep it.
The Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 266:1 rules like but then he adds that if it will make a Kiddush Hashem by you returning the object or the money, then you should return it. The basis of this was the story in the Yerushalmi of Shimon ben Shetach whose students bought a donkey from an Arab an found a jewel on it. Shimon ben Shetach returned it and the Arab praised the G-d of the Jews. So if it was something the that the Goy would think you are a bit crazy to return it or he would thin you stole it you do not have to return it.
Even more the Shulchan Aruch says another reason why not to return the object, because you should not return an object to Goyim because you are strengthening the hands of those who do Aveirot. As the Gemara in Sanhedrin 76 says: Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: One who marries his daughter to an old man, and one who takes a wife for his minor son, and one who returns a lost item to a gentile are all individuals who are the cause of sin… One who returns lost property to gentiles adds to the property that they stole from Jews.
Therefore only if it a clear kiddush Hashem should you return it.
The Rema in Choshen Mishpat Siman 259 writes that nowadays since the Goyim have laws requiring you to return lost objects then one must return all lost objects. This is based on the rule of Dina DeMalchuta Dina, that we must follow the laws of the country, when they are not in direct confrontation with Torah law. Therefore if it is a small amount of money that according to law the police won’t open a file. It would be enough though to just give it to the front desk in the hotel since that is where he would look and it would fulfill the law.

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