Hilchos Choshen Mishpat
Volume I : Number 15
Lost and Found Advertisements
A worker in the advertising department of a newspaper received two paid
advertisements to print. One was from someone announcing that he had lost
an expensive gold watch in a certain neighborhood. The second was from
someone announcing that he had found an expensive gold watch in that same
Is the worker permitted to notify the loser as to the existence of the
finder, thereby saving them the cost of the ads, if by doing so he will
causea loss of revenue to his employer, the newspaper owner?
What is the Halacha?
- It is prohibited for the worker to tell the loser who the finder is
before the ads have been run in the newspaper.
- If another person (a non newspaper employee) were to find out about
the ads, if they have already been placed he would also not be allowed to
inform the loser or finder, until the ads have been run.
- In any lost and found situation, the loser must reimburse the finder
for any expenses incurred to him in trying to locate the owner, such as
newspaper advertisements, etc.
A salaried employee is charged with the responsibility of safeguarding
his employer's financial interests. As a matter of fact, the Mishna in
Bava Metziah (6:6) tells us that he has the status of a Shomer Sochor (a
paid watchman), and is held responsible for any theft or loss to the
employer's property while he is on the job. This is brought down as the
Halacha in Choshen Mishpat 306:1. Also, if he were to negligently cause
even a loss a revenue to the employer, he can be held responsible. (This
is clearly stated in the Ridvaz Vol. 1 Siman 399, the She'ilos Ya'avetz
Vol. 1 Siman 85, and the Teshuvos Chasam Sofer Choshen Mishpat Siman
There are two aspects to the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah (returning a
lost article). One is to return something that your friend
unintentionally lost. The other is to save him from a potential,
involuntary, loss. For example, if he were to have a field next to a
river, and you notice that his field will be flooded if you don't take
immediate action, the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah obligates you to do all
that you can to prevent his property from getting damaged and incurring
financial loss. This is clearly stated in the Shulchan Oruch (Choshen
However, in our case, preventing financial loss (advertising costs) to
the owner of the watch will directly cause a loss of revenue to the
newspaper owner! Why should preventing a loss of money to one person take
precedence over a loss to another? Especially since the loss to the watch
owner is not involuntary, he is ready and willing to pay the price of the
ad! Therefore, if you were to inform the advertisers that there is no
need to run the ad, you would be transgressing the Torah prohibition of
someone who indirectly causes his friend a loss (Gramma) by preventing
him from having a loss of revenue (Mevatel Kiso Shel Chaveiro), rather
than fulfilling the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah.
According to the above, it makes no difference whether the person who
noticed both ads before printing was a newspaper employee or any other
person. Either way, it would be prohibited to inform the watch owner at
the expense of the newspaper owner.
However, there is one situation where there would be a difference between
an employee and any other person. If the newspaper employee himself had
lost the watch, and received an ad from the finder. Although the employee
may want to save himself from the expense of having to reimburse the
finder for the ad (as he will be Halachically obligated to do, as is
stated in Choshen Mishpat 265 - see the Rema there), he must run the ad
and reimburse the finder for it. This is because, as long as he is
employed by the newspaper, all of his actions must be solely for the
benefit of his employer.
On the other hand, if a non-employee would somehow find out that an ad
was about to be placed in a newspaper regarding an item that he himself
had lost, he would be permitted to approach the finder directly to
prevent himself from incurring the additional expense of the
advertisement, even though that by doing so there will be a loss of
revenue to the newspaper owner. A person is permitted to take action to
incease his income and lower his expenses, even though this may cause a
loss of revenue to someone else.
Although this class does not deal with the complex question of Hasagas
Gvul (unfair competition in Halacha), a simple example may help in
understanding this aforementioned concept. Just as a person may be
permitted to open a shop near another person's shop even though that
the first shop owner may suffer a loss of revenue from this, and we
don't say that the second shop owner is indirectly damaging the first,
the same would apply in our case. [The Halacha regarding the shopowners
is addressed in the Gemora in Bava Basra 21b, and in Shulchan Oruch
Choshen Mishpat 156. It is also dealt with at length in the Teshuvos
HaRosh Klal 5 Siman 3. IY'H It will be the topic of a future class].
This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an
Av Bet Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His
column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in
Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his
permission and approval.
This class is translated and moderated by Rabbi Aaron Tendler of Yeshivas
Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. Rabbi Tendler accepts full responsibility for
the accuracy of the translation and will be happy to fax originals of the
articles in Hebrew to anyone interested.
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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat
situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each
individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the
presence of all parties involved!