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Hilchos Choshen Mishpat

Volume I : Number 15

Lost and Found Advertisements

Question:

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 neighborhood. 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?


Answer:

  1. It is prohibited for the worker to tell the loser who the finder is before the ads have been run in the newspaper.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.


Sources:

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 140).

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 Mishpat 259:9).

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.

Feedback is appreciated! It can be sent to atendler@torah.org.

We hope you find this class informative and stimulating! If you do not see a subscription form to the left of the screen, access the Advanced Learning Network to subscribe to Business-Halacha.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and other Project Genesis classes, send mail to learn@torah.org for an automated reply. For subscription assistance, send mail to gabbai@torah.org.

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!


 






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