Hilchos Choshen Mishpat
Volume II : Number 4
Money Extracted From A Vending Machine
Reuven decided to buy a soft drink from a vending machine that was
supposed to give change. He put in a $1 bill, and received neither his
soft drink nor change. After realizing that the machine was broken, he
attempted to retrieve his $1 bill, but that did not work either. He gave
up hope of getting his money back, and left it there and went about his
Shimon passed by this vending machine a little while later, and noticed
that there seemed to be some money jammed in the machine. He gave the
machine a bang, and the machine spewed forth fifty $1 bills that had been
left in there by various (thirsty!) people who had attempted to purchase
Who does this money belong to?
If the money that the machine ejected was from people that did not
receive the drinks that they had hoped to purchase (as in the case of our
question), Shimon has the right to keep the money for himself. This is
true even if Shimon himself did not intend to purchase anything from the
If the people who had put the money in the machine did receive drinks,
Shimon is obligated to make every effort to return the money to the owner
of the vending machine.
The Gemara in Bava Metziah (26b) states that if a person finds money on
the floor of a store in a manner that it was probably lost by one of the
customers, the finder is permitted to keep it. In other words, although
it was found in the domain (Chatzeir) of the store owner, he has no prior
rights to this lost money over the finder. The reason for this is,
although a person can acquire something with his Chatzeir, this is only
if it is a Chatzeir HaMishtameres, lit. a protected domain. If it is
exposed to others, and any items found in there are not necessarily
protected exclusively to the owner, the fact that it is in your domain
does not mean that it automatically acquires it for you. Since many
different types of people are constantly in and out of the store, it can
not qualify as a Chatzeir HaMishtameres. This is stated as the Halacha in
the Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 260:5) and is discussed at length in
the Shach there (18).
In light of this, in our case, since the vending machine is located in a
public area it is not considered a Chatzeir HaMishtameres, and the owner
does not acquire anything "lost" in it. Although it may be more difficult
for people to extract the money stuck within it than to pick money off of
the floor of the store, since when money is lost attempts are made by the
loser (and other passersby) to retrieve the money using all different
kinds of techniques, it can not be considered "protected exclusively to
the owner". The purchaser surely has no interest in gifting this money to
the vendor. Therefore, if he leaves and gives up hope (Yiyush) of
retrieving the money, this money is considered ownerless (Hefker), and
anyone who succeeds in extracting it without damaging the machine in any
way may do so and keep the money.
However, if the loser of the money is interested in having the money
reach the owner of the Chatzeir only, even if the Chatzeir is not
protected, it can not be considered Hefker and it must be considered
owned by the owner of the Chatzeir. This is stated as the Halacha in the
Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 268:4). Therefore, if the purchaser
received the drink, he definitely intended that the owner of the vending
machine receive the money, so that he should not end up consuming a drink
that had not been paid for. Consequently, the money can not be considered
ownerless in this situation, and must be returned to the intended
recipient, the owner of the vending machine.
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This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av
Bais 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
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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!