Returning Lost Objects
Last week we began to discuss the laws of what one who finds an item must
do once he is clear that he is obligated to guard the item and try to find
its rightful owner. We will continue with these laws below.
The finder must be careful to preserve the item so that it does not get
damaged. For example, if he found a book he should not store it in a damp
place where it might become moldy. Furthermore, the finder is not allowed
to borrow the item for his personal use.
If the finder discovers the identity of the owner of the lost item he is
not obligated to deliver it to the owner, rather he can call him and
request that he come to pick it up. Once the owner has been notified, it
becomes his responsibility to travel to the finder to reclaim it.
If the finder cannot contact the owner but knows his identity he should
try to return the item in a manner that the owner will definitely be able
to retrieve it - for example, he should not leave it outside the front
door of the owner's house, because someone may steal it before the owner
discovers it. Rather he should try to hand over the item to the rightful
If the finder does not know the identity of the owner he is required to
publicize his find in the hope that the owner will discover the location
of his lost item. If he finds it the item in a self-contained area such
as a summer camp, then he can simply put up a sign in the most frequented
location and announce it when many people are gathered together.
If, however, he found it in a large town, then he should put up signs in
the communal areas, such as shuls that are close to where the item was
In the following week we will discuss what to write on the signs and the
effort required in putting them up,
*Much of the information for this essay is taken from "Halachos of Other
People's Money" by Rabbi Yisroel Pinchos Bodner
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen and Torah.org