In the previous weeks we discussed the process of returning the lost item
to its rightful owner. We saw that the finder should place signs in
public areas announcing his discovery of the item. Moreover, he must be
careful to ensure that an untrustworthy person does not attain the object
through dishonest means.
In this article we will discuss the following questions with regard to the
obligations of the finder in his efforts to return the item. To what
extent must the finder go to return the object? Must he spend money in
his attempt to return it? Can he charge the owner for his efforts?
The finder may not charge for returning the lost item, even if doing so
will involve time and effort. However, he does not have to lose money in
order to return it: For example, if a person notices someone drop a
wallet as he gets into a car., the best way for the finder to return the
item would be for him to get into a cab and pursue him. However, since
this would incur expenses, the finder need not do this. If he feels
certain that the owner will reimburse him the cost of the cab then he must
spend the money for the cab in order to return it.
The finder need to not forego his regular salary in order to return a lost
item. For example, if a shop clerk sees a shopper leave an item in the
shop, he does not have to leave his work in order to return it; this is on
condition that he is not allowed to leave his work for such a purpose or
may risk being docked some wages for the time spent away from his work.**
Even if the finder only stands to lost potential profits then he is not
required to return the lost item. for example, a salesman who earns money
on commission need to take out from his work time to return a lost
object. This is because in the time required to return the item he could
have earned more money through making more calls.
*Much of the information for this essay is taken from "Halachos of Other
People's Money" by Rabbi Yisroel Pinchos Bodner.
**Since there are many factors involved here with regard to when one can
take time off work, one should ask each specific case to an Orthodox Rabbi.