Returning Lost Objects
In the past weeks we have discussed situations in which a person is not
obligated to return a lost object. The most decisive factor in causing
one to be obligated to return a lost item is the presence of an
identifying feature (simun) through which the person claiming it can prove
that he is the genuine owner. In this article we will discuss what
constitutes a valid and invalid simun.
The simun must be unique so that it is very difficult for a deceitful
person to 'prove' that he is the owner through guessing the simunim. For
example, a person comes to claim that he lost a pen, and his evidence is
that it is blue. This is not a convincing simun because there are
numerous pens that are that color.
An acceptable simun can be something unique in the item itself such
as, "it had a red mark on the side, or it was cracked on the bottom." If,
however the feature was common to many such items, it is not a
satisfactory simun. For example, "fourteen carat gold" stamped on the
item is not an acceptable simun.
A unique measurement of the item can an acceptable simun if it is unusual
for the item to of that length or size.
Another kind of simun can be the number of pieces found, such as "there
were five keys on the key ring, or there were eight dollar bills in the
wallet." However, a standard amount such as an item that comes in packs of
five, is not a valid simun because it does not constitute a strong proof
that the claimant is the genuine owner.
If the claimant can identify a unique feature of the wrapper or container
of the item, then it will prove his claim for the item inside. For
example, "the money was in a small plastic bag that had two pieces of
paper in it with addresses written on it," is a good simun. However,
disclosing that the item was in a common container is not an acceptable
If one can point out a unique feature of something attached or connected
to an item, it will prove his claim for the item itself. For example, a
grey scarf was stuck in the pocket of the coat is a valid simun.
Finally, the specific location of the item can at times constitute a
good simun. For example, "I left the bag behind the tree that is next to
the football field." However, a general identification of the location is
not valid - thus, "I left it in the park" is not a good simun.
*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