Last week we discussed what constitutes a valid simun (identifying
feature) that obligates the finder to try to return the lost item to its
owner. In this article we will discuss the law in a case where there is
no simun. Although in some cases the owner may pick it up and keep it,
there are situations in which he must hold it until the Prophet, Eliyahu
comes and tells him who owns it.
When a person loses an item he retains possession of it until he gives up
on ever retrieving it. This abandonment constitutes a forfeiture of his
ownership. Jewish law states that an item that has no simun (including
lack of a specific location that can be used as proof of ownership) is
considered forfeited once the owner realizes that it is lost. The reason
for this is that he recognizes that he has no way of proving that he is
the true owner of the object, consequently he will presume that even if
the finder wants to return it, he will be unable to do so.
When one finds a lost object that has no simun he must try to discern
whether the owner has become aware that he lost the object. If he cannot
be certain that the owner was aware of the loss at the time he found it,
then he must look after the item until Eliyahu comes and reveals the owner.
There are a number of instances in which we can presume that the owner
discovered his loss before the finder picked up the item.
1. When someone carries something heavy and it falls, it is very likely
that in a short period of time after losing it, he will realize that he
lost it. Thus, when someone finds a heavy item that does not have a
simun, he can presume that the owner knew that he lost it before the
finder picked it up. For example, if one finds a new hammer in a mall
where shoppers carry their purchases with them then he can keep it;
this is because a new hammer has no simun and its heaviness means that the
owner will realize he lost it very soon after it fell.
2. When someone finds loose money he can presume that the owner is
already aware of his loss. This is because people are extra aware of the
amount of cash that they carry and tend to check frequently to ascertain
that they still have it. Therefore, when cash is found, the finder can
presume that the owner forfeited the money a short time after he lost it
and he can keep it.The law is the same with regard to valuables such as
jewelry, because their owners also tend to check for them on a frequent
basis. Thus, a piece of jewelry found on the ground can be kept on
condition that it has no simun.
3. When one finds an item that has clearly been lost for a long period of
time he can keep it because it is obvious that the owner was aware of his
loss long before the finder discovered it.
1. Much of the information for this essay is taken from "Halachos of Other
People's Money" by Rabbi Yisroel Pinchos Bodner.
2. The Rabbis tell us that in the time of Messiah, Eliyahu HaNavi will
come and resolve all the uncertainties in Jewish law. He will further
reveal the identity of lost objects that are being guarded by their
3. This is of course, after the buyer has paid for the hammer.
4. It should be noted that, as we discussed earlier, if the majority of
people who frequent that mall are non-Jews then the finder may keep it in