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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review June 11, 2007 / 25 Sivan, 5767

Bank error

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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Can I keep the money the bank mistakenly deposited into my account?


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: I recently found an unexpected deposit into my account. This has happened a few times. In the past I notified the bank, but now it's becoming a burden, I could really use the money, and besides I understand that the bank is insured against the mistake anyway.


A: I wrote about this topic once before, also with a quote from the famous Monopoly "Community Chest" card. In that column, I concentrated on the ethical aspect of the question, namely the obligation to return lost objects. The Torah commands us "When you encounter the ox of [even] your enemy or his ass straying, surely restore them to him" (Exodus 23:4, see also Deuteronomy 22:1). In order to maintain an orderly society, we are commanded to invest reasonable effort in returning lost objects, including lost money, when we can find out who the true owner is.


Since then I have done some further research, and I want to expand a bit on my earlier insights. I note that Jewish sources deal not only with the ethical aspects of this question but also some of the practical ones.


The Shulchan Aruch (authoritative Code of Jewish Law) states: "If someone receives money from his fellow and finds extra, even if [the depositor] doesn't demand them he is obligated to return them if it is a sum that is reasonably likely to be a mistake". (1)


The Shulchan Aruch implies that what seems to be a mistake is very often not a mistake at all. The first step is to consider if the deposit is a mistake; if it is, it must be returned.


My research on the "surprise credit" phenomenon (try a web search on "Bank error in your favor") revealed that in a large fraction of cases these surprises were not errors at all. They can be income tax refunds, repaid loans, forgotten deposits, etc. These deposits have important consequences; they may obligate you to pay taxes (if it is income) or exempt you from taxes (if they are refunds). They may obligate you to pay back a creditor (if it is a loan) or exempt a borrower from paying you (if it is a loan repayment). Thus it is worthwhile to contact the bank to find out exactly what the source of the deposit is.


The other thing I learned is that even when the deposit really is a mistake, the account holder ignores this mistake at his or her peril. With or without insurance, the depositor eventually finds out where the money ended up, and is entitled by law to reclaim it. Statutes of limitations on this right can be very long, and precisely because "you could use the money", by the time the depositor catches up to you, you will be very unlikely to have the money handy. In a few cases, using the money can be considered a crime.


The Talmud tells a fascinating story about Rav Shmuel bar Sosretai. The queen in Rome had lost a valuable jewel, which was found by Rav Shmuel. The queen made a public announcement that anyone who returned the jewel within thirty days would receive a prize, whereas anyone found with it after thirty days would be executed. Rav Shmuel deliberately waited until after the thirty day period and then voluntarily returned the object. The queen, seeing that Rav Shmuel was returning the jewel completely voluntarily, tried to find a loophole for him: perhaps you weren't in the city early in the month? Perhaps you didn't hear the announcement? Rav Shmuel asserted that he knew very well of the announcement, and was only returning the jewel after the deadline so that people would know that his motivation was not fear of the sovereign, but rather of the fear of G-d's commandments. In this way he sanctified G-d's name among the Romans. (2)


Evidently this was enough to save Rav Shmuel bar Sosretai from punishment, but in this day and age I am skeptical that such a claim would protect you from any legal claims, fines etc. that keeping the money might subject you to. So even those of us who are not on the exalted level of Rav Shmuel bar Sosretai who returned lost valuables only because of the fear of G-d, would be well advised to return any misplaced money because of concern for the many sanctions imposed by the secular law.

SOURCE: (1) Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 232 (2) Jerusalem Talmud, Bava Metzia chapter 2 Halacha 5

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.

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