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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

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

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Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

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

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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

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April 4, 2014

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

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Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

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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

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Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

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

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

Jewish World Review January 28, 2008 / 21 Shevat 5768

How far must one go to return a lost object?

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir

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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: A carpenter did some work for me and left his tools in my house, and I can't seem to contact him. I'm leaving town soon — what should I do?

A: The Torah commands us to return lost objects to their owners:

Don't see your brother's ox or his sheep wandering and ignore them; surely return them to your brother. And if your brother is not nearby or you don't know him, take it into your house and leave it there until your brother requests it, then return it to him. So shall you do for his ass, and so shall you do for his garment, and so shall you do for any lost object of your brother which should become lost and you find it; you may not ignore it. (Deuteronomy 22:1-3)

When the Torah tells us "take it into your house and leave it there until your brother requests it," it means we must make reasonable efforts to restore objects to their owners. There is no obligation to make heroic efforts, or to spend money on returning the object; however, a purely perfunctory effort would be considered "ignoring" the object.

So the efforts you describe in your letter - trying to phone the man, mentioning the fact to his friends, leaving a note at his home - would be considered part of your basic ethical obligation. But now responsibility for these objects is becoming a hardship rather than a minor inconvenience.

The Mishna relates to such a case in the following instance:

Any thing which both produces and eats, let it produce and eat. But anything which doesn't produce yet eats, should be sold. As it is written, "Return it to him" - see how it can best be restored to him. (1)

For example, a chicken which lays eggs should be kept for the owner; its upkeep can be paid for from the eggs. But if I find a horse, or if I have no practical way to exploit the eggs laid by a chicken, then the cost of upkeep will soon exceed the value of the object. In this case the owner would prefer to have the money, so we fulfill "return it to him", the kind of return the owner himself prefers.

In your case, you would be justified in selling the tools, if a reasonable valuation can be obtained for them. When the owner finally gets in touch with you, based on your messages to his friends and his house, you can just send him a check.

If the tools are not really saleable (even in the e-bay era), another possibility would be to find someone local who would fulfill the mitzvah in your place. You might ask someone, perhaps another carpenter or hobbyist, how much they would charge to store some carpentry tools. If you think they have given you a good-faith reply, then you may suggest that they hold onto the tools until the storage fee reaches the value of the tools; then they would be allowed to keep them. Perhaps someone who is a fellow carpenter may be inclined to show empathy towards the owner and keep the tools as a favor.

In all our dealings, it is a privilege when we are able to go beyond the letter of the law in terms of thoughtfulness towards our fellow man. In addition to all the specific commandments of interpersonal conduct, the Torah also commands us in a general way "Do the right and good in the eyes of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:18), and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18.) However, we find in the Talmud that this kind of conduct is particularly encouraged regarding the commandment of lost objects. The Talmud tells the story of the sage Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa. A passerby once accidentally left some chickens in his yard. Rabbi Chanina took care of the chickens, sold the eggs, invested the earnings in livestock and so managed the man's earnings for years until the man finally ran across him years later, never expecting that his inadvertent "deposit" had been cared for.

In your case it is a hardship for you to take responsibility for the tools, so personally going beyond the letter of the law would be unfair to you. But it would be ideal if you could find someone who will take personal and not only professional responsibility to help return these tools to their owner.

SOURCES: Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 28b (2) Babylonian Talmud, Taanis 25a


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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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