In this issue

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 Nov. 16, 2009 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan 5770

When borrowing is stealing

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q. Last week the office ran out of coffee. One coworker has a private jar, but he was nowhere to be found. Can I borrow a spoonful?

A. This is a common issue, and many people see nothing wrong with "borrowing" from a friend in this way. In order to get to the bottom of this issue, we have to start from the proper foundations. The Talmud tells us a basic principle of ownership: "Borrowing without knowledge [of the owner] is considered stealing." (1)

The basis for this pronouncement is clear. Whether something is considered stealing or borrowing doesn't depend on the opinion of the taker; he has in any case no rights in the object. It can only depend on the opinion of the owner. Since the owner doesn't know of the "borrowing", the borrower's subjective intention to return the object has no power to change the legal status of the taking.

However, there can be cases where it is so clear that the person wouldn't mind that it can just be assumed. One example is a mitzvah object. In the case where borrowing would help a person do a mitzvah (religious commandment), and where the object is not harmed at all, our sages say, "A person agrees to have his property used for a mitzvah". (2) However, even this principle does not apply if there is a reasonable chance that damage will come to the object, for example borrowing a book which may become torn. (2)

Another example is an object whose whole purpose is to serve strangers. If you invite someone into your house, the guest generally doesn't need to ask permission to sit on the couch - that's what it's there for. (3)

At the same time, the rabbis of the Talmud were well aware of the danger of rationalization. It is just too easy to convince yourself that the owner surely doesn't mind. This tendency can be an expression of an exaggerated sense of entitlement which expresses itself in even worse ways. Consider the following story form the Talmud:

A silver cup was stolen from a boarder of [the sage] Mar Zutra Chasida. He saw a certain student who washed his hands and then dried them on his fellow's cloak. He exclaimed, This must be the person, see how he has no regard for his fellow's property! He took him aside and he confessed.(4)
I think we should err particularly on the side of caution when we are talking about a consumable product like coffee. When you borrow an object, the object is around to remind you that you have to return it. But when you take a spoonful of coffee, once you drink it is too easy to forget you ever borrowed it. In no time, all the coffee is gone. Now it is your friend who is stuck without coffee, but he doesn't have a friend to borrow from. If you don't even intend to return it the situation is even worse. A jar seems like a lot, but a private jar can go very quickly if everybody tells himself, "It's only one spoonful."

People are generally good-hearted, and are happy to help others if there is no harm to them. But people are equally aware that borrowing is a very slippery slope, and it is all too easy to forget to return something or to use it carelessly. So pass this time, and when you do see your friend ask him if he minds if you help yourself next time.

SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 41a, Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 359:5. (2) Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 29b (3) Tur and Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 381. (4) Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 24a

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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.


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© 2009, The Jewish Ethicist is produced by the JCT Center for Business Ethics