Rabbi Dayan was learning the Daf in his study when his phone rang.
“Hello, this is Shmuel,” said the caller. “My children found some eggs in our backyard. They did shiluach ha’ken with the chickens and brought the eggs home. Can we eat them?”
“Eggs? Chickens? Shiluach ha’ken?” repeated Rabbi Dayan bewildered. “What are you talking about?!”
“Sorry,” laughed Shmuel. “I was also surprised when this happened.”
“OK, could you please start from the beginning?” said Rabbi Dayan.
“My children, Yaakov and Yosef, were playing out in backyard today,” began Shmuel. “We have a large open property in the back, with trees and lots of grass. I was resting in the house, when the door burst open. The kids came in waving two eggs. ‘We just did shiluach haken and took these eggs,’ they said. ‘Can we eat them?’ ”
“Where were the eggs?” I asked them. “These look like regular chicken eggs.”
“ ‘Yes, there were a couple of chickens roaming around the backyard,’ said Yaakov. ‘Then we saw this hen sitting there on the grass, in the corner of the yard.’
“ ‘We shooed the mother hen away and took the eggs,’ added Yosef proudly. ‘That was shiluach ha’ken, wasn’t it?’ ”
“Usually, shiluach ha’ken does not apply to domesticated birds,” Rabbi Dayan interjected, “but that’s a side point.” (Y.D. 292:2)
“In any case, I put the eggs into the fridge,” continued Shmuel. “Can we eat them?”
“As far as kashrus is concerned, chicken eggs don’t need any particular hashgacha, provided they clearly are chicken eggs,” replied Rabbi Dayan. (Y.D. 86:2) “You just have to be more careful about checking for blood spots, since they were laid in a natural environment. The question, though, is one of hashavas aveidah. Do you have to return the eggs to their owner?”
“Return the eggs?” asked Shmuel. “Who owns chickens around here?”
“I heard that Dov Shechter recently acquired a few chickens,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “I think he was planning on using them for kaparos on erev Yom Kippur. They’re almost certainly his.”
“Even so, the eggs were laid in our backyard,” said Shmuel. “Wouldn’t they belong to us?”
“Your backyard can acquire something hefker, ownerless, for you,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “But if the hen has an owner, the eggs are his, even if they are laid in your backyard.” (C.M. 243:20; 268:3)
“Still, if the owner lets his chickens roam freely,” asked Shmuel, “do I have an obligation of hashavas aveida to return them?”
“If the owner lets his hens roam freely, you have no obligation to expend effort to return them or the eggs, but they are still his,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, Mr. Shechter’s chickens are usually locked up and must have slipped out, so there would be hashavas aveidah. Only if they escaped and ran away wild, so that he could not catch them – would they become hefker.” (See C.M. 261:4; Rema 259:7)
“Funny story, isn’t it?” commented Shmuel.
“There’s a fascinating story like this in the Gemara [Taanis 25a], regarding R. Chanina b. Dosa,” said Rabbi Dayan. “A person left two hens outside of his door and his wife found them. R. Chanina b. Dosa told her not to eat the eggs hey laid, but to look after them. As the eggs and subsequent chickens increased and became difficult to handle, R. Chanina b. Dosa sold them and bought some goats.
“Some later time, the person who left the hens passed by and inquired about his lost hens. R. Chanina b. Dosa verified that he had simanim, identification of the lost item, and gave him the goats he had amassed.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Shmuel. “Is a person really required to tend to such a degree for lost items?”
“No,” answered Rabbi Dayan, “but R. Chanina was known to be extremely pious and acted in a manner beyond the requirements of halacha.”
“What is required in such a case?” asked Shmuel.
“The Mishnah [B.M. 28b] teaches that an animal that needs to be fed but produces, such as hens – the finder is allowed to use the eggs in lieu of tending to the hens,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Even so, the finder is not obligated to tend to them for more than a year. Other animals, which are more difficult to tend to, have a shorter period.”