The Snatched Zuz
‘None Pay Regard To R. Shimon’s Dictum …’
The Talmud (Bava Kamma 66a-67a) establishes that a person loses legal ownership of an item stolen from him if 1) he despaired (experienced ye’ush) of ever retrieving the stolen object and 2) the object changed hands (a shinnui reshus took place).
Thus, if a thief sells a stolen item after the owner despaired of retrieving it, and the original owner later finds out that the item is now in the possession of someone who has acquired it from the thief, he may not demand that the buyer return the object to him. His only recourse is to approach the thief and demand payment from him.
Robbery Involves Ye’ush
Our daf relates an incident where an individual snatched a zuz from his fellow and threw it to a woman, exclaiming, “You are betrothed to me [with this coin].” That individual came to Raba to inquire whether the betrothal (kiddushin) was valid. Raba responded that the owner didn’t necessarily abandon hope of retrieving his money and therefore the betrothal is not valid.
Rabbinical Or Biblical?
Rishonim deduce from Raba’s phrasing that if we have definite knowledge that the owner did despair of regaining possession of his coin, the betrothal is valid. The Rosh (Bava Kamma 7:2), though, rules the betrothal only rabbinically valid. Biblically it isn’t valid because legal ownership of the coin (shinnui reshus) never changed.
The Ran (23a in the pages of the Rif) argues that the betrothal is biblically valid because legal ownership of the coin did change when the woman caught it (even if the thief never acquired ownership).
A Grave Sin
The Rambam (Hilchos Ge’neva 5:1) heaps scorn on such a betrothal regardless of its validity. He rules, based on the Gemara (Kiddushin 56b), that it is forbidden to purchase stolen items from a thief. Doing so is a grave sin, for such an act, in effect, aids and abets sinners and encourages them to continue stealing. If they did not find customers for their stolen items, they would not steal.