Mr. Sofer completed his book order with an online company. The vendor offered special, fast shipping for an additional cost, but he opted for regular free shipping. “Delivery within three weeks,” stated the site.
Three weeks passed and the order did not arrive. Mr. Sofer contacted the vendor’s customer service by e-mail. “I ordered a book, which was supposed to arrive last week,” he wrote. “It hasn’t arrived yet. Can you please verify that the order was shipped?”
“We shipped the book promptly,” the vendor replied. “Mail is at its busy season, though. Please give it another week and contact us again if the order doesn’t arrive.”
Mr. Sofer waited another week, but the book still didn’t arrive. He contacted the company again. “The order still hasn’t arrived,” he wrote, “even though a month has already passed.”
“We apologize for the inconvenience,” the vendor replied. “Would you like us to resend the order or refund your money?”
“I’d like to have the book resent,” answered Mr. Sofer.
“We will send out another copy immediately,” the company replied.
Three days later, the original order arrived in the mail. Shortly afterward, the additional copy also came.
“Well, I’ve got two copies of the book, now,” Mr. Sofer said to his wife. “Maybe I’ll give the spare copy to the library.”
“What do you mean?” Mrs. Sofer said. “You have to return the extra copy!”
“They decided to send the extra copy,” reasoned Mr. Sofer. “It was a gift to me. They didn’t tell me I would have to return the other copy.”
“Clearly, they sent you the extra copy only because the original order was lost in the mail,” responded Mrs. Sofer. “If you keep it, you’re stealing from the company!”
“How can this be stealing?” argued Mr. Sofer. “They chose to send the extra copy to make good on their delivery!”
“It would be best to ask Rabbi Dayan,” suggested Mrs. Sofer.
Mr. Sofer called Rabbi Dayan. “I ordered a book, and shipment was delayed,” he said. “They sent another copy and both arrived. What should I do with the extra copy?”
“You should contact the company and notify them that the original shipment arrived,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Ask them what they would like you to do. They will either ignore the notice, ask you to return the extra book, or tell you to keep it.”
“Why should I have an obligation to do this?” asked Mr. Sofer.
“It is a form of hashavas aveidah,” said Rabbi Dayan, “either of the initial copy or of the extra one that was sent. Thus, if the company is Jewish owned, there is a requirement of hashavas aveidah. If not, you should still return the item as a Kiddush Hashem.” (C.M. 266:1)
“If they want me to return the extra copy, am I expected to cover the postage cost?” asked Sofer.
“Your primary responsibility is to notify them that you have their item,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Although the shipping cost for returned items on the customer, costs incurred for hashavas aveidah are not on the finder, but on the owner of item. If he is not willing to cover the cost, you are not required to expend it in order to return the lost item to him. Nonetheless, if the postage cost is small, it is proper to do so.” (C.M. 264:1; See Hashavas Aveidah K’halacha 10:3)
“What if they ignore my e-mail?” asked Sofer. “Do I have to send the extra copy back to them?”
“If they ignore your notice, it would be proper to contact them a second time,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Beyond that, you would be allowed to keep what they sent. There is concept of ‘aveidah mida’as‘ – willful loss. They knowingly sent the extra item, and if they don’t follow up afterward, this indicates disinterest in the item. This exempts you from having to return it to them, and some even allow taking it for yourself.” (C.M. 261:4)
“Furthermore, Rabbi Dayan concluded, “part of the customer service policy of the company is to guarantee prompt delivery, and they are willing to forgo the item as a compensation for the delayed delivery. It’s part of their calculated risk of regular shipping.”
About the Author: Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to email@example.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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