Photo Credit: Jewish Press

After almost two years of travel restrictions, Mr. Shapiro finally had the opportunity to fly to Israel. His neighbor, Mr. Braun had a son who lived there.

“I hear that you’re flying to Israel tomorrow night,” Mr. Braun said.

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“Indeed!” exclaimed Mr. Shapiro. “I used to fly yearly, but haven’t been there for over two years because of Covid-19. My daughter had a baby ten months ago, and we haven’t seen him yet!”

“That is exciting!” acknowledged Mr. Braun. “I also have a son there. I’m actually looking for someone to take money for him.”

“How much?” asked Mr. Shapiro. “There are certain legal limits.”

“$1,000,” replied Mr. Braun. “There’s no problem with it.”

“Then I’m happy to take the money,” said Mr. Shapiro. “Put it in an envelope with your son’s name and phone number. I’ll contact him when I arrive.”

The following day, Mr. Braun brought over the envelope. “Thank you,” he said. “Have a safe flight!”

Mr. Shapiro packed the envelope in his hand luggage. “This way it will be safe with us,” he said to his wife.

When Mr. Shapiro boarded, he put the hand luggage in the overhead compartment. He checked that the envelope with the money was there.

After the meal, the cabin lights were shut and Mr. Shapiro got ready to sleep. “Zman Krias Shema comes and goes very quickly when flying in this direction,” he said to his wife. “I’ll get the few hours of shut-eye that I can.”

After three hours of sleep, Mr. Shapiro got up for davening. He opened his hand luggage to take out his tallis and tefillin, but did not see the envelope. “That’s strange,” he said to himself.

After davening, Mr. Shapiro took down the hand luggage and went through it carefully. The envelope with the money was missing!

“Someone must have stolen it while we were sleeping,” said Mrs. Shapiro.

Mr. Shapiro mentioned the missing envelope to one of the stewards. “We can’t do much other than file a report in case someone turns it in,” he replied.

When Mr. Shapiro arrived in Israel, he called Rabbi Dayan and asked, “Am I liable for the stolen envelope?”

“The Mishnah (B.M. 42a) teaches that a guardian who was entrusted with money, but slung it in a bag over his back, is considered negligent and liable,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The Gemara explains that money needs to be guarded carefully; the guardian should hold it in his hand or tie it in front of him, so that he can watch it” (C.M. 291:20).

“Even so, the principle is that entrusted items must be guarded in the normal manner for such items, in accordance with the time and place” (C.M. 291:18; Shach 291:26).

“Thus, although halacha requires the guardian to hold money in front of him, nowadays the common practice of almost everyone is to put one’s wallet in the back pocket, not the front pocket. Therefore, this is also acceptable, despite the possibility of pickpockets.

“However, placing cash in luggage is not acceptable, even hand luggage kept in an overhead bin when sleeping. You should have kept the envelope in your pocket, or tucked the handbag under your feet.

Similarly, it is common for women to hold cash in their pocketbook. This is acceptable, but – following the Gemara and common practice, it must be kept in sight. Leaving the pocketbook unattended would constitute negligence.

“Even if the guardian also left his own money in the luggage, or a woman risked leaving her pocketbook unattended on her seat or table, this does not exempt them from their responsibility as guardians. A person can take risks with his own money, but not with other people’s money” (C.M. 291:14).

“Thus,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “leaving money in hand luggage out of sight, especially when sleeping during the flight, is considered negligence and you are liable.”

Verdict: Money must be held securely or kept in sight. Otherwise, the guardian is considered negligent and liable

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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 subscribe@businesshalacha.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 ask@businesshalacha.com.
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