Photo Credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90
Avraham Fried

Avi was an avid Jewish music fan; his favorite singer was Mordechai Fried. Avi enjoyed not only listening to the music but also reading about the history of Jewish music and about Jewish singers. One book he owned was an autobiography of Mordechai Fried.

A friend, David, who shared Avi’s interest in Jewish music, borrowed the book about Mordechai Fried.


“There is a concert tonight by M.F. in our neighborhood,” David said to Avi. “I’m going – do you want to come?”

“I would love to hear M.F. live, but I can’t go tonight,” replied Avi. “Enjoy!”

David attended the concert and he took Avi’s book with him to read along the way.

After the concert was over, David hung around a little longer after people left, hoping to catch Mordechai Fried backstage. He was fortunate and was able to catch him briefly.

“Can I ask you to autograph this book?” David asked, taking out Avi’s book.

“I don’t often autograph,” replied Mordechai Fried, “but since you asked, I’ll do it for you!”

“I lucked out last night!” David told Avi the following day. “I was able to speak with M.F. briefly and even got him to autograph the book. I’ll buy you a new one to replace it.”

“No, I want my book back with the autograph,” replied Avi. “Thank you for getting it autographed for me!”

“The book is worth more with M.F.’s autograph,” insisted David. “I got it autographed, so I should be able to keep the autographed copy! If you insist on getting your book back, at least pay me the added value of the book!”

“Why should I have to pay you?” argued Avi. “It’s my book, and it didn’t cost you anything to get the signature.”

The two decided to approach Rabbi Dayan, and asked:

“Can David keep the autographed book? If not, can he demand payment for the autograph?”

“When a person borrows a non-consumable item to use, with intent to return it,” replied Rabbi Dayan, “he is termed a sho’el and the item remains in the possession of its owner. Only if the item is lost or ruined (not through regular use), the sho’el pays the lost value or a replacement item” (C.M. 340:1).

Even if the sho’el intended to possess the item for himself, unlawfully, which is considered tantamount to theft, he does not acquire the item unless it was changed in a significant manner, in which case he acquires it through shinui (C.M. 360:1; see Pischei Choshen, Pikadon 5:2[2-3]).

In our case, the addition of an autograph is not considered a shinui, so the book remains Avi’s and David is required to return it. He cannot return a different copy if Avi wants his original book (Sma 359:8).

However, since David enhanced the book through the autograph, he is considered yored lisdei chaveiro – one who enhances another’s property. The Gemara (B.M. 101a) teaches that the enhancer is usually entitled to compensation for his efforts, the amount depending on whether the property is fit for such enhancement or not.

“A book is considered fit for the enhancement of the author’s autograph, so that David is entitled to the going rate for such an enhancement, i.e., how much the average person would be willing to pay someone with ‘connections’ to procure this autograph (C.M. 375:1).

“Avi could refuse to pay David,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “only if he can genuinely claim that he has no interest whatsoever in the addition of the autograph, or if he can reasonably claim that he could have easily procured the autograph on his own, without any expenditure or effort” (see Rema 264:4; 375:4-5; Nesivos 264:13; Chazon Ish, B.B. 2:3).

Verdict: David cannot keep the autographed book if Avi wants his original copy back. However, Avi is required to pay him for enhancing the book in the amount that an average person would be willing to pay someone to procure the signature.


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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 [email protected]. 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 [email protected].