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The school year was coming to an end. Yeshiva Emunas Torah had emptied out, and many of the bachurim were off to summer programs.

Shalom and Yosef lived locally and remained home for the summer. At the beginning of the vacation period, they went to learn in the yeshiva. Since the air conditioner was off in the beis medrash, they learned in one of the classrooms. Shalom noticed a hat on the floor.


“Someone must have dropped his hat and didn’t know where he left it,” he said.

“A chance to do hashavas aveidah!” Yosef responded.

Shalom picked up the hat and looked for a name inside. “There is no name,” he said. “Not even embossed initials.”

“What kind of hat is it?” asked Yosef.

“It’s a Borsalino, like many of the hats here,” replied Shalom. “I don’t see any other specific identifying feature.”

“Do you think that the owner realizes he lost his hat?” asked Yosef.

“For sure,” said Shalom. “Everybody left last week, before Shabbos. The hat’s in pretty good condition, much better than mine.”

“Then maybe you can keep it,” suggested Yosef.

“Do you really think so?” asked Shalom.

“I don’t see why not,” replied Yosef. “There’s no name, no identifying feature, and you found it lying on the floor in a classroom!”

“I can still send out a message to all the bachurim that I found a hat,” replied Shalom.

“What will that help?” said Yosef. “Even if someone would come and claim that he lost his hat, how could he identify it? What siman – identifying feature – can he give to show that it is his?”

Shalom called Rabbi Dayan and asked, “Am I allowed to keep the hat I found?”

“The primary means of hashavas aveidah, returning lost items, is through simanim, identifying features,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Therefore, when a person loses an item without any identifying features, we presume that when he realizes that he lost the item, he abandons hope of retrieving it – yei’ush. Whoever finds it afterwards can keep it” (C.M. 262:3).

“Even so, a person can often recognize his used possessions through slight, barely noticeable clues: a minor stain, wrinkle, scratch, etc. This is called tevias ayin, visual recognition. People can usually identify their hat on a shelf among others, even in the absence of definable simanim. In normal situations, we do not return an item based on tevias ayin, since we cannot necessarily trust the person who claims it. He may say that he recognizes this item as his, without clear recognition of it.

However, the Gemara (B.M. 23b) teaches that a talmid chacham is believed with tevias ayin when he is presumed to be honest and does not lie or bend the truth, other than in certain specific areas in which a person is allowed to avoid stating the truth. Therefore, if the item is found in a place where talmidei chachamim are common, such as in a yeshiva, the finder is required to announce it and show it to them (C.M. 262:21).

Even in a place where talmidei chachamim are not common, if a talmid chacham comes and asks to see the item and recognizes it, it should be returned to him – he is believed that it is his. There is at least an element of lifnim mishuras hadin, like in other situations in which the owner identifies the item after yei’ush, and perhaps even an absolute obligation (C.M. 259:5; Minchas Pittim 362:21; Pis’chei Choshen, Aveidah 5:16[35]).

“There are several other halachos that grant special monetary laws to talmidei chachamim. Although the poskim question whether they apply nowadays, here, since there is no actual loss to the finder, we apply this halacha (Taz 262:21; Pis’chei Teshuva 262:2).

“Therefore,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “you are required to announce the hat, and return it if one of the bachurim claims that he recognizes it as his.”

Verdict: A talmid chacham is presumed honest and believed to recognize his lost item through tevias ayin, visual recognition. Therefore, where talmidei chachmim are common, one should announce even an aveidah without definable simanim.


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This article is intended for learning purposes and cannot be used for final halachic decision. There are also issues of dina d’malchusa to consider in actual cases.

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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].