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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Mezi'a

Baba Mezi'a 26a

if it [the find] is exceedingly rusty.1

IN A NEW WALL: IF IN THE OUTER HALF [THEREOF], IT IS HIS; IN THE INNER HALF, IT BELONGS TO THE OWNER OF THE HOUSE. R. Ashi said: A knife follows its handle, and a purse its straps.2  Then when our Mishnah states, IF IN THE OUTER HALF [THEREOF], IT IS HIS; IN THE INNER HALF, IT BELONGS TO THE OWNER OF THE HOUSE: let us see whether the handle or the straps point outwards or inwards? — The Mishnah refers to tow-cotton and bar metal.3

A Tanna taught: If the wall [cavity] was filled therewith, they divide.4  But is that not obvious? — It is necessary [to state this] only when it [the cavity or the wall] slopes to one side: I might have thought that it [the article found there] had slid down.5  Therefore we are taught [otherwise].

BUT IF IT [THE HOUSE] USED TO BE RENTED TO OTHERS, EVEN IF ONE FINDS [ARTICLES] IN THE HOUSE ITSELF, THEY BELONG TO HIM. Why so: let it be assigned to the last [tenant]?6  Did we not learn: Money found in front of cattle dealers at all times is [accounted as] tithe; on the Temple Mount, it is hullin; in [the rest of] Jerusalem, at any other part of the year, it is hullin; at the Festival season, it is tithe.7  And R. Shemaia b. Ze'ira observed thereon: What is the reason? Because the streets of Jerusalem8  were swept daily. This proves that we assume: the earlier [losses] have gone, and these [coins] are different ones. So here too, the earlier [deposits] have gone, and these belong to the last [tenant]?9  — Said Resh Lakish on the authority of Bar Kappara: It means e.g., that he [the owner of the house] had let it as a temporary lodging to three people [simultaneously].10  Then you may infer that the halachah agrees with R. Simeon b. Eleazar even in respect to a multitude of Israelites!11  — But, said R. Manassia b. Jacob, it means e.g., that he had let it as a temporary lodging to three gentiles. R. Nahman said in Rabbah b. Abbahu's name: It may even refer to three Jews.12  What then is the reason? It is because the man who lost it despairs thereof, arguing thus: 'Let us see, no other person but these was with me. Now, I have many times mentioned it in their presence so that they should return it to me, but they did not do so. Will they now return it!13  Had they intended to return it, they would have returned it to me,14  hence the reason of their not returning it to me is that they intend stealing it.'15  Now, R. Nahman follows his general reasoning. For R. Nahman said: If a person sees a sela'

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Shewing that it was left there long ago. [An anticipation of modern archaeological research, v. Krauss, S., Hasoker, I, p. 131.]
  2. If a knife is found in a wall cavity, if the handle points inwards, it belongs to the owner of the house; outwards, it is assumed to have been placed there by a passer-by; similarly with a purse and its straps or laces.
  3. I.e., to articles where this criterion is inapplicable.
  4. Half belongs to the house owner and half to the finder.
  5. But was originally at the upper portion of the cavity, and the ownership should be determined accordingly.
  6. I.e., let the last tenant be assumed the owner (Tosaf.).
  7. Shek. VII, 2. If money is found in Jerusalem, the question arises, what is its status — is it ordinary secular coins (hullin) or tithe money? This was because the second-tithe (v. infra p. 517. n. 5) had to be eaten in Jerusalem or its monetary equivalent expended there, which money likewise was governed by the law of second tithe. Now, most of the flesh eaten in Jerusalem was bought with second tithe money, and generally took the form of peace offerings; when one could not stay long enough in Jerusalem to expend all the tithe money there, he would distribute it amongst the poor, or give it to his friends in Jerusalem. Consequently. if money is found in front of cattle dealers, whatever the time of the year, it is assumed to be of the second tithe. On the other hand, if found on the Temple Mount, we assume it to be hullin, even at Festival time, when most of the money handled is tithe, because the greater part of the year is not Festival, and then ordinary hullin is in circulation, and this money might have been lost before the Festival. But if found in the other streets of Jerusalem, a distinction is drawn, as stated in the text.
  8. But not the Temple Mount.
  9. Because before a tenant leaves his house he makes a thorough search to see that he leaves nothing behind.
  10. In addition to the tenant (so it appears to be understood by Tosaf. a.l. s.v. [H] and [H]). Therefore whichever tenant lost it would have abandoned it in despair of its being returned, in accordance with the view stated by R. Simeon b. Eleazar supra 24a: three constitute a multitude.
  11. V. supra 24a.
  12. And still it does not follow that the halachah rests with R. Simeon b. Eleazar.
  13. After a lapse of some time. Surely not!
  14. And not assumed that it was lost by a former tenant.
  15. Thus in these special circumstances the loser may despair of the return thereof. But normally we do not follow the ruling of R. Simeon in the case of the majority of Israelites.

Baba Mezi'a 26b

fall from one of two people [who are together], he must return it. What is the reason? He who dropped it does not despair thereof, for he argues: 'Let us see, no other person but this one was with me; then I will seize him and say to him, You did take it.' But in the case of three1  he need not return it. What is the reason? — Because he who dropped it certainly abandons it, arguing to himself, 'Let us see: there were two with me; if I accuse the one he will deny it, and if I accuse the other, he will deny it.'

Raba said: As for your ruling that in the case of three he need not return it, that holds good only if it [the coin lost] lacks the value of a perutah2  for each [of the three]; but if it contains the equivalent of a perutah for each person, he is bound to return it. What is the reason? They may be partners, and therefore do not abandon it.3  Others state. Raba said: Even if it is worth only two perutahs, he must return it. What is the reason? They may have been partners, and one renounced his portion in the owner's favour.4

Raba also said: If a man sees a sela' fall, if he takes it before abandonment, intending to appropriate it,5  he transgresses all [the following injunctions]: Thou shalt not rob;6  thou shalt restore them;7  and, thou mayest not hide thyself.8  And even if he returns it after abandonment, he merely makes him [the loser] a gift, whilst the offence he has committed stands.9  If he picks it up before abandonment, intending to return it, but after abandonment decides to appropriate it, he violates [the injunction,] thou shalt restore them.10  If he waits until the owner despairs thereof and then takes it, he transgresses only, thou mayest not hide thyself.11

Raba also said: If a man sees his neighbour drop a zuz in sand, and then finds and takes it, he is not bound to return it. Why? He from whom it fell abandons it, and even if he is seen to bring a sieve and sift [the sand], he may merely be reasoning. 'Just as I dropped something, so may another have lost an article, and I will find it.'12


GEMARA. R. Eleazar said: Even if they [the articles found] are lying on the [money-changer's] table [they belong to the finder]. We learnt: [IF HE FINDS IT] IN FRONT OF A MONEY-CHANGER, IT BELONGS TO HIM. [This implies,] but if it was on the table, it belongs to the money-changer.17  Then consider the second clause: BETWEEN THE STOOL AND THE MONEY-CHANGER, TO THE MONEY-CHANGER; [implying,] but if on the table, it is his [the finder's], But [in truth] no inference can be drawn from this.18  And whence does R. Eleazar know this? — Said Raba: Our Mishnah presented to him a difficulty. Why teach particularly, BETWEEN THE STOOL AND THE MONEY-CHANGER. IT BELONGS TO THE MONEY-CHANGER? Let it state. 'on the table,' or, 'If one finds [an article] in a money-changer's shop.' just as the first clause teaches, IF ONE FINDS [AN ARTICLE] IN A SHOP, IT BELONGS TO HIM. Hence it must follow that even if it lay on the table, it is his.19

IF ONE BUYS PRODUCE FROM HIS NEIGHBOUR etc. Resh Lakish said on R. Jannai's authority: This refers only

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. If it was dropped by one of three persons.
  2. Cf. Mishnah, infra 55a.
  3. When one discovers the coin gone, he thinks that his partner may have taken it as a practical joke. The stranger therefore picks it up before abandonment, and so must return it.
  4. Hence the two perutahs belong to two, i.e., a perutah for each, so that the article comes within the ambit of theft, if taken before abandonment.
  5. For it is regarded as theft if he picks it up then with the intention of keeping it.
  6. Lev. XIX, 13.
  7. Deut. XXII, 1.
  8. Ibid. 3-sc. from taking up and returning a lost article.
  9. Lit., 'he has committed it.'
  10. Because 'thou shalt not rob' is applicable only when the action itself is committed with that intention. [Nor is the injunction. 'thou mayest not hide thyself' applicable where the desire to appropriate it came to him after abandonment; v. Rashi and Tosaf.]
  11. Since he takes it after abandonment, he is not guilty of robbery, nor must he return it. But by waiting until then, he 'hid himself,' i.e., refrained from taking the find at the proper time.
  12. But he has no hopes of finding his own, which he has already abandoned. Therefore the finder need not return it.
  13. This refers to an article which cannot be identified. Since any customer might have dropped it, the shopkeeper has no particular claim to it; whilst the loser must have abandoned it, since it bears no mark of identification. Asheri, however, maintains that it refers even to an article which can be identified, because the loser argues to himself, 'In all probability the shopkeeper would have been the first to find it, and since I have complained of my loss in his presence and he has not responded, he evidently intends to keep it.' Therefore the loser abandons it, and so the finder may keep it. (V. supra 26a for a similar argument.)
  14. Customers having no access to that spot, the shopkeeper must have dropped it there.
  15. [The chest attached to the table in front of the money-changer, wherein the money was placed; v. Krauss, TA, II. 411.]
  16. The manner of tying, or the number of coins, can prove ownership.
  17. 'IN FRONT' denotes on the ground.
  18. It neither refutes nor supports R. Eleazar.
  19. I.e., these difficulties force him to translate 'IN FRONT OF A MONEY-CHANGER as meaning even on his table, though generally the phrase connotes on the ground.