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The Return of Lost Property According to Jewish & Common Law: A Comparison
Rabbi Michael J. Broyde & Rabbi Michael Hecht

VIII. Is the Finder Entitled to Compensation?

According to both Jewish law87 and the common law88 the finder of lost property is not entitled to a reward, unless one is explicitly offered.89 However, each legal system enables the finder to recover reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the successful recovery and preservation of the goods.90 According to the common law, the finder is entitled to recover any loss caused by his involvement in recovery and return of the object, as long as the expenses are reasonable.91 Jewish law ruled that such a level of compensation is too high. A statement of the Mishnah is the basis for an involved discussion among the early commentaries concerning the remuneration that the finder may claim if he is a worker and his involvement with the lost article has caused him to abandon his own work.92 The Mishnah, states: "[i]f his lost time is worth a sela [a talmudic coin], he cannot demand a sela, but is paid as a laborer."93 The Talmud explains that he is paid as an "unemployed laborer" in his particular occupation.94 Two different measures of compensation are advanced to explain what an "unemployed laborer" is paid:

1] Many authorities, including Maimonides95 and Karo,96 explain that the amount an unemployed laborer is paid is arrived at by estimating how much less than full pay would an individual in the finder's profession would accept to remain idle rather than to work.

2] Other authorities ask how much less than his full pay would this worker accept to avoid his regular work and instead spend his time returning lost objects.97

By definition, both awards are less than the full value of lost time to which he would be entitled under the common law. In other words, Jewish law agrees with the common law and grants a full recovery for out of pocket expenses. For loss of time, which is not an out of pocket expense, but rather the loss of an anticipated profit, Jewish law refuses to concur with the common law and does not allow the full measure of recovery; since the finder is obligated by Jewish law -- divine commandment -- it is unfair to grant him full pay, when he is additionally receiving divine reward for doing a mitzvah.98 However, in a situation where the worker's employment is so competitive (or so easy) that a worker would only take time off for full pay, he is entitled to full pay.99

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