Brooklyn, NY – For over sixty years, Brooklyn based Simpson Jewelers has been selling and repairing fine watches and jewelry. And if you left an item at the store to be repaired forty years ago, the Simpson family is still waiting for you to pick it up.
In an unusual move, Simpsons Jewelers has placed a large ad in this week’s Jewish Press, listing some 230 items that were left for repair but have yet to be picked up by their owners. Some of these items were left at the store as little as four years ago, but numerous items on the list were left over three decades ago. The oldest repair on the list, a bracelet, dates back to 1968.
According to Simpsons, they have made many unsuccessful attempts to contact the customers who brought in the items. While some of the items on the list have names, addresses and phone numbers associated with them, others only have partial contact information.
All items on the list must be picked up at Simpsons on 13th Avenue in Boro Park by June 12, 2010.
VIN News reached out to Simpson who refused to comment about their ad placement.
This, of course, is a teaching moment, and a number of questions ( twelve, actually) arise. Is Simpson’s obligated to do what it did? What Mitzvos, if any, are involved? What are the reasons for the Mitzvah? Are there any factors here that would say that the Mitzvah may not be applicable? What are Simpson’s responsibilities vis-à-vis the item? Are they obligated in taking out an ad? Is the Jewish Press the place to do it? What does it mean that the items must be picked up by June 12th? Are these items to be considered an “Avaida MiDaas” – a lost item that the owners purposefully neglected (See Shulchan Aruch CM 261:4) – and therefore there is no Mitzvah to return them? Can Simpson’s keep the stuff? Can they charge a storage fee? And finally, are there any really interesting pieces?
There are two positive Torah commandments involved in the Mitzvah of returning lost objects: “Lo suchal lehisalem” (Dvarim 22:1) – You may not look away and “Hashaiv tashivem” (Dvarim 22:3) – You shall surely return them. These Mitzvos are codified in the Choshain Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 259).
The reasons provided for this Mitzvah are fascinating. The Sefer HaChinuch (538) explains that everyone forgets. Not only that but animals tend to walk off and escape. What this Mitzvah does is to make all possessions as if they are still in the owner’s hands. It is as if they are never lost – each item having a built in GPS, so to speak, thousands of years before the GPS was even invented! Hashem’s laws are just and truly make the heart happy!
The Tzror HaMor (VaYikra 22:1), on the other hand, provides a different reason: This Mitzvah cultivates good character and compassion within the person. It follows along the lines of VeAhavta lerayacha Kamocha.
So according to both these reasons – Simpson’s is doing a good thing.
But perhaps these items are basically worthless. Does the Mitzvah still apply? Firstly, we should know that the parameters of worthless are: A shaveh Prutah (See Shulchan Aruch 259:2). What is the value of a Prutah? Silver closed last night (May 11th) at a little less than $20 a troy ounce ($19.62 actually, you would divide the price of silver by 1244) so the value of a shaveh prutah by weight would be between a penny and a half and 1.6 cents. All the items listed, therefore, would fit in.. [The Gemorah in Kiddushin 12b tells us that there are 768 Prutos to a silver shekel. Although shekel coins during the Mishna and later may have varied in sizes from 12 grams to 17 grams, the Chazon Ish writes that the 5 shkalim used for Pidyon HaBen are the weight of 96 grams of pure silver. This is the figure that most Poskim use – that a Shekel is the equivalent weight of 19.2 grams. A troy ounce has 31.1034768 grams. ]
What about if the owner gave up hope – especially after such a long time? The Gemorah (Bava Metziah 23b) tells us that after a long time the owner often gives up hope! The Shulchan Aruch rules this way too (SA CM 262:5 and 260:1). True. And in all probability the ones that date back to the sixties, seventies, and eighties, should probably be considered a long time. In Bava Metzia 24b Shmuel’s father gave back donkeys that were lost for over 12 months – and the Gemorah points out that this is considered a long time and what he did was lifnim mishuras hadin – above and beyond the law. However, that was for donkeys, it could be that jewelry at a jeweler 12 months may not be a long time. Dayan Blau in Pischei Choshain 2:26 rules that one cannot definitively provide the parameters of what is considered a long time – and it all depends on the item, circumstances, and place. Nonetheless, if Simpsons tries to return it, it would still be considered lifnim mishuras hadin.
What are Simpson’s responsibilities, generally speaking? The store would be responsible to make sure that the items are safe (See SA 260:9). According to a ruling by Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal (cited in Kuntrus Hashavas Aveida #22) the store would not be obligated to deliver the item to the owner – rather – just to inform him that they have it.
Do they have to take out an ad? It must certainly be publicized (SA CM 267:3) – notes should be put up in shuls. According to the aforementioned source, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that one is not obligated to spend money on the publicity. Certainly the ¾ page ad in the Jewish Press must have cost a pretty penny, and there was no obligation. If the Jewish Press has a lost and found section that they allow people to post for free, Rav Feinstein would recommend listing it (responsa 9 and 10). Since Simpsons may gain customers with the ad they ran as well, it might be considered a good way to advertise too. It may therefore be considered like a free ad in that sense and should be done, if they advertise regularly.
That June 12th date may seem a bit strange, because the Shulchan Aruch rules (267:15) that if it is not claimed – tehei munach ad sheyavo Eliyahu – he must hold it until Eliyahu the Prophet arrives. However, if it is clear that the owner will not claim it in the foreseeable future, Rav Feinstein (Igros Moshe CM Vol. II #45) rules that it may be evaluated (by three people) and sold, and all the pertinent details of the item should be written down, including when and where the finder got hold of the item. The finder can then reimburse the owner after he Eliyahu HaNavi comes.
Are the items to be considered an Avaida MiDaas? The short answer seems to be “no.” The Rambam and the Poskim cite examples of the owner putting an item in a precarious place that is dangerous to the item. No mention is made in the Poskim of someone neglecting to pick something up as being considered an Avaidah MiDaas. Also, the Sefer HaChinuch writes that it is in the nature of people to forget things, and this certainly fits into those parameters.
Can Simpsons keep the items? Based on the concept of “a long time” they probably could keep the items that date back to the eighties, and perhaps even the early nineties.. The more recent items might be questionable.
And the final question: Are there any interesting pieces? Don’t know, haven’t seen them. And Simpsons probably shouldn’t show them because part of the Mitzvah is to have the owner identify the pieces. If people like us get to see the items, then how can the owner show a SIman that it is his or hers?
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com