Brooklyn, NY – Halachic Analysis: The Case of The Simpson Lost Jewelry Ad

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    Simpson Jewelers' Jewish Press ad. Click to EnlargeBrooklyn, 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

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    20 COMMENTS

    1. would’nt it be nice if all repair shops did this……..Jewish Press,Hamodia,Yated seem to be popular papers around B.P……. maybe they could give discounts for these types of ads

    2. My rebbe has a fork on his front window sill, so I asked him about it. He said that he found it on his front lawn, some neighborhood kid must have carried it out of their parents’ house and dropped it, so he’s got it there and he’s waiting for the owner. I asked him how long ago was this, and he said 17 years! It’s not a silver fork, it’s not even silver plated…but he’ll have it there biz mashiach kumt!

      • Just in case the Kugel gets to be too hot to handle, –on a particular week at the Tish– It could be borrowed, I presume. It must be checked, Halachically!

      • This is pure naarishkeit! Let your “rebbe” do as Yair just explained…nobodys ever going to look into this window let alone look near there for a forgotten fork lost 17 yrs ago. Could it be some1’s merely looking (PERVERSELY I MUST ADD) for some KAVOD?????

        • I presume that putting it in the front window is the best and most efficient way for him to simultaneously be machriz the fork and to keep it safe.
          It happens to be that my rebbe doesn’t look for kavod, so I have no reason to assume that is the case. He’s 75, he’s a millionaire and lives in a small house in Monsey that hasn’t been redecorated since the early 70’s, he knows Shulchan Aruch cold and has no problem answering any sheila correctly, but yet has never taken a position as a rav, dayan or rosh yeshiva. He used to give the smicha shiur in my yeshiva after he retired, but wouldn’t take any payment for it.
          Even though I’ve met many geniuses during my lifetime, I went to a school for gifted children, every member of my extended family is of genius level intelligence, my IQ has been measured in the 180’s, but my rebbe is the most intelligent person that I know, hands down. If such a person were to be seeking kavod, I’m sure he would be getting it and everyone would know his name!

          • Honestly: why do you bother responding to that malcontent? He can’t fathom that there is a notion of law and there is, furthermore, a Jewish notion of Lifnim Mishuras HaDin. As far as we’re concerned, that fork’s garbage; it’s not silver or silver-plated, it’s plain and it’s been lost for 17 years; nevertheless the rebbe understands that it is not his to discard and not his to derive pleasure of. Even after all this time.
            But if some dumb misnaged has never understood the concepts behind the three Bavas in Nizukin, it’s not your problem. Most of the laws are learned from the Torah, but there is an overriding rule that governs it all: the idea that we don’t own our possessions, and if it’s been given to us rightfully, then it is ours to use; and if it comes into our possession unrightfully–i.e. found property–it is just not ours to determine its use or disuse.
            Your rebbe I’m sure never intended for the world to flock around the fork to find out its mystical mystery; if you happened to notice it and asked, then you got to share the story with the world; but it’s beyond cynical–it’s indeed mean-spirited–to claim that some Jew, ANY Jew is doing his private little bit for kavod…

    3. Years ago a childs doll stroller ended up on my property. For about 2 years I was endlessly finding the stroller removed from it’s place up in the closet by a very insistent little girl who thought it was her unadultered right to play with it. After going through this for 2 years, one day when putting it back in the closet the light hit the doll stroller in a peculiar way, and all of a sudden a telephone number that was written in a dark color marker on a dark part of the stroller a name and telephone number. The people were very happy to get the doll stroller back and I was even happier than they to finally give back the stroller to it’s rightful owner.

    4. This is (also) a state unclaimed property law mandate. Under stae unclaimed property laws they property reverts to the state. I would assume that this is what prompted the ad. With states pressed for monay they are on the lookout for additional sources of income. One method is to pursue monies that they are leagally entitled to.

      • Oy vey, it doesn’t say yoilichom leyam hamelech, but yehei munach ad shebo Eliyohu. Giving it to the state is like throwing it in the yam hamelech. But hey, dina demalcusa dina.

      • Yes, this sounds like an unclaimed property issue. I get upset with so-called halachik analysis and what the halachik rights are when this property simply may not be theirs under state law.

    5. I’m impressed and if I had any money to buy Jewelry, I’d go to this store because of this. I wonder what the other Jewlers do with long unclaimed items. I assume like the dry cleaners they are only obligated to hold an item for a limited time.

    6. i see phone numbers on must items wouldn’t it be cheaper and more affective to call up this people an ask them to pick it up?
      not everybody wants to see his name in the paper.
      and maybe he should know not to go to this tore anymore!
      and why wouldn’t they comment to VIN but never hesitate to publish private phone numbers. what an outrage in the name of a mitzva.

      • Why the need to be outraged? Can’t you dan someone lekaf zchus. You don’t know the answer to your questions but what you do know is that they went the extra mile. You enforce the saying that “no good deed ever goes unpunished” or “why do good it will be mocked anyway”.

    7. I dont understand the outcry. This is an amazing thing for Simpsons to do. Of course its an advertisement but hey!! its called thinking out of the box. Basically they are sitting with jewelry that they cant do anything about and frankly its a pity that these people forgot about it. Somebody has a Cartier watch sitting there. Dont you think they will be really happy to find it? It’s from quite a few years ago and they probably accused the cleaning lady of taking it but guess what? Its sitting by Simpsons all these years. 🙂 I had a similiar situation with a table cloth and boy was I happy to find it @ the china man . So yeah its a big deal and hats off to Simpsons Jewelers who also happen to be the nicest people around.

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