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Do I have an obligation to give back extra change I receive? Would it matter if the store owner or person giving it to me was a Jew?

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2 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

(Source: this article on Torah.org)

If the one who made the mistake is a Jew: Absolutely yes, you must return it.

If the one who made the mistake is a non-Jew: there's lots of discussion, and it appears it's not so clear. But remember: doing so anyways will create a Kiddush Hashem (and is probably the right thing to do).

To quote a relevant story retold by Rabbi Pinchos Bodner:

Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt"l recounted that when he was a Rabbi in Lithuania before World War 2, he was asked a question by a resident of his community. The man had purchased stamps from the local post office, and had received more stamps that he had paid for. For such a poor man, the extra stamps were no trifle matter. Nonetheless, Rav Kaminetsky suspected that perhaps the postal clerk was testing the rabbi. This suspicion was confirmed a short time later when the clerk gave him too much change. The rabbi returned the extra money. Many years after the Nazis came and destroyed the community, the rabbi heard that this clerk had saved many Jews, testifying that he tested everybody to assess their honesty, the only trustworthy people were the Jews!

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You should be fair to everyone with whom you have dealings, Jew or non-Jew!

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Toby, welcome to the site! I hope you stick around and enjoy it; you might also wish to register your username so as to have a better site experience. I've taken the liberty of editing your answer to be more in line with the polite discourse people have come to expect on this site. You will probably want to edit it further to provide a source for your claim that fairness is necessary and that fairness implies that extra change should be returned: an unsourced answer is just your say-so, which is, for those of us who don't know you, pretty much worthless, with all due respect. –  msh210 Dec 19 '11 at 15:53
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Halacha does indeed differentiate between business mistakes made by Jews, and business mistakes made by non-Jews. While I agree with yydl that honesty is usually the best policy, there are times when there is a practical difference. What if the store clerk gives you too much change, and you only discover this once you are a thousand miles away? Must you return the money? Track down an address and mail a check? If the store owner is a Jew, then yes. If not, no. –  user1095 Dec 19 '11 at 15:58
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