Let's say a person moves out and leaves some belongings (for instance food, books, other personal items) for public consumption - be it with or without a note that it is for free (why would anyone put his things out like that if not for the purpose of giving it away). But also another example: There is a good knife in one drawer that is in a public kitchen. It is not closed and after I take and use it, I return it in the next morning after washing/cleaning it into its respective drawer.

Living in my current environment it is bound to happen that some things just lay around 'for free'. Am I free to take these things (and maybe, once they served their use e.g books, recyclable items) and offer them for free back again?

What does Chazal say about this. I'm sure that back in those days where there was probably much less privacy and 'private enclosed property' than nowadays, this issue must've been discussed somewhat extensively.

  • 1
    Sounds like an Eilu Metzios (2nd perek of Bava Metzia) question!
    – alicht
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 22:55
  • to leave something for public consumption is not to make it abandoned. It is the owning of the community. E.g. If someone leave a book in the street and says to people that it's abandoned, anyone can take it for himself. But if he says that is for the community, no one can take it for himself.
    – kouty
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 11:08
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    @alicht : got a quick overview on that topic in the gemarah youtu.be/WlPe5WeZG0A If I got it right; if the object is scattered its abandoned and lost (say an item on a road which fell out of a car or a pocket) but if its piled nicely and organised, it shouldnt be touched or taken as a possession. koutys information says that an object in a public domain (like cooking equipment) is the communities property implying it can be borrowed and be put back in its place after use.
    – user16556
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 15:15
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    I VTCed, please clarify what do you mean by "some things just lay around 'for free'". Taking abandoning items is surely allowed, but what is "public property" in your view?
    – Al Berko
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 16:53
  • Offered some concrete examples, they got edited out though. Question got decently answered so I don't mind the close. ('Public property' - actually the entire world. But in todays legislation I'd say an open space where any kind of items might lie freely to take as they are not secured. It's a bit of a tricky definition though since even in that case it could be private, eg carefully stacked sacks of grain on a farm like mentioned in the video)
    – user16556
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 19:11

1 Answer 1


BusinessHalacha.com has a wonderful series called "Lost and Found", well worth checking out.
"Lost & Found #8" seems to address your question:

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 25b; 31a) teaches that when someone is careless with his property and knowingly leaves it in an insecure place, it is called aveidah midaas (knowing loss) and you are not required to do hashavas aveidah (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 261:4).

Nonetheless, the Shulchan Aruch writes that the item does not become hefker (ownerless). Although you are not required to collect and return said property, you may not take them for yourself. The Tur and Rema write, on the other hand, that a person who recklessly abandons his items renders them hefker and you may take them.

BusinessHalacha.com continues:

Machane Ephraim (Hil. Zechiyah Mihefker #6) explains that this depends on the evaluation of the circumstances. For example, if the items were old and worn, they certainly would be hefker, whereas items in good condition would depend on this dispute (see Pischei Choshen, Aveidah 4:12).

If the items were not abandoned, even if not left securely, e.g. a can of balls was left in the locker room, they do not become hefker.

See also: "Lost & Found # 20", "#35", "#38 (summary)"

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