If one finds an item which belongs to a house of idolatry, should or could they return it to the institution?

Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 266 and commentaries discuss the idolators and returning the list item to them. But I didn't see anyone discussing this case.

There are a couple of somewhat relevant questions on this site seen here and here for instance, but none seem to address this specific case.

2 Answers 2


Let's pick one particular case: suppose I find keys with a tag that says FIRST AVE PAGAN TEMPLE -- VAN #2.

Practically today, Jews are obligated to return lost property to anyone, including pagans; if nothing else, think of the reputation of God's name, and what goes around comes around, help-wise. So if the tag said Property of Bob the Plumber (who I know happens to be pagan), I'd return those keys.

The question then left is whether the temple's van is any different. We will assume the van is not used purely in-and-of itself as the tool of pagan worship. (Okay maybe the van takes some people to get there, but there's another way they could have gotten there, maybe it's going to the picnic ...) We then point to the Gemara in Nedarim 62b, that a rabbi actively sold firewood to a pagan temple. His colleagues asked "aren't they going to use that to burn their pagan sacrifices?" And he replied that it's much more likely it would simply be used to keep the building warm in the winter. In short, you could actively sell a "dual-use" item to a pagan temple.

If you can sell them firewood, you can sell them a van; and if you can sell them a van, you can return their lost van keys, knowing that whatever favor goes around, comes around.

  • +1 It's a very good svara. But I'm really hoping for something explicit.
    – user6591
    Jun 5, 2020 at 16:25

Well if it itself has anything to do with idolatry, there is in fact an obligation to destroy not only it, but even the place it was taken from,as mentioned in Mishneh Torah, Avodas Kochavim chapter 6:


It is a positive commandment to destroy false deities, all their accessories, and everything that is made for their purposes, as [Deuteronomy 12:2] states: "You shall surely destroy all the places [where the gentiles... served their gods]" and, as [implied by Deuteronomy 7:5]: "Rather, what you should do to them is tear down their altars."

In Eretz Yisrael, the mitzvah requires us to hunt after idol worship until it is eradicated from our entire land. In the diaspora, however, we are not required to hunt after it. Rather, whenever we conquer a place, we must destroy all the false deities contained within.

[The source for this distinction is Deuteronomy 12:3, which] states: "And you shall destroy their name from this place," [implying that] you are obligated to hunt false deities in Eretz Yisrael, but you are not obligated to do so in the diaspora.

Besides for that, there is a prohibition of benefiting from them:


It is forbidden to benefit from false deities, their accessories, offerings for them, and anything made for them, as [implied by Deuteronomy 7:26]: "Do not bring an abomination to your home."

Anyone who derives benefit from any of the above receives two measures of lashes: one because of the prohibition, "Do not bring an abomination...," and one because of the prohibition, "Let nothing which is condemned cling to your hand."

so even if it can be argued for some reason that returning it to someone is not benefit, and if (for some reason) the obligation to destroy it is disregarded, but you are at least causing the other person to benefit from it, and there is a prohibition to not put a stumbling block in front of the blind. There are many examples of this law, one that comes to mind is Hilchos Kilayim chapter 10 halacha 31


[The following laws apply when] a person dresses a colleague in kilayim. If the wearer acted consciously, he is liable for lashes73 and the person who dressed him is liable for "plac[ing] a stumbling block before the blind."74

and this prohibition (of not worshipping idols) also applies to non-jews, as mentioned in hilchos melachim umilchamoseihem chapter 9 halacha 2:


A gentile who worships false gods is liable provided he worships them in an accepted manner.

A gentile is executed for every type of foreign worship which a Jewish court would consider worthy of capital punishment. However, a gentile is not executed for a type of foreign worship which a Jewish court would not deem worthy of capital punishment. Nevertheless, even though a gentile will not be executed for these forms of worship, he is forbidden to engage in all of them.

We should not allow them to erect a monument, or to plant an Asherah, or to make images and the like even though they are only for the sake of beauty.

as well as the prohibition of a jew to cause a non-jew to sin, following under the category of not placing a stumbling block in front of the blind, applies as well, as demonstrated from this other example case from hilchos kilayim halacha #2

A Jew is forbidden to give his animal to a gentile to have him mate it with a forbidden species.8

and it's explained the rational in the note there:


Based on Bava Metzia 90a, the Radbaz and the Kessef Mishneh state that the difficulty is that it is forbidden to give a gentile instructions to perform a prohibited activity. According to the Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 10:6), it is forbidden for a gentile to crossbreed species. The Rama (loc. cit.:4), however, states that if the act is performed for the benefit of the gentile, there is no prohibition.

  • any reason for down-vote? does any1 disagree with the rambam? Jun 4, 2020 at 23:03
  • Hi. I didn't downvote as I appreciate the obvious effort you put into this answer, but the only reason I didn't mention in the question that the item is not assur bihanaa as a takruvei avoda zara or the like is because I thought it was obvious.
    – user6591
    Jun 5, 2020 at 0:01
  • @user6591 ok interesting, but is the object itself invoolved in any way in avodah zara? if so then it should forbidden to return it, since #1 we have an obligation to destroy it #2 we're not allowed to cause someone else to sin Jun 5, 2020 at 6:34

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