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In an episode of "Shtisel" there is a scene where a Rabbi quizzes a Yeshiva applicant about the halacha (I think he says it is in Eruvin) "If a thief steals from a friend and modifies (the object) then he owns it. The show only gives the start of the student's answer.

Now maybe this is completely made up for the TV show, and maybe I just mis-understood the question. But if the statement is even a little accurate, then I'd like somebody to explain what the halacha is, because it seems not to make sense. What if I steal Ploni's wagon with the intent to pad the seats, and then I pad them (making an improvement) so I own it? How is that right?

Now if the Gemorrah (or Mishna) says he owns it and has to pay compensation "from the best of his property" (as in some cases in Bava Kama) then it makes more sense. But to just keep it does not make sense to me.

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  • If I take a ring from you, is there a point where if I try to marry a woman with it it works? What point is that? – Double AA Apr 29 at 21:22
  • A pasuk reported in Mishna 7th chapter of bava kama. ......ומדת תשלומי ארבעה וחמשה אינה נוהגת אלא בשור ושה בלבד שנאמר (שמות כא) כי יגנוב איש שור או שה וטבחו או מכרו וגו' – kouty Apr 29 at 22:03
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The question is whether the original item must be "expunged" as-is, or whether simply the value has to be paid back. So the thief isn't gaining either way!

As you suggested -- yes, if you modified the item, you keep the item, but instead have to pay back more. The dialogue in the TV show is saying that it still doesn't seem fair that this item per se can stick around -- effectively the thief bought it at 100% markup, without asking the owner.

If I steal a block of wood worth $100 and the block is still sitting in my house, I'm obligated to return the said block, plus $100. Whereas if I stole that block and then turned it into a chair, I pay back $200. It's a more fair way, when you think about it -- otherwise we'd have to start figuring out the value of the chair now ... did your work mean you now have to pay less than $200 ... effectively ... but the critical point is that the verse reads veheshiv es hagzela asher gazal -- he shall return the stolen thing he stole, which the Talmud (Bava Kamma 94a) interprets as "ka'asher gazal" -- as it was stolen, i.e. the obligation to expunge the item itself, as-is, is only if it's in the original condition.

This is pretty clear in Maimonides' Robbery & Lost Property 1:5. And for lots more, it's the opening subject of the Talmud's Bava Kama Chapter 9. (The chapter is literally known as one who robs wood because it opens with one who robs wood but then carves it into implements should simply return the original value)

(Footnote: okay if you robbed it in broad daylight by force, you'd just pay back the original or its value. The penalty of an added 100% is if you snuck into their house or pickpocketed them. The main points are the same.)

(Double footnote: the question of literal expungement after modification, vs. restitution, came up with Swiss banks that received blocks of dental gold from Nazi Germany. For bonus points, check out Naska DeRav Papa -- items made of precious metals are considered "changed" if molten down, but blocks of precious metals are not considered "changed" if molded into something, as it's easily molten back to a plain old block.)

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  • Could you please add a source to this, or at least some location for further (more in depth) reading? – magicker72 Apr 29 at 23:56
  • This concept is discussed in numerous places in the Talmud. The last few perakim/chapters of Bava Kama discusses this, as well as masechet sukkah in the beginning of the 3th chapter. – Binyomin Apr 30 at 0:12
  • This explains the matter, and if there are no further answers, I will mark this as "the" answer, but not tomorrow evening or the next day of course. – Mark Fischler Apr 30 at 1:32

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