Someone who was on a supermarket check-out line accidentally took the bag of groceries belonging to another customer. He noticed this bag only when he got home. He is uncertain if the bag belongs to the customer before or after him.

He called the store, gave the store info about when he shopped there and thought that they might have a record of the transactions, in a way to track down the two customers. Unfortunately, both customers paid by cash, so there is no record.

He posted an "ad" on the community's lost-and-found web site hoping that someone may respond. It's been about 3 weeks, and he has posted several ads. No response.

It seems that the items don't really belong to the store, as a customer has paid for them. How long should he post these ads? Can he use them, as we may assume ye'ush - the lack of a response, perhaps, indicates that these items are hefker?


At first glance, one would probably say groceries can be considered lost items without simanim as groceries that one purchased from the store are going to look the same as the stuff in the store. As such, there would be no obligation to even attempt to find their owner and the finder could keep them.

This may not be exactly true, though, as the unique combination of groceries in the bag could potentially be a siman. This would probably depend on how unique the items in the bag are and possibly some other factors. I would encourage you to ask a rabbi if this seems like a potential siman (and you are in an area that is largely populated by Jews [see next point]).

Nonetheless, there is no obligation to return the lost items of non-Jews (S.A. C.M. 266:1). Additionally, one who finds a lost item in an area (in this case the supermarket) which is mostly populated by non-Jews, it is assumed that the owner will have given up hope of recovering the items (S.A. C.M. 259:3) and the finder may keep it.

So it seems that if you find another person's grocery bag in your car, if the bag contains pretty normal stuff or if you are in a typical supermarket outside of Israel which is patronized mostly by non-Jews, you can assume that the original purchaser of the groceries has given up hope of recovering them and you may keep them yourself. On the other hand, if you are in a supermarket which is mostly patronized by Jews (e.g. many kosher supermarkets even outside Israel), you should probably ask a rabbi if the contents of the bag are unique enough to be considered a siman.

In general, there is no maximum length of time you are required to guard lost items with a siman. For easily replaceable items, you can sell them or note their value (by going back to the supermarket to check on their price) and use them (S.A. C.M. 267:24). If the owner ever comes back and provides the siman, you would repay them the value.

  • You raised some interesting points, here. The store is patronized mainly by Jews, and is Jewishly owned. The items are non-perishable, in this case. But, regarding your last paragraph, about using the items - what if they are both perishable and it' something that I don't want to use? I guess then, it' s considered a loss?
    – DanF
    Jan 24 '17 at 14:50
  • @DanF You can sell them and return their value to the owner when he comes back for it.
    – Daniel
    Jan 24 '17 at 15:20

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