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Assume a Jew received by mistake a non-Jew's mail containing a check. The Halacha prohibits the return of an Avaidas Akum meaning an object which was lost by a non-Jew, unless it is done to bring out a Kiddush Hashem or for the Jew's benefit.

In this case the non-Jew will never know that a Jew took from his time and deposited it into the non-Jew's mailbox - so there would be no Kiddush Hashem.

On the other hand however, being that the Jew won't cash the check for himself anyhow, which means he won't gain in keeping it, so to just keep it might be Middas Sedom and would not be fulfilling the Halacha of not returning a non-Jew's item.

In addition, if the Jew doesn't forward the check, the non-Jew will likely be able to replace the check anyhow.

So what shall the Jew do? Rip the check or let it arrive at its owner to enjoy?

  • It does not cost anything to drop it in the mailbox instead of the trash. Your own benefit would be training yourself to do the right thing. If you do not know who it is, then the person could be Jewish. Another possibility is that you could be causing a Jew extra trouble in replacing it. – sabbahillel Nov 7 '17 at 4:45
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    Can you add a source for "the halacha prohibits the return", as opposed to the halacha just not requiring you to return it? Those are very different things. (I'm not aware of halacha forbidding returning a non-Jew's property.) – Monica Cellio Nov 7 '17 at 4:45
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    1) How do you know that the person is an Aku"m - a worshipper of stars and zodiac. Even if he is a c-tian, not all agree that that's idol worship. 2) How do you know there's a cheque inside. Presumably the envelope was opened in error. In order to correct the error, things should be restored as close as possible to the original state. And definitely the cheque should be sent on to its payee. Otherwise it could be a form of theft, even if not cashed. – Epicentre Nov 7 '17 at 5:45
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    "so just to keep it would be Middas Sedom" what is that, and why would it apply here? – mevaqesh Nov 7 '17 at 6:29
  • @MonicaCellio there is indeed such a halacha, see my answer below for sources – mbloch Nov 7 '17 at 7:39
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As context, there is indeed a Gemara (Sanhedrin 76b) which prohibits returning a lost item to a gentile. The gemara seems to assume that it would be adding to the property that goyim stole from Jews. Rashi explains “One who returns a lost item to a gentile — he made a gentile equal to a Jew, and shows that he does not consider the returning of lost items a Divine commandment, for he does so even to a gentile, about whom he was not commanded.” Artscroll explains the prohibition to be following one's subjective sense of good and proper instead of Hashem's commandments.

The Rambam codifies this halacha (Hilchot gzela v'aveda 11:3) but adds it is permitted

if one returns to sanctify God's name, so that others will praise the Jewish people and know that they are trustworthy, this is praiseworthy.

In the case you describe

  • since the check is not likely to be stolen money and
  • since the Jew could make a kiddush Hashem out of it (by forwarding the check with a note signed in his name)

I see no reason not to return it in fulfillment of the mitzva of doing what is right and good in the eyes of Hashem (Dvarim 6:18).

And as fellow MY user Kazi bácsi pointed out (see here)

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Bava Metzi’ah 2:5) impresses upon us that performing Kiddush Hashem is in fact imperative outweighing even the Halakhah. Many of our greatest Sages went to extreme lengths in order to sanctify God’s name before a gentile.

Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach orders his students to return a jewel to a gentile even though by Jewish Law they were entitled to keep it. Let us add that the gentile was apparently an idol worshiper and a thief. But no gentile is too lowly or corrupt for the power of Kiddush Hashem to take effect. How important it was for Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach to hear a gentile exclaim the great words “Blessed is the Merciful the God of the Jews”!

Of course, as for any other practical case which might happen to you, you should ask a rav.

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  • There is a very different notion of what a true akum is, today. As I understand, in the U.S., the majority of non-Jews, don't fit that definition, so this prohibition may not apply. – DanF Nov 7 '17 at 14:48
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HaRav Yitschak Silverstein Shelitah answered: הרי הצ'ק הגיע מגוי ואם לא יתן לו הרי מרויח לגוי השני ומאי חזית ואדרבה עדיף להחזיר כי אולי יהיה קצת קידוש השם

Since a non Jew sent it (in a case where the envelope came from a place that has רובא עכו''ם), not giving it to the receiver would be the payer's gain and you giving him this gain. Rather give it over and maybe there will be some kidush Hashem.

I add that the best thing to do would be to write on the envelope that so and so handled it and stuck it back into the mailbox.

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