Author ORCID Identifier

Michael Broyde 0000-0001-9960-7256

Document Type


Publication Date



Common law, Jewish law, New York law, Lost property, Bailment, Talmud, Relinquishment, Abandoned property, Ethical duties


This article compares the legal rules and jurisprudence of the American common law and Jewish law in the area of finding and returning lost or abandoned property, illustrating the interplay between the purely legal and ethical components of the respective legal systems. Surprisingly enough, the differences between the two systems are not usually significant; they follow the same basic legal principles, and typically lead to the same results. There are, however, two major exceptions: Jewish law imposes a duty to rescue the lost property of one's neighbor, while the common law does not require that one initiate the process by retrieving the article. Thus according to Jewish law, when one happens to stumble across lost property, one must intervene to retrieve it; according to the common law one need not. Second, Jewish law imposes ethical duties as part of its legal mandate, a practice the common law does not follow.

This article approaches the issues raised in returning lost property in the order they are encountered as property is lost or found. The first two sections discuss the issue of defining "lost property"; the next four sections discuss the obligations of the finder; the subsequent two sections discuss the legal relationship between the finder and the original owner; and the last section discusses miscellaneous issues related to lost property.

First Page


Publication Title

The Journal of Law and Religion