Thursday, October 08, 2009

Taking another’s Coat in a Synagogue

By: Meoros HaDaf HaYomi

Our sugya explains that if a person hung his coat somewhere, found it missing and, next to that place, discovered a similar garment, he must not use it, even knowing his own was removed by mistake, as no one may use another’s property without permission (Shulchan Aruch, C.M. 136:2).

Taking another’s Footwear at a Mikveh or Bathhouse

The Gaon of Buczacz zt’l, author of Kesef HaKodoshim on Shulchan Aruch (ibid) devoted much discussion to the topic of people taking each other’s clothes at a mikveh, bathhouse or – to update the context – sauna or swimming pool. Till a few decades ago, streets in many European towns were unpaved and at the entrance of public buildings a place was provided for people to leave their muddy galoshes. HaGaon Rav Y.M. Epstein, author of Aroch HaShulchan (ibid), relates: “In places frequented by the public, where they leave their galoshes at the entrance and often inadvertently exchange them, they don’t mind and each one wears the other’s till being able to return them. There is no reason to consider this as thievery since their custom proves mutual consent.”

Is other wear regarded differently?
People usually don’t mind temporarily switching galoshes. Concerning more personal or representative wear, though, such as shoes or a coat, a person may resent another’s donning them. However, HaGaon Rav Shemuel HaLevi Wosner (Shevet HaLevi, VI, 38) mentions that boys in large yeshivos often unwittingly take each other’s hats. By the logic expressed in Aroch HaShulchan, they may wear each other’s hats till having a chance to return them, and even never having a chance, we assume that the original owner harbors no resentment.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, though, treated the question of jackets switched in a synagogue (Responsa Igros Moshe, O.C. V, 9) and asserted that Aroch HaShulchan permits their temporary use where the custom proves mutual consent. Where there is no definite custom, however, we must apply the Gemora forbidding using another’s property without permission.

A notice to allow one who took your garment to use it: Rav Feinstein further stresses that the leaders of every congregation should record and publicize a community regulation, displayed on a prominent bulletin board that people who inadvertently exchange clothing allow each other to use it until returned.

The Chazon Ish’s cane:
To cite an appropriate anecdote, the Chazon Ish zt”l once noticed that someone had switched canes with him. Wanting to use the other’s temporarily, he hung a notice in shul, saying “I beg permission to use your cane till you have an opportunity to return mine” (II, Letter 155).