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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).
Getting the Wrong Clothes from a Dry Cleaner
The members of our beis midrash became engrossed in an unusual din Torah because of its direct connection to our sugya. Reuven collected his suit from a dry cleaner and paid for it but was shocked to discover that the suit was not his! He asserted that he was quite sure it wasn’t his and demanded compensation, whereas the cleaner insisted that Reuven had given him the very same suit to be serviced.
The beis din hearing the case based their verdict on our sugya: Our Gemora addresses the possibility of a person, similar to our Reuven, giving a garment to a worker, such as a cleaner, dyer or
tailor, to be professionally serviced. If the professional returns him another’s article, claiming it’s Reuven’s, the latter must not use it.
Rambam adds that he must not use the other’s belongings till that person “returns the missing item and takes his own” (Hilchos Gezeilah VaAveidah, 6:6). In other words, Reuven may take the article home but mu’tn’t use it and should wait for its owner to appear with his missing property.
Now, if Reuven is forbidden to use the article, why must he take it home? Why can’t he blame the professional for losing his garment and demand compensation? Surely he recognizes his clothing better than anyone, so why don’t we believe his claim?
Still, the general rule of torts applies even here: “Anyone demanding payment or property must produce evidence.” Reuven must show clear proof that the article is his and the cleaner, having been paid for his usual service, does not have to remunerate him. Nonetheless, Reuven is forbidden to use the item: He knows it’s not his and must not use another’s property without permission (Piskei Din Yerushalayim, Dinei Mamonos Uveirurei Yahadus, V, p. 141).
AMaLeK Serves as a Mnemonic Aid
Amalek’s name as an acronym for remembering Tamudic topics:
The Gemora sometimes offers acronyms, acrostics or other sorts of words or phrases as devices to remember subjects, rulings or the like having some common denominator. Our Gemora links the topics of a guarantor (arev), who may testify for a debtor; a lender (malveh), who may testify for a debtor; a purchaser (lokeach), who may testify for another purchaser from the same vendor; and a joint principal debtor (kablan), who – according to one opinion – may testify for a debtor (all depending on certain conditions) and connects them, rather controversially using the letters of AmaLeK as a mnemonic aid.
In his commentary on our sugya, Rabbi Yaakov Emdin wonders how the Gemora could thus use Amalek, whose memory we are commanded to erase (Devarim 25:19), and asserts that we may use the name to memorize Torah, “extracting the spark of holiness in him.” Indeed, he contends, the verse hints we may do so: “…Erase the memory of Amalek from under the sky; do not forget!” (ibid). The verse seems to indicate we may use Amalek’s name to prevent forgetting the details of Torah. The Gemora in Gittin 57b also alludes to Amalek’s spark of holiness: Haman was descended from Agag, king of Amalek (Esther 3:1; Shemuel I, 15:8) but “Haman’s grandchildren learned Torah in Benei Berak” (see the expanded version of Rabbi Y. Emdin’s commentary in the Wagschal edition of the Gemora).
Apropos Haman, Beis Yosef (O.C. 690) cites Rabbi Aharon of Luneil, author of Orchos Chayim, that the children’s custom to scrawl Haman’s name on stones and knock them together while hearing the Megillah comes from a midrash on the verse “…I shall erase the memory of Amalek” (Shemos 17:14): “Even”, stresses the Midrash, “off the trees and stones.” Hence, he concludes, we must not ridicule the custom.
Erasing Amalek while testing pen:
Kav Hayashar (Ch. 99) recounts that HaGaon Rav Heshel of Krakow would test his quill by writing Amalek or Haman and striking the name out as a reminder of the commandment to erase his memory.