Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lesson 2 Recap:

Thank you for attending our second lesson of You Be The Judge II. Here’s a quick recap of the session:

The Accidental Treasure: A Secular Analysis

We began with the case of Corliss v. Wenner. In this scenario, an employee of the Anderson Asphalt Paving Company found several rolls of gold coins concealed underneath soil that he was excavating. American law classifies such a find as “mislaid property;” this means that it was intentionally placed in its location, but then the original owner either forgot or was otherwise unable to retrieve it. If the original owner cannot be found, secular law provisionally awards the mislaid property to the current property owner rather than to the finder.

The Accidental Treasure: A Talmudic Analysis

We examined a question addressed to Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman concerning a worker who found several barrels of gold coins. A key point of Jewish law is that a person must have knowledge of an object in order to accept ownership of that object. Thus, a homeowner would not necessarily gain title over treasure found on the property. We briefly reviewed two other cases in which a business transaction included a hidden value, and established that according to this Talmudic principle, the person who first became aware of the value is its rightful owner.

In the case of finding a treasure underground, the Talmud differentiates based on its location- in an “old wall” or a “new wall.” The former likely dates back to antiquity, bearing no connection whatsoever to the current homeowner. If the latter, however, probably belonged to the homeowner’s parents or grandparents, then the homeowner would automatically gain possession through the laws of inheritance.

Otherwise, the finder would have a valid claim. It is also necessary to look into employment laws before deciding the final possessor, since one could argue that if someone were being paid to work for a day, such a windfall would defer to the employer. According to Jewish law, if a worker were being paid to do a specific task, such as find treasures, then the treasure would obviously belong to the employer. And employee however, who is hired to perform some task unrelated to the search for treasure would rightfully be able to keep any secondary objects while performing the work-related duties.

A Mystical Understanding of Ownership

We concluded our class with a brief overview of a mystical perspective on ownership. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic Movement, taught that every object contains a mystical reality. Within every object lies “divine sparks,” comprised of G-dly energy that constitutes the essential being of that object. Every individual is responsible for elevating the divine sparks association with the spiritual roots of that person’s soul. Te objects containing those sparks become that person’s physical possessions. Ownership represents the association between the soul and the divine sparks present in the owned object. Thus, Torah law does not create ownership, but reveals and responds to this mystical reality.

Thank you again for joining, and I very much look forward to seeing you next week for lesson three.

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