Shabbat Parashat Acharei Mot Kedoshim| 5770
Ask the Rabbi: Finding a Credit Note
Question: I found a credit note of an (Israeli) supermarket in that supermarket. May I use it?
Answer: First one needs to do determine from whom the note likely fell. The gemara (Bava Metzia 26b) talks about finding lost items in a store and distinguishes between the part of the store that is frequented by customers and the proprietor’s area. Assuming you found it in the customer area and especially considering that credits are usually ripped up after being redeemed, you can assume it fell from a customer (unless you found it next to some counter on the worker’s side).
Next, we must discuss whether you should try to return the note to the person who lost it. This depends on whether it has a siman (a distinguishing characteristic, so that one can prove that it was he who lost it). Assuming the credit note is for an amount that corresponds to the value of a specific item (as opposed to a coupon that is like a gift certificate of a set denomination), it seems that this is a siman (based on Bava Metzia 23b). If so, you should put up a note in an appropriate place in or around the store or give a customer service worker your phone number in case someone comes to look for it. If the store is being unhelpful or it is clear from the type of store it is that you will not be able to return it, you can assume that the person who dropped the note will give up hope of finding it. (It would have been nice if you waited a few moments to see if someone was looking around the store for it, although this was probably not halachically required.)
The credit note is like a partially open check (i.e., regarding its recipient) of the store. This type of “document” was prevalent in previous centuries, and the poskim called it a mamrani. It was usually written by a borrower who gave it to a lender to ease collecting the loan, as he could collect directly from the borrower or easily sell it to someone else. The Pitchei Teshuva (Choshen Mishpat 54:1) has a lengthy discussion of the Acharonim’s opinions about a case where a lender was given a mamrani, lost it, and asked the borrower, who knew he had not paid to pay him even though he was unable to return the mamrani. One of the main issues was whether the lender could write a shovar (receipt) that effectively said that whoever would present the mamrani for payment would no longer be able to receive payment, thus saving the borrower from paying twice. He cited the Tzemach Tzedek as acknowledging a custom that in such cases, an announcement would be made in the local shul/community that anyone who possessed this mamrani of the borrower in question must produce it within a certain amount of time or no longer be able to. The poskim’s general orientation is that a mamrani is not like cash or an object of value but a device for having loans paid, either to the lender or to the person who bought the mamrani from him. Thus, it was improper, albeit possible, for a finder to receive payment.
This situation is likely to continue to exist regarding credits at local or small stores, where there is a relationship between the proprietor and at least many customers. In such a case, if the customer said he lost the note, the proprietor is likely to believe him and honor it. If that happens, the note is not like money, which if lost is lost, but rather is a reminder of a debt. In that case, one who uses someone else’s credit is cheating the store. In contrast, in large, impersonal supermarkets, if one loses the note, he will not receive the credit, and the supermarket has “gained” by not paying its debt to the customer. Another who redeems it just replaces the deserving recipient and is not causing the store a loss. The store views their note as something of value, which can be used, sold to someone else, … or lost and found. If the finder cannot return it to the one who lost it, he may keep it and use it as he does if he finds a normal object that has no simanim.
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