Halacha for Wednesday 18 Elul 5779 September 18 2019

A Thief Who Wishes to Repent-Continued

In the previous Halacha, we discussed the enactment of our Sages which dictates that when a thief comes to return a stolen object, one must refuse to accept it so that thieves do not become disheartened from repenting. Nevertheless, there are several details associated with this law, as we shall now discuss.

The Words of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch
Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, Chapter 366) states: “If a notorious thief comes to repent on his own and the stolen object is no longer accessible, the owner may not accept reimbursement from him so that he will not hold back from repenting. However, if the thief wants to fulfill his Heavenly obligation and return it, we do not protest if the owner accepts it.” We will now explain the words of Maran.

A “Notorious Thief”
First of all, when Maran refers to a “notorious thief,” he means to say that the edict not to accept the stolen object only applies to a thief who is infamous in his robberies. However, if the thief is not one by profession, rather, he happened to have stolen once or twice, the owner may in fact accept repayment from him, for his Teshuva (repentance) process is not as difficult since he can easily come up with the money to reimburse the few people he stole from.

The source of this law lies in the words of the Tosafot who quote Rabbeinu Yitzchak Ba’al Ha’Tosafot as saying that the ruling of our Sages not to accept the stolen object only applies to a well-known thief because it is difficult for him to part with his assets so the Sages opened the pathways of repentance for him. However, the owner may accept reimbursement from one who has stolen only occasionally.

Repenting on His Own
Furthermore, when Maran refers to a thief “who comes to repent on his own,” he means that only when the thief comes to return what he stole from his own good will do we not accept it from him. However, if the thief shows no signs of repentance for his evil ways and the owner is able to extract reimbursement from him through Bet Din (Rabbinical Court) and the like, our Sages never enacted not to accept it from him, for the entire enactment was only for a thief who repents by his own initiative while this thief is not repentant at all. The Rosh (Rabbeinu Asher bar Yechiel, father of the Tur) writes this in his commentary and adds that we find in many places in the Talmud that Rabbinical judges forced defendants to reimburse the owner for stolen objects and this is per the letter of Torah law. Only in situations similar to the story above, where the thief offers repayment on his own accord, must the owner refuse to accept reimbursement.

When the Stolen Object is No Longer Accessible
When Maran writes, “If the stolen object is no longer accessible”, this means that the Sages only established not to accept repayment from the thief when the actual stolen object is no longer in his possession. For instance, if someone stole an electronic device and the like and the device is still in the thief’s possession, he must surely return it to its owner and the owner may accept it, for the enactment of our Sages does not apply here. However, if the device is no longer in his possession, for instance, because the thief sold it or lost it and now the thief would like to repay its value to the owner, the owner should not accept repayment. This detail is delineated explicitly in the above Gemara: “Rav Nachman says, they [the Sages] only established this when the stolen object is no longer in his possession.”

If the Thief Wishes to Repay the Stolen Object’s Value in any Event
Finally, when Maran writes that if the thief wishes to fulfill his Heavenly obligation and return its worth, the owner may accept it, this means that if the owner has already told the thief that he absolves him of his obligation to pay and he is no longer responsible for repayment and the thief insists that the owner accept reimbursement, the owner may accept it. This is similar to the law of a loan canceled by Shemita that in such a situation, a lender may accept repayment of a loan canceled by Shemita.

Summary: If a thief comes, of his own good will, to repay the value of an object he stole from a given individual and he is a person who was a thief by profession and the actual stolen object is no longer in his possession, the owner must not accept this thief’s reimbursement. If after being informed that the owner absolves him from reimbursing him the thief nonetheless insists that the owner accept reimbursement, the owner may, in fact, accept it.

Ask the Rabbi


8 Halachot Most Popular

Making Toast on a Hotplate on Shabbat

Question: May one place a pita or a slice of bread on a hotplate on Shabbat in order to turn it into hard and crunchy toast? Answer: There are two prohibitions we must discuss with regards to our question of making toast on Shabbat out of bread that was already baked before Shabbat. The first ......

Read Halacha

Sitting on Food Items

Question: Is it correct that one may not sit on top of a box containing food or beverages? Answer: The Gemara in Masechet Berachot (50b) states that it is forbidden to act in a degrading manner towards food. Thus, one may not, for instance, use a piece of cake to wipe up a drink that spilled on t......

Read Halacha

The Law Regarding a Woman Who Forgets to Recite the Blessings of the Torah

We have explained in the previous Halacha that if one forgets to recites the Blessings of the Torah and only realizes this after one has concluded Shacharit prayers, one may no longer recite these blessings, for one has already fulfilled his obligation with the “Ahavat Olam” blessing rec......

Read Halacha

Salting Cucumbers on Shabbat

Question: Is it correct that one may not put salt on cucumbers on Shabbat? Answer: The root of this question lies in the fact that with regards to many Torah laws, we rule that “pickling is tantamount to cooking” meaning that a pickled food is considered like a cooked food. Thus, just......

Read Halacha


The Order for Lighting Shabbat and Chanukah Candles

There is a disagreement among the Rishonim as to the order of lighting Shabbat and Chanukah candles on Erev Shabbat Chanukah. The Ba’al Halachot Gedolot (commonly referred to as “Behag”) is of the opinion that Chanukah candles must be lit before Shabbat candles because women cu......

Read Halacha

The Law Regarding One Who Forgets to Recite the Morning Blessings

The Morning Blessings (“Birkot Ha’Shachar”) are the blessings recited every morning beginning from the “Elohai Neshama” blessing until the end of the Blessings of the Torah. Both men and women must recite these blessings, as we have discussed in the laws of the Morning ......

Read Halacha

Washing Dishes on Shabbat Night and Pouring Water on Dirty Dishes

Question: Upon the conclusion of the Shabbat night meal, may one immediately wash the dishes for the Shabbat day meal or should this only be done during the day closer to the start of the meal? Also, is it permissible to pour water onto soiled dishes (which one no longer needs for Shabbat) so that i......

Read Halacha

Question: May one recite the Amida prayer in front of a curtain (covering the Aron Kodesh) which is adorned with various designs?

Answer: The Rambam writes in one of his responses (Freiman edition, Chapter 20): “It is incorrect to pray in front of garments with designs on them, even if the designs are not protruding. We usually close our eyes when it happens that we must pray in front of a wall or garment adorned with de......

Read Halacha