- Question: [Tuesday, 27th Tammuz, 5781]
My son and daughter were walking on gravel that is off the sidewalk in the city and found a $100 bill on the gravel near some rocks. My son is the one who saw it first, but my daughter is the one who actually picked it up. Who gets to keep the money? My son says that it all belongs to him, but my daughter says that she deserves half the sum.
Being that your son and daughter both live in your home and are considered your dependents, therefore, believe it or not, the money belongs to you the parents, and you may decide to do with it as you wish, and you may choose to either keep the money or give it to your children. If you want, you can split the money between your son and daughter 50/50, or 75/25, as you feel is appropriate. Now, if you like to know what the law would be if your children did not live at home and were not your dependents, the law would be as follows: Halachically, if your son is under Bar Mitzvah, he does not acquire the found money simply by having seen it, even if it is within his four cubits, and rather your daughter, whether she’s above or below Bas Mitzvah, has legally acquired the entire sum. If your son is above bar mitzvah, then if the money was within his four Amos prior to his sister picking up, then since he found it in a public area that is not the walking area of the public, therefore he is considered to acquire the entire sum.
Explanation: Due to reasons of keeping the peace, the sages enacted that all found objects of a son and daughter who are dependents of their parents, belong to their parents being that they provide them and support them with their needs. Thus, in this case, the claims that the son and daughter are each bringing up are irrelevant, as even if it can be proven that one of them has acquired it, either way the money does not belong to them but rather to the parents. Nonetheless, if the parents would like to distribute the money to their children according to Torah law, then the matter would be dependent on the age of the son. If he is below bar mitzvah, then he does not acquire a found object until he picks it up, even if it is found within his four cubits, and even when he picks it up it is only considered rabbinically acquired, and therefore in the above case the money would be considered to belong to his sister and not him. [However, by a girl, even if she is below bat mitzvah, as soon as she picks it up she acquires it Biblically, and is even considered to acquire it at the moment it enters her four Amos even prior to picking it up.] However, if he is above the age of bar mitzvah, then by the mere fact that the found object is within his four cubits, makes it considered that he has acquired it even prior to picking it up, and hence the money would belong to him and not to his sister. This, however, only applies in the above cases that the money was found in a public area off the sidewalk. If, however, it were to be found in a private area, or even a public area but an area where many people pass by, then he would not be considered to acquire it until he picks it up.
Sources: See regarding parents acquiring children’s found objects: Admur Hefker Vehasagas Gevul 9 and O.C. 3665:13; Michaber C.M. 270:2; Rambam Gezeila Veaveida 17:13; Mishneh Bava Metzia 12a; See regarding one’s four Amos acquiring for him: Admur Hefker Vehasagas Gevul 7; Michaber C.M. 268:2; Rambam Gezeila Veaveida 17:7-8; Bava Metzia 10a; Encyclopedia Talmudit Erech Arba Amos