Brotherhood, Solidarity, and the Rabbinic Construction of the Commandment to Return Lost Property

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The present article discusses the biblical commandment to return lost property (hashavat aveda) and the manner by which it is treated by the early rabbinic tradition. I argue that it is possible to read the two passages in the Torah in which the commandment is mentioned (Ex. 23:4–5; Deut. 23:1–5) as an attempt at constructing an ethical stance of unselfishness, in which the other and the other's loss are given priority over one's selfish instincts. To this end, the Torah uses the rhetoric of brotherhood, intended to stimulate feelings of solidarity and to encourage members of the community to treat each other with empathy, care, and compassion. However, most of the legal discussions of the commandment in early rabbinic literature favored a legalistic interpretation of the Torah rhetoric, according to which the use of the word “brother” was meant to delineate the scope of the commandment, that is, to specify whose lost property a Jew is commanded to return and whose not, rather than to induce sentiments of compassion and solidarity. I suggest that although this line of interpretation stems from a deep rabbinic refusal to accept the interpretive possibility that the commandment to return lost property includes non-Jews, it also reflects a broader rabbinic tendency to deny a role in halakhic discourse to emotions.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2013
EventLaw and Emotions - New York, United States
Duration: 1 Jan 20131 Jan 2013


ConferenceLaw and Emotions
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew York


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