Torah Knowledge For Non-Jews Vol. 1
1. Introduction to the Noahide Laws
Theft was the first sin committed in the Torah when Adam ate the fruit. God specified that everything in the Garden was available to Adam except for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Theft is the most common sin that human beings commit against one another. It is also one of the most complex of the Noachide Laws.
For many this law seems rudimentary; easily avoided by even a child. It just isn’t true, what constitutes theft is a very difficult issue. It is an issue that is treated in great detail by the Jewish people
It is possible to steal in many different ways. If someone takes pens from the office or sits at their computer at work playing Tetris instead of working they are stealing. If someone takes something without the express permission of the owner they are stealing. What is even worse is that for Noachides there are no minimum amounts. Although punishment, ultimately, is the prerogative of the court, a Noachide could be liable for death.
It is very important for Noachides to understand the Noachide laws thoroughly to avoid violating any of the prohibitions. In order to do this one must first understand the boundaries of ownership. Only then is it possible to know when something has been stolen. It is not the purpose of this paper to explicitly detail ownership and theft, but it is our aim to give a basic introduction to this issue.
We are constantly confronted every day with the decision to steal or not in our lives. The most common way we face this challenge is with our business dealings. These dealings can take the form of business, work, and private commerce.
When merchants deal with each other or their customers it is important that their dealings be honest. Anyone who gives less than they promised at time of sale or takes more than they paid for is committing theft.
The “ethical” technicalities allowed by most countries are unacceptable by the Torah standard. The Torah requires us to be exacting in our business dealings. Abuse of money exchanges is the surest sign of a corrupt society and is very often complained of by the Biblical prophets.
A person who works for another is obligated to work hard and make sure that the person who is purchasing their services is getting the work they paid for. An employee is obligated to always be working and to leave personal issues for after work. If there is an expectation that the person is working then that person must work; otherwise they are stealing money from their employer. Using the internet and using printers to print things for personal use is considered theft unless it is part of the employment agreement; which should spell out all rights of the employee to use the employer's property, time, etc., if that is intended. The employee is stealing the paper, toner, time (that they should be working) and electricity it costs to print things from the internet or computer. If it is necessary for the employee to use these objects for personal use an arrangement should be made with their employer, otherwise such activity is forbidden.
An employer is obligated to pay their employees in a timely fashion. Otherwise they are stealing the wages from their employee. This includes reimbursing the employee for expenses (if that is in agreement with the terms of service).
Property from Work
It may seem trivial but taking the property of an employer or company someone works for is theft; pens, notebooks, staplers, or anything else belonging to the company. The use of these items is assumed to be for the purpose of work. Even the theft of a single staple is unacceptable as there are no minimum amounts for Noachides, however, that does not mean that Jews may take minimal amounts, but that a court will not handle a claim for the return of a single staple, unless it has a certain value, which is unlikely. Theft in any amount is theft. If not punished in the earthly court, because there is no witness or no court willing to handle the case; it will be punished by the heavenly court.
It is an obligation for every person to return a lost article to his friend if he is able. People loose things all the time, money, wallets, cell phones and so forth. A just society is one that has respect for the property of others. It is also important that for us to return something lost by another we demonstrate our respect for the rights of that individual and thus emphasize and strengthen our own rights to property.
Which items must we return?
Clearly an item that has the person’s name or symbol on it ought to be returned to its owner. It does not matter if the person is rich or poor or if the amount or object lost is small or great. It must be returned.
If money is found then it is also obligatory to get the money to the person who lost it. This is more difficult because there is not any label or sign that tells us who it belongs to. However, people are always mindful of their money and the knowledge of the missing amount is itself a sign of ownership. In the case of lost money, the owner may be identified by their knowledge of how much was lost or other signs.
When does lost property become ownerless?
A lost object is returnable only so long as the owner of the property has not given up on recovering the object. If for example he states that he will never recover the item then the object is considered ownerless.
An object may also become ownerless if it were lost at sea, in a lake or river, since it is unlikely that the object will ever be recovered. The circumstance of the loss of the object automatically classifies it as ownerless.