Stealing Just for Fun!

Question

  1. Berel sees Mr. Altman walking round the neighborhood. This old man has a strange habit:
    He snatches candy from kids, hides it behind his back, and then returns it. Berel wishes
    to know if this Mr. Altman is guilty of stealing or, perhaps, since he just does it for
    fun it is permitted.
  2. Berel lent a sefer to his neighbour "for a week" two months ago. One
    morning, Berel sees his neighbour’s front door open – and the sefer lying on the
    table. Is it permitted for Berel to sneak in and take the sefer without the
    neighbour’s knowledge?

Answer

  1. In Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpot 348:1-2) we are told that it is forbidden to
    steal even the smallest amount and even if it is just as a joke. Even if a person steals
    from a poor man in order to "fine" himself later by making a double payment
    (kefel), this is also forbidden. If the stolen item is worth a "pruta" (a coin
    of minimal worth), the thief has transgressed the negative commandment of "lo
    tignove" (Do not steal), mentioned in Vayikra (19:11) and is liable to return the
    stolen item. If the stolen item is worth less than a "pruta", there is no
    obligation to pay. There are certain small items of property about which the owners are
    not particular. In Shulchan Oruch (359:1), the example is given of taking a single
    straw out of another person’s bundle in order to use it as a toothpick.
  2. However the pious should not take advantage of this leniency. The Sema
    (Note 4) explains, that if every passer-by follows this example, the bundle of straw will
    soon disappear!

    THEREFORE, Berel should find a way of persuading Mr. Altman to refrain form snatching
    candy from the neighborhood kids – even for fun!

  3. In Tractate Bovo Kamo (27b), the Gemoro quotes the statement of Ben Bag Bag: A
    person should not enter his friend’s yard in order to retrieve his own property
    without asking the friend’s permission. The reason given is that this creates a false
    appearance, as if the person retrieving his property was really a thief.

The Minchas Chinuch (Mitzvah No. 224) remarks that neither the Rambam nor the
Shulchan Oruch mentions this law. However, the Semag (Negative Commandment 155)
does quote it. The Sha’ar Mishpot (348:1) and the Imrei Binoh are also
of the opinion the Ben Bag Bag’s statement is accepted as being the law.

THEREFORE, Berel should not sneak in to retrieve his sefer. He should ask the neighbour
to return the sefer. If the neighbor should then refuse, he may even sneak in to recover
his property. This is permitted now that his neighbour refuses to return his property.
Berel is not required to forfeit his sefer.