Returning Questionable Objects

Should I return a trashy magazine to its rightful owner?

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Comments (34)

(27) Mati, October 23, 2013 6:52 PM

I had a trashy magazine sent to me constantly from "Jews 4 J"

"Jews 4 J" kept for months sending me their trashy literature. I tried to get them to stop and they refused. I filed a complaint at the post office who at first refused to take it because it, to them, was not obscene material. I forced them to take my complaint and address the issue "up in ranks." Jews4J stopped after I forced the complaint to be accepted in the PO.

(26) Anonymous, October 20, 2013 4:33 PM


For a long period of time, I used to receive mails that did not belong in my house. I don't think the mails were trashy, but independently of what kind of mails they were, they arrived in my house, which was not their right destination. My nice self would then take those mails to the rightful owner, or send it with my children to the right address. Somethimes, I would drive blocks away from my house to deliver the wrongly delivered mail, to its appropriate address, to people I did not know. However, one day I was in a less than happy mood and decided to stop at the post office in my area, to address the issue. The postmaster said they would correct the problem as they have just had a new delivery person on board, (in my case the situation was not simply a "just had", but a long continuing situation with wrongly delivered mail to my house). After addressing the issue with the Post Office, the situation stopped temporarily, but then months later started again. I repeated my actions of the first time by stoping at the post office but, with a firmer determination. From that time on, I had not received any more wrongly delivered mail for the past three years, thank G-d. Thank you Rabbi Salomon for the interesting articles, they always make me think about it and make me look at it from a deeper level. Thanks again.

(25) Yosef Stern, October 18, 2013 4:49 AM

Torah dictates our lives, not freedom of speech or press

I would throw the magazine in the garbage and put the money in an evelope which I would deposit into his mailbox. The Torah tells us not to place a stumbling box infront of someone. If you return this trashy magazine to his mailbox, you have caused your neighbor to transgress לא תתרו... P.S. Bear in mind if the neighbor would be a non-Jew who receives this trashy magazine and it ended up in my mailbox, I would return it right away. Because a non-Jew Isn't my brother.

Anonymous, October 23, 2013 6:39 PM

How is the "trashy magazine" a stumbling box?

Just because you have a different opinion of the magazine than the person who subscribes to it, who are you to day that you know better? Perhaps there is a valid reason why he has subscribed (perhaps it is evena one time subscription), you cannot judge the peson as to what is healthy or not. The great rabbi was correct. Rather than making it appear that you approve, you have avoided that problem by letting someone else deliver it.

(24) Manasseh, October 17, 2013 9:54 PM

RTS/Wrong address

I would send it back RTS/Wrng address Unless it is ilegal material or dangerous material, that then would be for the proper authorities

(23) SusanE, October 17, 2013 8:35 AM

If it Came in the Mail

If it came in the mail, that's where you return it. Your neighbor never had it so you can't 'return' it to him. Besides you are not a mailman and it is illegal for you to deliver mail. It goes back to the post office. I wouldn't want it in my personal mailbox, so I would drop it in a big mailbox on the street. The address and the persons name is not your concern.

(22) Lieb, October 17, 2013 6:32 AM

This happens often

If I get someone else's mail, I usually put it back in the general mailbox (I'm in an apt building). And if the address is my address but the item was clearly meant for someone else, I just write on it "Wrong address. Return to sender". However, if I know the person, I may just drop the letter in front of his/her door. But if it is a "trashy" item, even if I know the person, I agree that it should be put back in the general mailbox, to avoid causing any possible embarrassment to the person.

(21) Anonymous, October 17, 2013 12:12 AM


I would return it, period. End of story.

(20) Eric, October 16, 2013 7:15 PM

Not my job to censor

Short and straight, if it is legal, then you put it back in your mail box with a note indicating it was sent to the wrong address. If it is illegal, such as child porn, contact the inspector general for the USPS. In no way should you judge your neighbor and dispose of the mail. As with other posters, I think that is illegal.

(19) Moira, October 16, 2013 6:13 PM

Leave it for the mailman

What about 'Judge not that you may not be judged.' I would just leave it in the mailbox and mark it 'return to sender. Wrong address.'

(18) Michael Wollman, October 16, 2013 7:12 AM

Don't impose you values on others

I pretty much disagree with the rabbi's decision and the other posters. You have no right to censor anyone's mail. If the material is not illegal, and thank god we have freedom of speech and the press, then you should not impose your values, Jewish or otherwise, on others, even if they are Jewish. Besides, it is illegal to tamper with the mails. To avoid embarrassment, ask the mail carrier deliver it to the correct address.

Mordy, October 16, 2013 5:36 PM


You say "thank god we have freedom of speech and the press" -- well, does God's opinion count? The same God you thank has given us a guide with His opinions... and he has put restrictions on the freedoms that certain governments may offer.
Thank about it...

(17) Leah B., October 16, 2013 3:50 AM

What I Did

The other day I found a wallet and there was some trashy objects in it. I wasn't sure if I was allowed to throw them away or if I had an obligation to send it back. In the end, I got in touch with the owner of the wallet and instead of going and returning the wallet and mailed it to her. I hope this is still considered indirect.

(16) Russel, October 16, 2013 3:34 AM

what if it is beyond trashy?

I think about the horrid, irrational things expressed to Nina Davuluri and the segments of society that feed such filth. What if the publication is a modern equivalent to a 1930s era Der Stürmer?

(15) Robert, October 16, 2013 1:02 AM

Hashem and treif

So, I find a bicycle in my yard. Hashem caused it to be left there for me and I can dispose of it anyway I want. Who am I to judge another? It is obviously not mine and I do not have any legal or moral jurisdiction over it; it needs to be returned to its owner. How I get it there is another choice, but my actions must not be of a destructive nature, otherwise I have stolen what is not mine. Only Hashem can judge men; that is not for us to decide in a case where perhaps a non-Jew is the owner.

Lieb, October 17, 2013 6:21 AM

I disagree

You have both a legal and a moral obligation to return a lost item. In terms of civil law, check in your local jurisdiction -- there is probably some amount of due diligence required on you part to notify the owner (so he/she can retrieve it). In Torah law, you have a definite obligation to return a lost item. The amount of effort required depends on various factors (and is probably more than required under civil law). In your example, you would need to ask your rabbi. And I do not believe the religion of the owner matters.

(14) Rachel, October 15, 2013 11:48 PM

What do you mean by trashy?

Was it pornography? In my opinion, a lot of those gossip magazines are trashy, and so are various women's magazines, even though they don't have girlie pictures. And what about Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue? Is that considered trashy?
I get a professional skin care magazine with ads that show a lot of flesh, so perhaps some would think my magazine is trashy. I think I'd probably be too embarrassed to return a porno magazine to anybody, anyway. The real challenge would be whether I could control myself from revealing to anybody that Ploni down the street reads this sort of thing. A very interesting situation!

(13) yehudit r, October 15, 2013 6:16 PM

But what if it were a Smartphone?

If we extend the question to something valuable to its owner, accidently left somewhere (dropped on a bus or left in a store, for example), the question becomes more fraught. smartphones that connect to the internet have been deemed "non kosher" by some Rabbis and recently one ruled that one who finds a Smartphone is under no obligation to return it to its owner. But these "non kosher" devices are often used professionally and contain much important information, such as reference books as well as schedules and contact information. Many doctors and nurses refer to their cell phones for information on medications, lab test results, and diagnostics. I've seen people pull out Smartphones to daven Mincha orsay Birkat Hamazon. But according to certain Rabbis these do not have to be returned to their owners if found because they could be used to access "unsuitable" material. So where does one draw the line, and who should do so?

(12) Ken J, October 15, 2013 6:05 PM

Who is judging?

It is not up to you what someone else does. Nor is it up to you to judge. Your values are yours, not theirs.
When you deliver the misdirected mail, you are doing a mitzvah for the delivery person and, yes, the recipient. Delivering it directly or indirectly (back in the mail box) makes no difference; you still handle the objectionable material and it still gets to the recipient.
If a "Bacon-of-the-month" was mis-delivered to your door I hope you would get it to your neighbor right away! You don't eat bacon so it shouldn't be an issue. You can deliver the objectionable material without reading it or looking at the pictures.

(11) Esther, October 15, 2013 5:47 PM

Trash the shmutz

Seriously I would've dumped it without even asking a Rabbi the question. I would not have even seen the question if shmutz shows up at my house it gets dumped no matter who brought it, the mailman or others and I would not take the time to see who it belongs to. Kudos to you for seeing a question to ask, I guess my maternal protecting of my children would not have seen it.

(10) Melissa, October 15, 2013 4:31 PM

i didn't 'take the law into my own hands' but i did compromise.

once i was asked by a student who had been boarding with my family to return a poster to his previous address. he was very concerned that it be returned as it wasn't his property - so i promised to return. Road my bicycle downtown to the street & realizing i was parched went into a noisy 'watering hole' to have a glass of water, or something. Very hot day. i began to get very curious about said poster, so i peeked. it was an asian 'girlie' poster. i was a bit upset. i had naievely thought i was doing a mitzvah & now who was going to benefit from this return? So i sighed, and rolled up the document again & went outside and threw it in a trash can!! End of story. Treif is not only in the form of food - it is also some of the media that is enforced upon our eyes - billboards, advertising, magazines, you name it - i didn't want to be the bearer of this return - left at someone's door or the face on the other size of a door opened and unsuspecting eyes. I felt dirty, like i had unwittingly been duped into looking @ the reality of this wasted time. I guess i need not feel ashamed anymore. Perhaps my actions were right?

Anonymous, October 15, 2013 6:21 PM

Rebut to Melissa

You should feel ashamed for two reasons: First, your curiosity caused you to examine something that did not belong to you. You had no right to look if not given permission. Second, by not returning the poster to its rightful owner, you stole it. You have a duty to replace it. Now, how embarrassing will that me? It was not your place to "judge" whether the poster was "treif" or not just because it offended you.

(9) Dora Sher, October 15, 2013 4:24 PM

Returing Objectionable Items

I agree with the deciiosn. One should not shame the neighbor by returning the item directly; however, where in the Torah did the Rabbi ffind the answer?

(8) Roch, October 15, 2013 4:21 PM

Return is wrong word

Caught my attention because of the use of 'return'. Now why would someone be concerned 'returning' something questionable --why do you have it in the first place if it is questionable and are concerned with returning to the owner? The time to question and to refuse something objectionable before going any further. . But this is not the case. Listening through brought me to understand it was not returning, or reversing its journey, but the object was completing its intended journey: delivery.
So, should we 'deliver' a questionable object that has accidentally come into our possession through the mail channels?

(7) chava, October 15, 2013 3:19 PM

What if it's your kid who has the magazine?

In the case of an adult neighbor, I suppose what you did was best. Years ago, when one of my sons was a young teen, I found a stash of "trashy" magazines under his mattress. What to do? I was angry, but I wasn't able to confront him as I thought (intellectually anyway) I should do. Instead, I threw away the worst ones & left the rest. We never talked about it. No one ever said it would be easy raising children.

(6) Unlisted, October 15, 2013 3:04 PM

Hashem caused the "misdelivery"

If the neighbor were a Jew, perhaps he/she would have been shamed enough to throw it away or cancel his/her subscription if it had been delivered personally by the rabbi! Sometimes shedding light on a sin can wake up the sinner! Maybe THAT"s why Hashem caused the magazine to be delivered to the rabbi. Did the rabbi consider that?

Mordechai, October 15, 2013 6:19 PM

Shaming someone is a destructive tactic.

Shame from an internal source-someone's own (internal) assessment that they feel that their actions were inconsistent with their own (internally held) values-can lead to healthy change. A trusted, close friend is often well placed to help someone decide to examine their own actions in comparison to their own values. After all, the only way to make your actions consistent with your values is to change your actions. For most healthy individuals, your values will stem from deep parts of your identity.

Shame from an external source-such embarrassment due to the way another (external) person is assessing you-either push the individual to distance themselves from the (external source of) embarrassment, or (in a lot of high-density religious populations, where it's hard to just AVOID people who look down on you) "fake it"- which doesn't actually fix the issue that they are acting inconsistently with their values. But it does destroy healthy self esteem and self respect, either way. Shame is a lose-lose game. It's much easier than either helping people, or changing yourself, but you get what you pay for. And in the store of life, the currency is pain.

sientje, October 16, 2013 4:04 AM

misdelivery by Hashem?

Are you saying that Hashem is tempting the rabbi? I always thought that Hashem tempts no one, but we ourselves are tempted if we give into evil desires, so if the rabbi had read the slutty magazine, then he would have given into the desire, I would just to throw it in the trashcan, and wonder if I had enemies tempting me?

Mati, October 23, 2013 6:48 PM

Yeah, but for the reason you didn't think of

Perhaps Hashem cause the misdelivery so the rabbi can ask his rav and relate the answer to the world like he has in this video

(5) Gabriel, October 15, 2013 2:41 PM

Causing to Sin

I read somewhere that causing another person to sin is worse than murder because it could rob them of their life in the world to come. But the proximate cause could be debated by giving it to the general mailbox.

(4) Linda, October 15, 2013 2:34 PM

Face to face

Return by hand

(3) Allan Hyatt, October 15, 2013 2:26 PM

Right or wrong?

First off I don't feel it is another persons place to decide that the magazines content was trashy. ...maybe for themselves but not for their neighbor. We should not be the morality police for others , out of our own family circle. I do agree that the magazine should be placed back into the mail pick up box for re-delivery...hopefully to the correct party.

(2) chaya, October 15, 2013 2:09 PM

Common sense reigns, return it to the mailman, like the Rav said. It's also a legal issue. If one takes an intended piece of mail for someone else it's stealing.

(1) Anonymous, October 14, 2013 11:38 AM

Hello Rabbi--
I would have done exactly what you did in this situation.


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