Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Theft and Damage
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table

Rescued from the Ashes


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Kislev 13 5781
Tzvi sat upright in his seat, his eyes eagerly scanning the long stretch of road ahead of him. After what these eyes had seen, just a short few years ago. Who would have thought? He had preserved the image of Jerusalem in his mind’s eye. It had kept him going, throughout the unspeakable horror. That vision had accompanied him even as he was transferred from one ghastly inhumane camp to another. And now, his eyes would finally gaze upon that long-awaited vision.
Even before the bus pulled up to his stop, Tzvi had collected his belongings, and walked down the aisle to the rear door. As quickly as his feet could carry him, Tzvi made his way to the lookout point from which he could actually see the Kotel Hamaaravi. While he longed to actually be able to come close to the sacred stones, Jordanian rule made it impossible. As he stood praying, he begged G-d to restore the holy site to its former glory.
Tzvi clutched the Tehillim in his hand, and headed on to his next destination. Who would have believed that he would soon visit the grave of the author of those very words? As Tzvi approached Kever David, he eagerly thumbed through his Tehillim, searching for a chapter that would adequately convey his feelings at the moment. And then he saw it.
It wasn’t merely the beauty of the silver object that caught his attention. Could it be? It seemed impossible, but the Torah crown that lay before him was crafted in the distinctive style that Tzvi’s father had requested from the silversmith, to adorn the Torah in their synagogue in Poland. Precious memories flooded Tzvi’s mind. He was a young boy, proudly opening the Ark, revealing the Torah scroll inside, graced by the precious crown. He was a young child on his father’s shoulders, clapping his hands and singing joyous Simchat Torah songs, watching the Torah and its crown, being held by a man in the center of the circle.
Gingerly, Tzvi approached the crown. The inscription at its base only confirmed what Tzvi knew already. There was no doubt about it. This crown had somehow survived the war, and had been brought to Israel, and placed here on the monument at Kever David!
Tzvi made some inquiries, and located the people responsible for maintaining the Kever. He informed them that the crown had belonged to his father, and, as such, should be returned to Tzvi.
"I’m terribly sorry" came the reply. "After the war, numerous abandoned sacred objects were taken out of Poland and given to the State of Israel. Therefore, the crown is now the property of the State. Additionally, the crown was dedicated to Kever David and should not be removed from there."
Does the crown belong to Tzvi or to the State of Israel?
Answer of Rabbi Meshulem Roth, zt"l:
There is no need to return the crown to Tzvi. Jewish law clearly states that if a lion or bear come to attack a person’s property, or if the property is about to be lost at sea, and another person rescues the property, the finder of the property does not have to return the object to its original owner. (Bava Metzia 24). The Nazis were certainly even worse than lions and bears, and therefore any object lost as a result of Nazi occupation is considered to no longer be the property of the original owner.
It is true that the Gemara states that, in the case of property lost to a lion or bear, it is meritorious to return the property to its owner. However, in our case, the crown was dedicated in honor of King David, and should not be removed.
However, it is important to note that it is improper to take an object which has served something of a great level of holiness (in this case, a Torah scroll), and use the object in the service of something of a lower level of holiness (in this case, a grave). Therefore, those responsible should remove the crown from Kever David and place it on a Torah scroll.
Answer of Rabbi Ovadia Hadaya, zt"l:
Those in charge are obligated to return the crown to Tzvi. The Jews in Europe did not despair of reclaiming their property. The Nazis wanted to kill the Jews, however, for the most part the Nazis took little interest in the Jews’ property. Additionally, it was not clear who would win the war. The Jews of Europe hoped earnestly that the Germans would lose the war, as actually happened, in the end.
In summary:
According to Rabbi Roth, there is no need to return the crown to Tzvi. According to Rabbi Hadaya, the State is obligated to return the crown to Tzvi.
(Based on responsa in Kol Mevaser, section 1, 57, and V’yaskil Avdi, section 6, 20.)

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