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Thought for the Day: Identifying Lost Stuff by Stuff Near Them

Leah's husband, Yehuda has been enjoying some solo time on his small watercraft off the coast of BlahBlahBlah.  Unfortunately, no one has heard from Yehuda for a few weeks and Leah is justifiably worried.  To make matters worse, just this afternoon, a body found washed up onto a beach on the coast of BlahBlahBlah.  The bad news is that the body is decomposed/whatever to the point that there is not possibility of a positive identification.  The good news is that there is a wallet near the body that contains documents that undeniably and irrefutably both belong to Yehuda; further, the documents are the sort that Yehuda would never give nor even loan to anyone else.  In other words, that lost wallet was undeniably and irrefutably lost by Yehuda.  So... Yehuda has gone missing off the coast of BlahBlahBlah, a corpse that is the general shape and size of Yehuda is found on the coast of BlahBlahBlah, and Yehuda's wallet -- lying just inches from said corpse -- is also found.

Question: Can Leah (after a respectful time) get remarried?  That is: Can we conclude, based on the circumstantial evidence of a Yehuda's lost wallet found near a corpse generally matching Yehuda's description, in the area where would expect to find Yehuda (dead or alive) that Yehuda is morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead?  Seems pretty open and shut, right?  Ok... you know I am setting you up.  Let me make it worse.

Suppose we find an empty canister/barrel/what-have-you lying open on its side (sure looks like something fell out).  We also find some fruit -- enough to fit comfortably into said canister/barrel/what-have-you lying right next to the canister/barrel/what-have-you.  Zevulun (we haven't used that name in a while) come to the city lost and found to report that he has lost a canister/barrel/what-have-you and he is able give us enough details to convince us that the canister/barrel/what-have-you we found is, in fact, Zevulun's canister/barrel/what-have-you.  Moreover, Zevulun tells us that they canister/barrel/what-have-you was full of fruit.  In that case, everyone agrees that we return both the canister/barrel/what-have-you and the fruit to Zevulun as the rightful owner.

Good greif... the case of poor Leah now seems so open and shut that you are wondering why I even brought it up.  No you're not; you are wondering what I have up my sleeve.  What I have up my sleeve is that they Beis Shmuel says that Leah cannot get married based on such weak circumstantial evidence.  Moreover, he says, this case is nothing at all like the case of the canister/barrel/what-have-you and the fruit.  Huh and huh?

Let's go back to Zevulun.  Why did we give him the fruit?  Suppose that Yissachar had come to use first and said, "I lost some fruit and I lost a canister/barrel/what-have-you.  I can positively identify the canister/barrel/what-have-you, but the fruit is ... you know... fruit."  In that case we would not have given any fruit to Yissachar.  It's not that we don't believe him that he lost some fruit.  It is simply that we do not have enough evidence to positively ascertain that this is the fruit he lost.  Zevulun, on the other hand, connected the fruit to the canister/barrel/what-have-you.  Again, we have no reason to believe that Zevulun is lying and it is very unlikely that his fruit got taken and this is Yissachar's lost fruit.  Our conclusion, then is that since this is Zevulun's canister/barrel/what-have-you and because Zevulun connected the loss of his canister/barrel/what-have-you to his lost fruit, then the most logical conclusion is that this is Zevulun's fruit.

Back to poor Leah.  We found a wallet and a corpse.  Certainly the wallet has been lost from Yehuda.  However, the corpse could be anyone; we have no evidence to connect the wallet to the corpse.  We have proximity, but in halacha when you have proximity (the wallet is next to a corpse) and you have a majority (most people in the vicinity have wallets and people tend to lose them), then the majority wins over proximity.


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