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Rabbi finds $98,000 in Craigslist desk

The religious imperative to return lost items is not just an academic lesson for Rabbi Noach Muroff’s students

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Noach Muroff at the desk in which he found $98,000 in cash. (photo credit: Esther Muroff)
Rabbi Noach Muroff at the desk in which he found $98,000 in cash. (photo credit: Esther Muroff)

We all fantasize about finding a sack full of money, but Rabbi Noach Muroff actually did stumble upon a cash fortune in a plastic shopping bag. It may have been a dream come true, but a quick reality check determined what Muroff would do with the loot.

The religious imperative to return lost items is not just an academic lesson the young rabbi teaches his students at Yeshiva of New Haven in Connecticut. He personally provided an example of Jewish law in action by returning a stash of $98,000 he found in a desk he bought off Craigslist to its rightful owner.

Muroff, who is originally from Ottawa, Canada and has been teaching at the yeshiva for five years, had bought the desk for a study he recently added to his home.

“We had been looking on Craigslist for a few weeks, and eventually found a listing for a desk that seemed like what we wanted,” he told The Times of Israel.

The rabbi and a friend went to pick up the item from a woman who lived just outside of New Haven. It fit perfectly in the minivan, but not through the door to Muroff’s study. “It missed being able to pass through the door by a quarter of an inch. It was so frustrating!” Muroff recalled.

When attempts to remove the study door from its hinges failed, Muroff, his wife Esther, and the friend resorted to taking the desk apart. They took off the file cabinet drawers and found a plastic shopping bag behind them.

“I thought I saw a bill, and I guessed there was maybe something like $100 in it,” the rabbi said. But the bag was rather heavy, and when Muroff looked inside he found far more than just a C-Note. By the time he and his wife finished counting up the packets of bills, they were holding close to $100,000 in their hands.

Muroff said the notion of keeping the loot never occurred to him. “We knew we had to return the money. There was no question it was the right thing to do,” he said.

He remembered that the woman who sold him the desk had told him that she had bought it from Staples and put it together herself a few years ago. This convinced the rabbi that the money must have belonged to her.

Indeed, the woman did say the cash was hers — an inheritance from her recently deceased parents that she, because of emotional distress, had stashed in the desk rather than depositing it in a bank account. Having recalled that she had hidden the money in the desk, she was upset when she could not find it there. She looked for it all over her house, but to no avail, not realizing that the bag had slipped down behind the drawers.

“A lot of people are cynical and have asked me why I didn’t call the police and why I immediately believed that the money belonged to the lady,” Muroff said.

“The lady looked totally honest and nothing smelled funny about the situation,” he explained. The rabbi also didn’t ask the woman too many questions about her unorthodox financial practices. “It’s not our money and it’s not our business,” he suggested.

Wanting their four children to learn about doing the right thing, Muroff and his wife brought them along to the woman’s home as they returned the money to her. The woman gave the Muroffs a generous reward to thank them for finding and returning her inheritance.

While these events only came to light in the local New Haven media this past weekend, they actually took place two days before last Rosh Hashanah.

Why did this Good Samaritan story take so long to come out? The modest Muroff didn’t initially think he did anything newsworthy.

“But I decided upon the advice of some prominent rabbis to take it to the news,” he explained. “It’s a good story and we’re making a big kiddush hashem (sanctification of the name of God) by telling it.”

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