This question is a hypothetical ethical dilemma I want to know how to solve.
Let’s say someone owns a one-of-a-kind trading card, which is stolen from them. The owner barely sees the thief, not being able to identify more than their height and hair color. The owner calls the police, who begin investigating. The owner does not give up hope on finding the stolen card.
Weeks later, she sees someone selling her one-of-a-kind card online, in the same frame it was stolen in! The owner and the seller meet up, and the owner sees that while this is definitely her card, the seller is certainly not the person who stole the card. The owner asks the seller where he got the card, and he explains that it was sold to him by an anonymous person online.
The original owner demands her card back for free, but the seller refuses as he’s paid good and fair money for it and giving it back would result in him losing thousands of dollars.
What should they do?
Thank you for your question.
Due to the hypothetical nature of your question, it is only possible to give a general answer. If the owner would have given up, on even getting the item back then he would have to pay the buyer for his item, even though it was once his, since he gave up on receiving it back. In truth even though he didn’t give up, he would still have to pay the seller what he paid the thief for the item. The reason is because of a specific law adapted by chazal, in order to protect people buying items, that they shouldn’t be afraid that the item they are buying will be taken away from them. Therefore, the owner of the item would have to pay the seller and he can’t say that it is really his.
Choshen Mishpat 356-2.