Ask the Rov: While walking outside on Shabbos, I found something valuable in my pocket. What should I do?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
There are two Shabbos prohibitions at hand that must be avoided: (1) Carrying more than 4 amos (approx. 6 ft.) in a public domain; and (2) transferring between a public domain and private domain.
Both only carry an issur d’oraisa if prefaced by “lifting” the object (akira) and ended by “placing” it down (hanacha). Starting to walk while holding the object is considered “lifting” it, and stopping to walk is considered “placing” it—unless he stopped merely to adjust the load.
If you realize that something is in your pocket while walking, avoid making a short stop since this would constitute “placing” the item down in the public domain. If you need time to figure out what to do, keep walking, preferably circling within the same four amos.
To avoid a full-fledged “placement,” let the item drop in an irregular manner, such as turning your pocket inside out. If it is expensive, and there is no one who can stay there to guard it, you may ask a non-Jew to carry it.1
If that isn’t practical, the issur d’oraisa of carrying in the reshus horabim may be circumvented by taking a step or two and then handing it to another person—all within 4 amos. This person may then hand it back to you with the same procedure, and thus progress slowly in this manner.2
If no one else is available, Chazal permit this procedure to be done by the owner alone, so that he shouldn’t be tempted to carry it normally. This entails taking rest stops after every couple of steps, before reaching the end of 4 amos. The Alter Rebbe recommends sitting down between each stretch to ensure it is a full-fledged resting stop.
If you realized while walking and didn’t stop yet, there is another—albeit less preferable—method: to continue running without stopping so there shouldn’t be any “hanacha.” To ensure you don’t mistakenly stop, Chazal require you to run and not walk at your usual pace.3
These solutions only apply to carrying within the public domain, but not transferring between domains. Therefore, when reaching a secure private domain, you should leave it outdoors until after Shabbos if possible, or let it fall into the private domain in an irregular manner (e.g., throw it backwards over your shoulder or turn the pocket inside out if it’s in your pocket).4
See Sources (open PDF)