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Question: When I finish my workday I try to spend as much time as possible studying Torah with a partner in the Beit Midrash of my local synagogue. My partner often takes a Talmudic volume from one of the shelves in order to look up some reference and then leaves it on our table to be returned to its shelf when we conclude our learning session. Is this the right thing to do in order to avoid an interruption of our studies or must he return it as soon as he has finished using it?

Answer: While it is certainly important to avoid any unnecessary interruptions in the sacred activity of Torah study, it is also important to avoid being the indirect cause of others having to interrupt their study. It may be assumed that you and your partner are not the only people studying in that Beit Midrash and there is a likelihood that at least one of them will also be interested in referring to the particular volume which your partner took from the shelf, the only one of its kind on the shelves. The failure of your partner to immediately return it to its place after using it may thus cause this other fellow to lose precious time touring the Beit Midrash to find what he is looking for.

This caution for consideration of others has extensions into other matters, both within a Beit Midrash or any public place. Many such places offer the people who study or work in them facilities for hot beverages but do not supply disposable cups. Should someone avail himself of one of the limited supply of glass cups and fail to return it to its place washed and ready for use, he is guilty of causing an inconvenience for the next person interested in a drink.

One can apply this to so many areas of life, from returning a book to a library or an item borrowed from any one of the "Gemach" free loan services which are a common feature in religious communities. No one wants to be told when looking for an item he needs that it is unavailable because some previous borrower was lax in returning it. So remember how the Sage Hillel encapsulated the entire Torah for the conversion candidate with Judaism’s "golden rule": "Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you."

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