Is it permissible to pass by something lying on the ground and, for safety reasons, transgress the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveida?
I recently came across a blanket on the street. I was afraid to touch it and find its owner being that I was in an unsafe part of the neighborhood, and the blanket, presumably having been trampled on, was dirty and probably full of germs.
Is it permissible to pass by something lying on the ground and, for safety reasons, transgress the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveida? What should one do in a situation as such?
You do not need to pick up the item or even go out of your way to announce its’ whereabouts.
In this case, if it is a place where most passersby are non-Jewish, or even if most passersby are Jewish, but non-Jews sit there regularly, we can assume it belongs to a non-Jew and you may keep it or leave it.
Otherwise, it is assumed to belong to a Jew.
Nonetheless, a blanket is heavy and if a person is carrying it, he immediately notices that he dropped it and therefore by the time you found it he already despaired. If the item would have identifiable marks on it like a name, different laws could apply.
ראה שו״ע אדה״ז מציאה ופקדון יז. שם ח.