While the previous two Mishnayot dealt with how a person can claim an object by taking possession of it himself or by having his field take possession on his behalf, the Mishna on today’s daf discusses how a person can come to own something through the efforts of family members.
According to the Mishna, if an ownerless object is picked up by someone’s underage children, his non-Jewish slaves or his wife, it belongs to him. If, however, the children were adults, the slaves were Jewish or if he and his wife were in the midst of divorce proceedings, then the object would belong to the finder.
Two of these cases are fairly straightforward. Whatever a non-Jewish slave finds belongs to the owner, because halakha perceives such a slave as being fully owned by the master, as opposed to a Jewish slave who is really a long-term contractual worker. A man’s wife is supposed to turn over to her husband things that she finds because of a rabbinic ordinance that suggests this arrangement in order to minimize potential friction between the couple. Once she has received a divorce – even a questionable one – the relationship has ended and the sages are no longer concerned with their relationship.
The case of children turning over things that they find to their father is more complicated. Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba quotes Rabbi Yohanan as teaching that the terms used in the Mishna – ketanim and gedolim – cannot be translated as “underage” and “adult” in this context, rather ketanim means that they are still being supported by their father and eat as his table, while gedolim means that they are no longer being supported by their father, having left his home. As far as sons are concerned, the source for this is a rabbinic enactment aimed at limiting friction in the home. With regard to daughters, some suggest that the rule is the same, while Rashi and the Rambam believe that this is a biblical law, based on the passage in Bamidbar (30:17).