The Mishna teaches that a messenger who loses the geṭ that he was sent to deliver can still hand it over to the wife if he locates it straightaway. If, however, he does not find it immediately then we fear lest the get that he finds might not be the one that he lost – perhaps it is another one that has the same names, which could not be used for this couple. The Mishna concludes, however, that if he recognizes the document then he would be allowed to complete his obligation and deliver it.
The Gemara discusses how someone might be able to recognize a document, and discusses different types of simanim – signs or indicators in the document that can be used to identify it with certainty. There are three types of simanim:
- Siman kelali – A general indicator, such as whether is it long or short. Such simanim cannot be relied upon in any area of halakha.
- Siman muvhak – A very strong indicator is one where the person can point out something out of the ordinary, like a hole or a dot next to a specific letter or word in the document. Such simanim are reliable in all cases.
- Siman memutzah – An in-between indicator, which is neither too general nor fully specific.
It is in cases of simanim memutza’im where we find a difference between the sages. In such cases, some believe that such simanim are reliable on a Torah level and can be utilized in all cases, and others believe that they are reliable only on a rabbinic level, and can be utilized for monetary matters like returning lost objects, but not on matters like marriage and divorce.
A rabbinic siman is sufficient in money matters because the rabbinic courts have wide latitude through their powers of hefker beit din hefker to transfer ownership of money from one person to another. Thus, even if an honest mistake is made, the court’s ruling is effective. This is not the case with regard to mistakes made in the realm of family law where more reliable simanim are required.