When collecting a debt based on producing a promissory note, how clear and transparent must the names in the document be?
The Mishna on today’s daf teaches that if there are two people in a city who share the same name – the example suggested is “Yosef ben Shimon” – they cannot produce a promissory note on each other, nor can anyone else demand payment from one of them based on a note in which his name appears. The suggestion made by the Mishna is that they should add their grandfather’s name to their name, or alternatively, include some distinguishing feature about them (e.g. “tall,” “thin,” etc.) or their families.
The Ri”f points out that this ruling is the continuation of a number of rulings that appear in the Mishna that list factors that will keep someone from claiming what is rightly his simply because he is unable to prove conclusively who the document refers to.
It is interesting to note that the Mishna emphasizes that these two people with identical names lived in the same city. This precludes the possibility that someone can claim that a note presented requiring him to pay back a loan may refer to someone with the same name who lives in another place, and, as the Piskei ha-Ri”d points out – implies that it was necessary to include the individual’s address in the document when it was written and signed. This law is clear in cases of gittin – divorce documents – but is less clear in cases of business transactions. In fact, the Ramban disagrees and does not require that business contracts include a person’s place.
The halakha that keeps these two people from lending money to one-another is explained by the Rashbam as stemming from a concern that when one demands payment from the other based on the note that he is holding, the accused borrower may claim that he was, in fact, the original lender, and that the note being produced allegedly proving that he borrowed money is simply the note that he returned to the other when he received payment of the original loan. Therefore the situation can only be rectified by using other methods to clarify who was borrowing and who was lending.