DOMAIN, PUBLIC (, literally, "of the many"):
As distinguished from private domain (), public domain is prominent in many branches of rabbinic lore, especially in the law of Sabbath observance; for on the Sabbath it is forbidden to carry anything but one's clothing and ornaments from the private into the public domain, or vice versa; or from one man's private domain to that of another; or for a distance of four cubits within the public domain. But the character of the place, whether public or private, may also affect property rights, as is pointed out in the article Accident and Alienation, where it is shown that the "semita" (), or sidewalk near the houses, which probably, along with its Latin name, came into vogue under the Roman occupation, has a character and effect of its own.
It appears from the whole tenor of the Mishnah (compare Community, Organization of; Corporation)that in the cities of Palestine the smaller houses were grouped around an open place; this place, or the whole group of buildings with it, being known as a court (), which had one covered entrance (). A court having more than one entrance from the street, or even a house with more than one opening, seems to have been exceptional.
Besides the small houses thus grouped around an open court, mention is made of a many-roomed house (, literally "a palace") corresponding to the "insula" of the Romans. Each of such houses had at its front from eight to twelve pillars, the space between which was part of the private domain. Between the pillars was the well for the house, so that water might lawfully be drawn from it and brought into the house on the Sabbath. Minute directions concerning both "courts" and "palaces" are given in the treatise 'Erubin (ch. i., ii.; houses with two openings are referred to in ix. 3), which directions must be followed to raise the desired character of privacy for Sabbatic purposes.
Speaking generally, the highways—that is, streets and public places in the town, and roads in the settled part of the country—are public domain. But the wilderness, or unsettled country, having generally no private owner, is preeminently "domain of the many" beyond any other spot; yet within the wilderness a private domain can be improvised by forming a corral of the wagons and other implements of a caravan (); this with the space enclosed is treated like a court within a town ('Er. i. 8).
A navigable body of water is public domain; but here the laws, either civil or ritual, are not fully applicable. A ship is for all purposes private domain. Compare Sabbath.