RESHUT (Heb. רְשׁוּת), a word found extensively in rabbinic literature and having three distinct and different connotations: authority, domain, and a duty which is optional or voluntary, in contrast to an obligatory duty, called ḥovah.
Reshut as Authority
The term reshut is used in rabbinic literature in the sense of power and authority, such as "Seek not acquaintance with the reshut," i.e., ruling power (Avot 1:10), or "Six things serve man; over three he has reshut and over three he has no reshut; over the eye, the ear, and the nose he has no reshut; over the mouth, the hand, the foot he has reshut" (Gen. R. 67:3).
Reshut as Domain
From this stems the concept of reshut ha-yaḥid to designate an area over which the individual has authority, i.e., a private domain, in contrast to reshut ha-rabbim, a public domain. The distinction is found mainly in the laws of Sabbath, with regard to the permissibility of transferring objects from one domain to another, and in connection with torts. Thus the Tosefta (Shab. 1:1) states: "Four domains are to be distinguished in connection with the Sabbath: the private domain [reshut hayaḥid], the public domain [reshut ha-rabbim], the semipublic domain [karmelit], and the exempted domain [mekom petor]" (also Maim. Yad, Shabbat, 14: 1). Similarly, in connection with torts, a differentiation is made between private and public domains. For instance the owner of an animal is liable for the damage done by it in the private domain of another. If, however, the damage is done in a public domain, to which everyone has the right of access, such as an open field or a marketplace, the owner is liable only if the animal gores or bites, since it has no right to cause damage to the people in the locality; but he is exempt from damage caused by the animal grazing or treading (cf. Maim. Yad, Nizkei Mamon, 1:7–8).
Reshut in the Sense of an Optional or Voluntary Duty
In the Talmud there is a difference of opinion between R. Joshua and Rabban Gamaliel as to whether the evening prayer is optional (reshut) or obligatory (ḥovah; Ber. 27b). A similar distinction is made between an optional war (to enlarge the borders of Israel) in contrast to an obligatory war, like that against *Amalek or Joshua's conquest of the land (Sot. 8:7). The word reshut is also used in medieval liturgical poetry (*piyyut) for the introductory poem by the cantor who begs "permission" (reshut) despite his personal unworthiness to represent, and intercede for, the congregation.