While addressing the need to establish an Eruv by independent householders, the Mishna in today’s daf (Eruvin 6:7, 72b) speaks of a situation of ‘brothers who eat at their father’s table (אוכלין על שולחן אביהם), but sleep in their own homes’.
Though the commentaries debate what precisely is being described here, most agree that this refers to a case where – situated within the same courtyard – are a variety of homes including that of the father, as well as separate homes for each of the sons.
As we were taught in yesterday’s daf (71b), an Eruv Chatzeirot is established with bread, and this is because bread represents formal eating and home residence. With this in mind, it may be argued that this family who share meals together need only establish one Eruv.
At the same time, as the Gemara explains here (72b-73a), while some consider a place of residence to be determined by where someone eats their fixed meals, others determine a place of residence according to where a person sleeps. Given this, in our case where each son has his own home, it may be argued that each member of the family must establish their own Eruv.
Though both the Mishna and its respective commentaries view this situation as being an unusual case where these brothers are independent in terms of where they sleep but dependent in terms of where they eat, I think that this model is a powerful portrayal of contemporary life where many people in their 20’s, 30’s and perhaps even older are – in many ways – fully independent, and who also – in many ways – remain dependent on their parents.
Admittedly, though I know of few people who – like this situation – live independently but who eat all their meals in their parents’ home. However, it should be noted that the phrase אוכלין על שולחן אביהם can also be interpreted to mean that these sons are being financially supported by their parents, and undoubtedly, today there are many younger people who live separately from their parents, but who continue to be financially supported by their parents.
Of course, the question of establishing a shared or separate Eruv is only relevant if the children live within the same courtyard where their parents live. However, the wider philosophical question raised by our Mishna remains: can someone who lives separately from their parents but who is financially reliant on them be regarded as living independently?
Though some, on the basis of a different Gemara (Nazir 29b), may argue that a child who does not live under the same roof can be said to be living independently, I believe others may disagree and – like the case of our Mishna – assert that by their continued reliance on their parents’ support, such people are still living in an extension of their parents’ home.
Overall, it seems that general culture is of the opinion that whenever someone lives independently, no matter how they are financially supported, they are considered to be a separate entity, which is why many parents presume that they should not involve themselves with the daily lives of their children who live away from home.
At the same time, from the perspective of the younger person this can be confusing, because while they may be living separately, their continued financial reliance of their parent means that they are not living a completely independent life, and consequently, they still look towards their parents for guidance.
Ultimately, while the Mishna speaks of this situation as being an unusual one, today situations like this are commonplace. Yet just as there is debate in the Mishna about how to view such a situation, there continues to be ambiguity today in terms of understanding the status of those who live away from their parents, but who continue to ‘eat from their table’.