• The Chuppah: The Wedding Canopy
• Why is Chuppah Needed?
• Who Holds the Chuppah?
Chuppah – Marriage Canopy
When a baby is brought into the Jewish covenant a traditional blessing is said: “Just as this baby has entered the covenant so may s/he enter the Torah, the Chuppah and good deeds.” The Chuppah has come to symbolize the entire Jewish marriage ceremony. Someone who says, “I am going to Gwen and Jeremy’s Chuppah in June,” means she will be attending Gwen and Jeremy’s wedding ceremony.
God constructed ten Chuppot for Adam and Eve’s wedding, according to the Midrash. Ten is a mystical number in
kabbalistic thought referring to the ten divine attributes through which God relates to the physical world.
The word “Chuppah” is based on the root word “chafah,” which means to “cover” or “hide” and is similar to the word “chafaf,” meaning to “protect.”
In the Talmudic era, brides and grooms wore laurel wreaths during the ceremony. Early Jewish practice named the bridal chamber, where the marriage was consummated, as the Chuppah. Wealthy fathers in those times would employ gold and expensive scarlet cloth in the construction of their sons’ Chuppot. (Sanhedrin 108a, Sotah 49b) Today the four sides of the Chuppah represent the first home a new couple shares.
Why is a Chuppah Needed
Chuppot are raised to distinguish a couple’s relationship to each other from their bonds with all others. According to halacha, a man and woman cannot be alone together unless they are married. (The actual who, when, and how of yichud, the laws of being alone together, are more numerous and detailed than can be written here. Talk to a rabbi for more information.) A Chuppah alludes to the couple’s change in status, where they will soon be able to be alone and intimate with each other.
Standing apart from the rest of the guests is important for other legal reasons. Two witnesses to the ceremony are chosen from among the rest of the wedding party. In halacha, a whole group of witnesses is invalidated by the presence of even one unfit witness. Separating out two witnesses to observe the ceremony ensures the legitimacy of the whole process. A Chuppah qualifies as a private room, separating the witnesses, who stand under the Chuppah, from the rest of the guests.
A variation on this idea is the notion that a man creates a marriage by taking a woman into his home. Isaac was the first to do this: “And Isaac brought her into his mother Sara’s tent, and took Rivka, and she became his wife and he loved her.” (Genesis 24:67) In this sense, the Chuppah stands as the couple’s first home.
In the Book of Ruth, Ruth instructs Boaz: “Spread your robe over me for you are a redeeming kinsman.” (Ruth 3:9) A husband is to provide for his wife to be married. As Boaz complied with Ruth’s request, he completed a marriage-making act. According to some Jewish legal scholars, covering is completed when a groom lowers the veil over his bride’s face. A greater demonstration of covering is required by other scholars, and a Chuppah achieves this goal.
While the ceiling of the Chuppah qualifies as the Ruth-like covering according to many Jewish customs, other communities use an actual tallit covering. A tallit is a recurring symbol at a Jewish wedding, in part because a Midrash tells the Jewish People saw a vision of God wrapped in a tallit at Mt. Sinai. God’s presentation of the Torah to the Jews is likened to a marriage ceremony, with the Torah acting as the ketubah. The tallit is one of the elements from this paradigmatic marriage replayed at Jewish marriage ceremonies.
How a tallit may be used varies across Jewish communities. Some couples wear the tallit over their shoulders. Some Sephardic parents hold the tallit over their children. Or the tallit forms the “ceiling” of a Chuppah supported by poles. Sephardic, German and French Jews cover the bride and groom in a tallit during the ceremony.
Who Holds the Chuppah
Since a Chuppah may be a freestanding structure, halacha does not limit who may or may not hold the Chuppah. With four poles to support, Chuppah-holding honors are a good way to include a host of people in a wedding ceremony.