Rabbi Lev Herrnson
What's a Chuppah and Why Do We Need One?
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
The chuppah is the single most recognizable symbol of a Jewish wedding—other than breaking a glass at the conclusion of the ceremony. What is a chuppah? A chuppah is a temporary structure similar to a canopy, under which the Jewish wedding rituals take place. The word “chuppah” is derived from the Hebrew meaning “cover.” The bride and groom, under the sheltering presence of the chuppah, but in full view of family and friends, enter the covenant of marriage.
There’s lots of meaningful symbolism associated with the chuppah:
Simple or ornate, the cover provided by the chuppah is symbolic of God’s sheltering presence;
The chuppah is also reminiscent of Abraham, the first Jew, who is said to have dwelled in a tent open on all four sides so as to welcome guests from all directions and lands; and, finally,
The chuppah symbolizes the home and family established by the marriage of the bride and groom.
The “construction” of various chuppot (plural of chuppah) varies greatly. A chuppah can be created simply by using a large tallit (prayer shawl) with a pole attached at each of it’s four corners; when the poles are held upright and apart, and the tallit is extended fully, a sheltering space is created. (Carrying and holding each of the poles is considered an honor; see my post from January 15, 2015, “Who Gets an Honor at My Wedding?”) Wedding halls with the assistance of florists will assemble a temporary wooden structure similar to a gazebo, decorated ornately with flowers and delicate fabrics. A cool summer breeze and the fragrances of the outdoors will add to the drama and views of a chuppah situated outside in a clearing or on a beach. And on a warm summer day the chuppah can provide the marrying couple with some relief from the rays of the sun.
Some couples will choose to design their own chuppah. Unlike other Jewish ritual objects, like a tallit or mezuzah, there are no halakhic (Jewish legal) requirements for the chuppah, so you can be as creative as you wish. Large or small, decorative or simple, a custom chuppah is emblematic of the household you will establish together. Couples also have invited family and friends to get involved, asking each to decorate a square of cloth to be incorporated in a patchwork chuppah that will, after the ceremony, become a family heirloom and wall-hanging.
With respect to your destination Jewish wedding, don’t assume that your hotel in Antigua or your wedding hall in Vail can provide a chuppah; be certain to check in advance. (See my post from April 28, 2015, “Planning Your Destination Jewish Wedding” for other helpful tips.) You’ll want to make certain that your provider can fulfill your requirements regarding your chuppah, so that you can enjoy fully the profound meaning associated with this beautiful wedding tradition.
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