Category Archives: Huppah Traditions

The Chuppah Explained in 62 Charming Seconds [Video]

Looking for a quick background on the wedding chuppah that’s both short and sweet? g-dcast made this video with you in mind:

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Who Stands Under the Huppah?

wedding at New York Prospect Park May 2012

The question of who stands under the wedding huppah is one of the more popular email questions we get at Huppahs.com. The answer is a matter of custom rather than Jewish law or strong tradition. Generally, the couple getting married and the officiant stand under the huppah. Parents and members of the wedding party stand to the sides.

Jewish Wedding, by Moritz OppenheimThe inclusion of the officiant under the huppah is a relatively new development. If you look at etchings of early huppah ceremonies from the Middle Ages, when huppahs as canopies first became part of the Jewish wedding ceremony, only the bride and groom stood under the huppah. This is consistent with the idea of the huppah representing the couple’s home and shared spiritual space.

Because we’re talking wedding custom rather than law, there is room for exceptions. At the wedding of ultra-orthodox royalty earlier this year, dozens of people stood under the huppah. But that huppah was probably at least 25 feet wide on each side. And they had 25,000 guests.

(Photo: Wedding at Brooklyn’s Prospect Boat House under an Organza Huppah. Thank you to mother of the groom, Nancy Gershman.)

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Huppahs Aren’t Just for Jewish Weddings Anymore

Lace Huppah from Huppahs.com Rentals
Non-Jewish couples who use huppahs for their weddings are part of a growing trend, says Ted Merwin in the New York Jewish Week.

Party planner Sojourner Auguste explains:

It is “fairly common” for non-Jewish couples to use a chupah, or chupah-like structure, as part of the “décor” for the wedding ceremony. For these couples, she said, “The wedding canopy still represents a sacred space where they exchange vows.” But Christians want something beyond the standard floral arrangements that flank the altar. “By using a chupah,” Soujourner said, “they elevate their ceremony and make it special.”

From event planner Melisa Imberman:

Non-Jews who use a chupah, she said, are often thinking about how their wedding pictures will look “They may not know what it’s called or be aware that it’s a Jewish concept,” she said. “They see a picture of a wedding arch in a magazine or on a website, and they notice that it frames the bride and groom, creating a focal point for the ceremony.”

It makes sense. With so many couples getting married in non-traditional spaces like parks, museums, and bistros, a huppah is a way to make a ceremony space feel special and look pretty.

(Photo: Jason Weil for Huppahs.com)

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The Jewish Wedding Ceremony, Step by Step

The Jewish wedding ceremony is richly layered in centuries of tradition, Jewish law, spiritual teachings, and customs from communities around the world. Here we’ve laid out the basic structure of the traditional Jewish wedding, with some of the most widely-accepted interpretations of the parts of the ceremony. We’ve also included some of the most popular customs and practices that couples have added during the past few decades. If we’ve missed any of your favorite customs or interpretations, feel free to add them in the Comment section.

Greeting the Couple

Traditionally, Jewish wedding celebrations begin with separate receptions for the bride and groom, together called kabalat panim. Many contemporary couples combine the activities of these receptions into one small pre-huppah ceremony attended by only a few family members and friends.

Attending the Bride. At the bride’s reception, referred to in Hebrew as hakhnassat kallah, the bride sits on a specially decorated chair and receives well wishes from her guests.

The Groom’s Table. At the groom’s reception, or chossen’s tish, two traditional documents and one newly-adopted document are signed.

  1. The Tenaim. The traditional formal agreement between the two families that the bride and groom will marry.
  2. The Ketubah. This is the wedding contract. In the most traditional of Jewish weddings, the purpose of the ketubah is for the groom to assume his legal and moral obligations to his wife. The groom and two witnesses sign it. Increasingly, couples choose ketubahs that lay out both partners’ obligations to each other, and both partners sign them.
  3. Prenuptial Agreement. The Prenup is a new agreement, introduced in the 1950s and embraced by a wide spectrum of Jewish communities. It helps ensure that a woman who marries under Jewish law and decides in the future to end the marriage will be able to obtain a divorce under Jewish law. The Conservative movement incorporates this agreement into its standard ketubah through what is called the Lieberman Clause. Modern Orthodox communities generally use a separate prenup form.

Veiling the Bride. Also called bedecken. The groom lowers the veil over the bride’s face. The groom is the person who lowers the veil so that he can make sure that the bride is the person he intends to marry. The practice recalls the Biblical story of Jacob, who was tricked by his father-in-law into marrying the sister of his intended bride.

The Huppah Ceremonies

In a traditional Jewish wedding, the groom puts on a kittel, a white robe, before the festivities move to the huppah. Wearing white, for both the groom and the bride, signifies that for them this day is a new spiritual beginning. The kittel has no pockets, symbolizing that the bride marries the groom for who he is rather than for what he owns. For the same reason, the bride removes her jewelry before the huppah ceremony.

The wedding takes place under a huppah, a canopy that represents the couple’s physical and spiritual home. The huppah is open on all four sides, like the tent of the first Jewish couple, Abraham and Sarah, to associate the couple’s home with the hospitality for which Abraham and Sarah were known. Historically, a bride was escorted from her home to the ceremony while walking under a huppah carried by four huppah-bearers.

The Procession. For a ceremony using a traditional hand-held huppah, the huppah bearers carry the huppah into the ceremony space. Then, as with other modern wedding processions, any special honored guests are escorted to their seats, and the members of the wedding party enter and take their places. The groom is escorted to the huppah by his parents, and the bride is escorted by her parents.

Kiddushin, The Betrothal. When the bride reaches the huppah, she circles the groom seven times, creating the spiritual space that will surround them in marriage. The number of circles can vary. Today, both partners may take turns circling each other to symbolize their mutual obligations to each other. After circling, a bride stands to her groom’s right.

  • Opening Blessings.
  • Blessing for the First Cup. The rabbi recites a blessing over a cup of wine, and the wedding couple each take a sip. Some couples may pass the cup to their parents or other guests for them to sip.
  • The Ring Ceremony. This is the central act of the Jewish wedding ceremony. The groom places the ring on the bride’s right index finger while reciting the following, in Hebrew or his native language: “By this ring you are consecrated to me in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel.” Today, some brides also give the groom a ring at this time, while reciting a similar statement to that of the groom.
  • Bride’s Acceptance. Two people must witness that the bride accepts the ring willingly.

Reading the Ketubah

Reading the ketubah is not a formal part of the ceremony, but today most couples incorporate it into the ceremony at this point.

Nussuin, Nuptials

The sheva b’rachot, seven blessings, are recited. These prayers place the couple within God’s continuing act of creation and celebrate the many voices of joy that God created in the world, including the voices of the bride and groom.

Breaking the Glass

The groom smashes a glass on the ground with his foot as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Everyone yells “Mazel tov!”

Yichud

The newly married couple spends some time in seclusion — at least eight minutes according to strict interpretations of tradition — breaking their wedding-day fast and sharing their first married moments alone together. The bride puts on the jewelry she took off before the huppah ceremony.

For modern couples who do not have a double ring ceremony under the huppah, this is a good time for the bride to present the groom with his wedding ring.

After the yichud, it’s time to join everyone else at the party!

What do the Jewish bride and groom wear?

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Reader Question: How Do I Attach 2 Tallits Together to Make a Wedding Huppah?

Question: We are thinking of making a huppah canopy by combining the groom’s father’s tallit and his grandfather’s tallit. Do you have any recommendations for how we might do this?

Answer: The idea of making a wedding huppah canopy from more than one tallit, or prayer shawl, is a definite trend. At Huppahs.com we’re getting variations on this question more and more often.

Jewish couples have been marrying under huppah canopies made from tallits for centuries (Quick point: The Hebrew language plural for “tallit”, also spelled “tallith” would be “tallithim ” or “tallisim”. However, I’m using tallit as an English language word, so I’m using the plural “tallits”). Through the ages, the bride and groom stood under the groom’s tallit, in keeping with the symbolism of the huppah as the couple’s physical home and their shared spiritual space.

Many of our clients use our huppah poles with their own tallits or a tallit of a family member to create a very personal huppah.

Today, the idea of combining the tallits of more than one person is seen as a way to honor people who are special to the bride and groom and to represent the presence of these people in the couples’ lives.

As a huppah and tallit designer, I can recommend a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Compatible Lengths: Make sure the two tallits you want to attach together are the same length.
  2. Final Canopy Size: Every fabric canopy will drape in the middle. The larger the canopy, the more the drape. You’ll want to make sure that the size of the combined tallits isn’t so large that it drapes too low in the middle. Also, the larger the canopy, the more it will weigh, and heavier canopies pull more on the huppah poles. Be sure to use poles that are strong enough to handle the weight of the combined tallits without bending. For Huppahs.com’s poles, we recommend a canopy size that is no larger than 60″x80″ (1.5mx2m). That size yields a nice drape, and the poles are easy to hold.
  3. Tallit Age: If you are using an older tallit, such as a grandfather’s tallit, look it over carefully to make sure the fabric isn’t frail or threadbare. Stitching two prayer shawls together will make small holes in the tallits, and when the canopy hangs the huppah poles, the weight of the tallits will pull at the fabric along the seam. Make sure the tallits are strong enough to hold up well to this kind of treatment.
  4. Religious Nature of a Tallit: Keep in mind the religious role of the tallit. Wearing a tallit for prayer isn’t just a tradition, it’s a practice rooted in religious obligations laid out in the Torah. The Biblical and spiritual power of the tallit lies in its shape, with four corners, and the ritually knotted strings on the corners. Sewing two prayer shawls together changes this physical structure. It reduces the tallit to a symbol, rather than a garment that, when worn with the intention to fulfill a religious commandment, can raise prayer to a higher level of spirituality. And although sewing tallits together can create a huppah canopy with great emotional meaning, my recommendation as a huppah and tallit designer is to use only one tallit for your huppah, to ensure you are preserving the tallit’s religious and spiritual power.

Given these practical and spiritual considerations, my recommendation in most cases is to use only one tallit for a huppah canopy and honor additional special people in other ways. Here are some options:

  1. Ask them to hold a huppah pole.
  2. Ask them to recite one of the seven blessings during the ceremony.
  3. Acknowledge them during a speech or toast at the reception.

Update: Here’s another option for using two tallits that doesn’t involve sewing them together: Attach one tallit to the huppah poles, and lay the second tallit on top of the first. You would want to make sure that the fabric of the first tallit is strong enough so that it won’t rip at the point of the tallit where you tie it to the poles, especially since the fabric will be carrying the weight of two tallits.

This would be a way to combine two tallits without sewing them, and it would be a way to include a second tallit that is older and frail or too delicate to sew or carry weight.

This idea comes from a Huppahs.com client who wanted to use a grandfather’s tallit that was too frail to be tied to the poles. His solution was to start with a Simplicity Huppah and lay his grandfather’s tallit on top of it. A great idea.

Do you have any other suggestions for honoring special people on your wedding day? Please share them in the comment section.

Jewish wedding New York park ivory silk chuppahRELATED:
Real Jewish Wedding: Natalie + Richard Wed Under an Ivory Silk Huppah in a New York City Park

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How old is the practice of using a huppah for Jewish weddings?

Chuppah Middle AgesHuppahs (also spelled huppas, chuppahs, or khupas) became a part of the Jewish wedding ceremony during the Middle Ages in Europe, about the same time and place that men began covering their heads with kippot (yarmulkes). The Middle Ages sounds like a long time ago, but when you consider that Judaism’s history reaches back 5,000 years, the wedding huppah is a relatively young custom.

The earliest huppah poles were only a few feet tall. Four young men would hold the poles as they escorted the bride, who walked under the huppah, from her home to the synagogue.

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Who can hold the huppah poles?

Anyone can hold a huppah pole. That makes the role of huppah bearer, or unterferer, a great role to offer someone who you want to honor but who isn’t Jewish or isn’t comfortable reciting Hebrew during the ceremony. Of course, all rabbis have their preferences, so as with all aspects of a Jewish wedding, always double check with the rabbi who will be performing the ceremony.

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Why does a Jewish wedding ceremony take place under a huppah?

The huppah serves as a visible representation of the home, both physical and spiritual, that the bride and groom will share as a married couple. Traditionally, the bride creates their shared spiritual space as she steps under the huppah and circles the groom.

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What Makes a Huppah a Huppah?

Outdoor huppahThe huppah’s structure evokes a tent — specifically, the tent that was the home of Judaism’s first couple, Abraham and Sarah, 5,000 years ago.

A huppah (also written chuppah or huppa) has a fabric canopy held aloft by four poles or a frame with four legs. The huppah is open on all four sides, as the tent of Sarah and Abraham is said to have been because of their great hospitality.

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What do you call the people who hold the huppah poles?

The conventional American term is “huppah bearers”. The classic term is unterferers, which means “supporters”.

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How Old Is the Tradition of Using a Huppah?

Huppah

A classic image of a bride and groom under a huppah: Die Trauung, The Wedding, by Moritz Oppenheim (1866).

The huppah (also often spelled huppa or chuppah) became a part of the Jewish wedding ceremony during the Middle Ages in Europe, about the same time and place that men began covering their heads with kippot (yarmulkes). The Middle Ages sounds like a long time ago, but when you consider that Judaism is 5,000 years old, the wedding huppah is a tradition with a lot of youthful energy.

The painting on the right shows a wedding ceremony in the European medieval Jewish tradition. The bride and groom are marrying outside a synagogue, surrounded by family and community. The couple stand together, with a tallit (prayer shawl) draped over their heads and across their shoulders.

The earliest huppah poles were only a few feet tall. Four young men would hold the poles as they escorted the bride, who walked under the huppah, from her home to the synagogue. These days, when we don’t walk the huppah through the streets of town, longer poles that rest on the ground are much more practical (and a lot easier on your huppah bearers.) See huppah poles…

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Huppah, Huppa, Chuppah, Khupa – Which Spelling Is Right?

All these spellings are correct, and you might even see others. The word originally comes from Hebrew, and the Hebrew alphabet has some letters and sounds that English doesn’t have. Different people substitute English letters for the Hebrew letters in different ways. We like the spelling “huppahs” because the English sounds in “huppahs” are closest to the Hebrew pronunciation than the English sounds of other spellings, like “chuppahs” or “khupas.” We also like huppahs because it is the spelling used in our favorite Jewish wedding planning book, The New Jewish WeddingNew Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant.

Interested in a more detailed discussion? Buckle up and read on:

This is how the word huppah looks in Hebrew:

chuppah

The first letter: Het. The first letter is the letter on the far right (Hebrew is written right to left, unlike English, which is written left to right). This letter, called het, makes a sound that doesn’t exist in English. It’s a kind of raspy, rolling h sound that you make with the back of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. If you’re not a native Hebrew speaker it can take some practice. If you haven’t heard a Hebrew speaker pronounce it, the sound is difficult to get just from a written explanation.

In prayer books and other Jewish texts that substitute an English “h” for the Hebrew het, the h is usually shown with a dot underneath it, as in our logo for Huppahs.com:

Huppahs.com logo

 

Second letter: Vav. The second letter from the right, vav, can make three different sounds depending on the word. It can sound like the English v, or the long vowel sound o, but in “huppahs” it makes a sound like the English u.

Third letter: Peh. This letter sounds like the English p. When our word is written in English, it is most often written with two p’s, although you’ll sometimes see it with one p.

Last letter: Hay. In our word, the letter hay has a soft “ah” sound which some people write with an ah and some people write with just an a.

We hope we’ve explained all this in a way that makes sense. Now, the difference between making nouns plural in English and Hebrew is a whole other can of worms. That post will have to wait for another day.

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