Category Archives: Jewish Wedding Traditions

Who Can Hold the Huppah Poles?

Anyone can hold a huppah pole. There’s no Jewish law on this. Unless your wedding officiant limits who can hold the huppah poles, or your community has strong expectations that you want to meet, you can choose anyone you want.

For my own wedding, for example, which was an Orthodox ceremony, we had both men and women holding poles. Some of the huppah bearers were Jewish and some were not Jewish. In fact, asking someone who is not Jewish to hold a huppah pole can be a great way to include them in your wedding if your officiant requires that the other roles in the ceremony, such as reciting a blessing, be done only be someone who is Jewish.

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Happy Tu B’Av, Jewish Valentine’s Day

Almonds_Blossoms Isael
Happy Tu b’Av – that’s the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av! In ancient Israel, the Talmud says, unmarried women went out into the vineyards around Jerusalem to dance on Tu b’Av, as young men in search of brides watched. In the spirit of romance, here’s an excerpt from Marcia Falk’s poetic translation of the Bible’s love psalm: The Song of Songs:

…Come with me,
my love,
come away

For the long wet months are past,
the rains have fed the earth
and left it bright with blossoms

Birds wing in the low sky,
dove and songbird singing
in the open air above

Earth nourishing tree and vine,
green tree and tender grape,
green and tender fragrance

Come with me,
my love,
come away

(The Song of Songs 2:10-13)

Another romantic translation from Jewish writings here.

(Photo: Almond blossoms. Lehava Activity 2012 Pikiwiki Israel via Wikimedia Commons)

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Another Jewish Wedding Tradition You’ve Probably Never Heard Of – And a Koi Fish Video

Another nearly forgotten wedding custom from Jewish Life in the Middle Ages:

A live fish played a part in Oriental Jewish weddings, and the newly married pair leapt thrice over the bowl in which the fish disported itself.

Here Oriental refers to the Eastern Mediterranean, the area that now includes Southern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. I wish there were more details, but no. More from Isreal Abraham’s book here.

Not ready to go back to work? Listen to a Little Jewish Wedding Music from The Huppah Project (Video)

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Bet You’ve Never Heard of these Jewish Wedding Customs

barley

In honour of the bridal pair an old Persian custom was followed in Talmudic times, and nuts and wheat were cast about the path in which they strode. Barley was sown in a flower vase a few days before the wedding as an emblem of fertility, and was thrown over the young couple, as in modern times.

Modern times? Well, if that’s not any modern times you’re familiar with, that’s because these descriptions of nearly forgotten Jewish wedding customs were written circa 1896, by Israel Abrahams for his book, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages. Thanks, Mr. Abrahams.

What do the Jewish bride and groom wear?

(Photo: From this week’s barley harvest, the first ever at 4 Pines Farm)

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The Love of David and Jonathan

David and Jonathan
An excerpt from Pirkei Avot, the two-thousand-year-old book of Jewish ethics:

“Any love which is contingent on a thing, when the thing is nullified the love disintegrates; but a love which is independent of anything will never disintegrate. What is the prototype of love, which is contingent on a thing? This is the love of Amnon and Tamar. And what is the prototype of a love, which is independent of anything? This is the love of David and Jonathan.” (Pirkei Avot 5:19)

David is King David, and Jonathan is the son of King Saul.

The translation is by Michael Shire from his book Mazal Tov!: The Ritual and Customs of a Jewish Wedding.

More Mazal Tov! here.

(Image: Jonathan Lovingly Taketh His Leave of David by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld via Wikimedia Commons)

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Rediscovered Prenup Illustrates the Ancient Art of Digit Crunching (Video)


The New York Times reports that a recent project to digitize and match up more than 100,000 fragments of antique Jewish manuscripts has pieced together part of a prenuptial agreement between a woman named Faiza bat Solomon and a man identified so far only as “Son of a Buffoon.” In the document, Son of a Buffoon agrees to “abandon foolishness and idiocy,” and “not associate with corrupt men” or else pay his wife 10 gold dinars.

The Times article doesn’t provide the date for the prenup, but the document comes from the Cairo Geniza, a cache of documents that were created between the 9th and 19th centuries and discovered in Egypt in 1896.

Will the computer program help researchers reconstruct more of this prenup and provide additional insight into this relationship? For Son of a Buffoon, the digit crunching continues.

(The video above, by infolive.tv International a year ago, explains the project of digitizing and piecing together documents from the Cairo Geniza.)

Real Jewish Wedding: Natalie + Richard Wed Under an Ivory Silk Huppah in a New York City Park

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What’s Going On? This Jewish Wedding Program Explains [PDF]

Jewish wedding program
While reorganizing my office this week I came across the program I wrote for my wedding to explain Jewish wedding traditions to the guests who weren’t Jewish (since I come from a large family of people who are not Jewish, that was a lot of people). I thought I’d share it, especially for couples putting together something similar. One of the best things I did was to include in the heading the phrase “Consider it an invitation to join in the celebration,” because that’s just what people did. See the program…

7 Ways to Decorate a Wedding Huppah

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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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Weekly Wedding Tips

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What do the Jewish bride and groom wear?

I was recently asked what a Jewish bride and groom wear. Here’s the answer for a traditional Jewish ceremony:

demure wedding dress

Ivanka Trump: The dress she wore for her 2009 Jewish wedding started the popular trend toward more demure gowns.

The Jewish Bride

The bride wears a white gown. For a most traditional ceremony, the gown is modest, with a collar that is not too low. The shoulders are covered, and maybe the elbows too (thank you Ivanka Trump, for setting the pace for elegant demure wedding gowns.)

The veil is a must. The groom traditionally lowers the bride’s veil just before the huppah ceremony. The ritual is related to the Torah passage that tells of Jacob unknowingly marrying the sister of the woman he loved. He could not tell he was marrying the wrong woman because the bride’s face was covered by a veil. Now the groom lowers the veil so he knows who he is marrying.

Any jewelry is removed before the huppah ceremony, as an indication that we marry a person, not a person’s possessions. The jewelry can go back on after the ceremony.

The Jewish Groom

The groom covers his head with a kippah (also called a yarmulke). In some communities he wears a hat on top of that. Covering our heads before God is a demonstration of respect and awe.

For the ceremony, the groom wears a tailored white robe, called a kittel, over his suit or prayer shawl, called a tallit, over his shoulders.

Both the bride and groom wear white because Judaism teaches that a person’s wedding day is a day of spiritual renewal; a personal Yom Kippur. All one’s sins are wiped away, and the bride and groom approach the huppah with spiritually pure souls.

21 Things Rabbis Wish Wedding Coordinators and Couples Knew About Planning a Jewish Wedding (Huppahs.com)

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Rabbis’ Wedding Planning Advice Now Available as Printable Flyer

Rabbis wedding planning advice for Jewish weddings“21 Things Rabbis Wish Wedding Planners and Couples Knew About Planning a Jewish Wedding” is now available as a flyer in printable PDF format for you and your wedding planning clients.

Printable Flyer.

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Why do the Jewish bride and groom wear white?

In Judaism, a person’ wedding day is a day of renewal, a personal Yom Kippur. On the wedding day, the bride and groom’s souls are wiped clean. White is a symbol of the bride and groom’s spiritual purity. The bride wears a white wedding dress, and the groom traditionally wears a white robe called a kittel, or a tallit, a prayer shawl.

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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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Because You Asked: My Kippah Vendor Recommendation

brown velvet kippah

dark royal blue suede kippah

white satin kippah
Photo source: Yofah

After yesterday’s post about using kippahs and bentschers as wedding favors, I’ve been asked if I know of a good vendor for kippahs – something good quality and easy on the wedding budget. I’m happy to tell you about the vendor I used just a few months ago for my daughters’ b’not mitzvah: Yofah. I had a great experience with them.

Yofah offers the widest selection of colors and fabrics, and the best prices, of any other kippah vendors I found. Their online system for personalizing the inside of the kippah with text in English and Hebrew is easy to use. And when the kippahs arrived, I found that the quality was very good.

fuschia satin kippahBTW: Let me share with you the kippot style my daughters chose for their b’not mitzvah: fuschia satin. I just love them (the kippahs and the girls!).

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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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A Huppah in Chapel Hill

Meredith and Brian’s wedding at Rigmor House in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is described by their minister, Reverend Kayelily Middleton. Here’s a sample:

Chapel Hill Huppah

"...Our Chuppah holders then processed in. The original plan was to have the Chuppah already in place but the wind was such that the Chuppah would have been air borne had we left it unattended!..."


North Carolina Huppah

"...Diana, sister of the bride, was the reader for one of the readings. It was ee cumming's "2 little whos," the same poem that was read at their parents' wedding..."


Huppah Raleigh North Carolina

"...After the vows, the rings, the wine, the seven blessings, and the glass breaking and the shouting of "Mahzel Tov," the couple were pronounced married and scampered happily down the aisle!..."


Read more at Kayelily’s Raleigh Wedding Blog…

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Outdoor Huppah Inspiration: With a Love Like That, You Know You Should Be Glad

San Francisco huppah

"...We circled each other. We did, in fact, feel our lives intertwining..."


With friends taking part in the Jewish wedding traditions, Meg found true bliss in the loving atmosphere of her intimate wedding. Their huppah is a tallit suspended by hand-held poles. Thank you for sharing, Meg. Read more…

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A.’s Shower of Huppah Blessings

quilted huppah
Home made huppah
Home made huppah
A.’s huppah, crafted by her Mom from huppah squares made by family and friends, became a way for her non-Jewish family members and friends to feel intimately connected with her wedding ceremony. Standing underneath the huppah, it felt to her like a shower of blessings and love.

Wedding photo taken by Davina + Daniel of New York and Montreal.

Read more…

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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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