Author Archives: Dr. Michael Kaufman

About Dr. Michael Kaufman

Dr. Michael Kaufman studied at Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Vodaath, Telshe Yeshiva, Brookyn College, and the University of Louisville. His books include The Art of Judaism, A Timeless Judaism for Our Time, and A Guide to Jewish Art. He lives with his family in Jerusalem.

Arriving at the Huppah, or Wedding Canopy

The following article presents a traditional view, and many customs and interpretations it presents would be understood in more egalitarian ways by many contemporary liberal Jews. Reprinted with permission from Love, Marriage, and Family in Jewish Law and Tradition, published by Jason Aronson Publishers .

Following the veiling ceremony, the couple are led to the huppah for the marriage ceremony. 

The groom arrives at the huppah before the bride. Since the huppah is considered [according to traditional understanding] the symbolic home of the groom, he must be there first to welcome his bride to his home. The tradition is said by some to go back to the very first wedding, when, the Torah says, God took Eve “and brought her to Adam.” Eve, since she was created after Adam, is considered in Jewish thought to represent a higher form of life than is Adam, since she was able to carry a fetus in her body. As the first one created, Adam is said to have been waiting under the huppah in the Garden of Eden when Eve was brought to him.

The Wedding Processional

In some circles, it is customary for two people to lead the groom to the huppah to the accompaniment of appropriate music. In other circles, however, the groom is accompanied by a larger retinue, since the groom is likened to a king.

There are varying customs regarding who accompanies the principals to the huppah. Sometimes the groom is accompanied by his parents and the bride by hers. Indeed, this custom is cited by the Zohar, which says, “The father and mother of the bride bring her to the domain of the groom.” However, there is no Jewish tradition of a father “giving away the bride.”

jewish wedding processionAmong other groups, it is customary for the groom to be accompanied by the two fathers and the bride to be accompanied by the two mothers. Where the custom is for the principals to be accompanied by their parents, and the parents are divorced, great care should be taken that this should not become a source of aggravation in which one of the parents, out of pettiness or seeking to strike out at a former mate, refuses to accompany his or her child to the huppah if the other parent does so. No feelings of hurt or spite designed to hurt the child’s other parent can excuse marring the supreme happiness of a son or daughter on a wedding day, and the marrying couple will probably always remember it as an act of supreme selfishness on the part of an immature parent.

After the Wedding Ceremony

Kaufman describes traditional wedding customs, some of which may not be observed by the liberal Jewish movements and others like the Yichud (seclusion) Room or Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals) are observed differently. Reprinted with permission from Love, Marriage, and Family in Jewish Law and Tradition, published by Jason Aronson Publishers.

The Seclusion Room

Amidst singing and dancing, the bride and groom… weave their way through the congratulating guests to the yihud (seclusion) room. It is customary for bride and groom to be alone for a period of time immediately following the marriage ceremony. 

The complete seclusion of the couple in a closed room is a public act symbolizing their new status as husband and wife. Since this act, more than any other, signifies that they are truly married, a public awareness of their seclusion is required, and it must be attested to by qualified witnesses. The witnesses remain outside the door to ensure that no one enters until the couple have been alone for a reasonable period of time.

wedding partyYihud provides a period of respite for the newly married couple, an interval of tranquility for them to enjoy together in total solitude amidst the turmoil of the wedding. It is customary for the two to have their first meal as husband and wife together in the yihud room. Both will have been fasting all day, and this food will be their first of the day.

It is important that the yihud room be prepared before the wedding. It should provide absolute privacy. It should also have food for a light repast for the couple.

The Festive Wedding Meal

The wedding feast is a seudat mitzvah, a festive religious meal integral to a wedding, participation in which is considered to be a mitzvah [commandment]. In many areas, it is customary for a table to be set aside at the wedding feast for the poor and indigent of the community, so they can participate fully in the wedding. It is also customary for the poor to be allowed to collect alms from the wedding guests, or for the parents of the new couple to give them a substantial sum.

The Huppah, or Wedding Canopy

Many modern Jews have reinterpreted traditional understandings to be more egalitarian, and they might understand the huppah to represent the home that bride and groom are establishing together, rather than the one to which the groom takes his bride, as is described below. This traditional understanding of the huppah has been reprinted with permission from Love, Marriage, and Family in Jewish Law and Tradition, published by Jason Aronson Publishers .

The marriage ceremony is conducted under a marriage canopy, known in Hebrew as a huppah (literally, “covering”). It consists of a square cloth, usually made of silk or velvet, supported by four staves, and ordinarily held by four men.

weddings quiz

The huppah is mentioned in the Bible in association with marriage: “As a bridegroom goes forth from his huppah.” Elsewhere it is stated: “Let the bridegroom proceed from his chamber and let the bride go forth from the huppah.”

The huppah symbolizes the new home to which the bridegroom will take his bride. In this context, the appearance of the bride and groom together under a huppah before an assembly who have come to witness the event is in itself a public proclamation by them that they are now bonded together as man and wife. It is a prelude to intimacy, and thus a significant element in nissuin [marriage].

The cloth huppah was originally draped around the bride and groom but was later spread out over their heads. In some places, a tallit [prayer shawl] was draped over the couple or held above them. The single cloth under which the couple are joined thus symbolizes both the new household they are forming and represents the public recognition of their new status as man and wife.

The canopy is considered an object of Jewish ceremonial art, and in accordance with the Jewish concept of hiddur mitzvah (embellishing the precept), considerable attention is often lavished on it to create attractive huppot.

The sages find a reference to the huppah in the talmudic passage in Avot, referring to the house which is open on four sides. The Jerusalemite R. Yosi ben Yohanan urges, “Let your house be wide open,” and compares the huppah to the tent of the patriarch Abraham that, according to Jewish tradition, had entrances on all four sides to welcome wayfarers, so that no traveler, no matter from which direction he came, need be burdened searching for an entrance door. The huppah, with four open sides, is thus a symbol of the Jewish home filled with hesed (acts of love), an important component of which is hakhnasat orhim (hospitality to strangers), a mode of conduct that the newly married couple is expected to establish in their home in emulation of their patriarchal forebear, whose hospitality to strangers was legendary.

Before the Jewish Wedding Ceremony

Kaufman describes traditional wedding customs, some of which may not be observed by many liberal Jews. In some communities, many traditional customs are retained, although they are practiced in more egalitarian ways. Reprinted with permission from Love, Marriage, and Family in Jewish Law and Tradition, published by Jason Aronson Publishers.

The traditional Jewish wedding begins with separate simultaneous receptions by the groom and the bride for the wedding guests.

The Bride’s Reception

The bride’s reception is usually the livelier one. It is an old tradition, referred to in the Talmud, for the bride to sit on an attractive throne. Surrounded by her attendants, close family members, and friends, she receives guests and well wishers. As the musicians play, her friends dance in front of her.

The Groom’s Tisch

The groom’s reception (Yiddish: hoson’s tisch) for men is held at a table laden with food and drink. Seated adjacent to the groom are his father and the bride’s father, surrounded by the rabbis. Around the table are male guests, relatives, and friends of the groom, who toast the groom and sing. [Today, many grooms opt to have female friends and relatives at their tish as well.] Often, the room in which the groom’s reception is held is where the late-afternoon Minchah prayer service takes place.

jewish brideIt is customary for a groom to deliver (or attempt to deliver) a learned discourse at the tisch (“table”). But traditionally he is interrupted by his friends shortly after beginning, with lively singing and rhythmic clapping in which all present join to prevent him from continuing. This custom is not intended as an affront or as an act of disrespect to the groom, but is designed to protect the groom who may be less than scholarly, lest he be shamed on what should be his most joyous day.

In many Hasidic circles, a badhan, or professional wedding jester, would be employed at the tish to entertain the assembled guests, by toasting the groom in rhymed couplets sung in traditional tunes.