Arriving at the Huppah, or Wedding Canopy

A procession leads the groom and then the bride to the huppah, where the bride traditionally encircles the groom three or seven times.

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Some see in the bride's three encirclements of the groom a symbolic reminder to him of the three primal obligations the Torah requires of him as her husband--to provide her with sustenance, clothing, and conjugal relations. Others find in it an allusion to the threefold expression of God's betrothal to the Jewish people in Hosea, "And I will betroth you to me forever; and I will betroth you to me with righteousness and justice, and in loving-kindness and compassion."

The prevailing custom of seven circuits probably has kabbalistic [Jewish mystical] origins and may relate to the seven revolutions of the earth during the biblical seven days of creation. Since every marriage is a reenactment of the process of creation, the bride's encirclement of the groom is an allusion that the seven cycles of creation are now being repeated.

The bride stands to the right of the groom under the huppah, an allusion to the verse in Psalms, "a queen shall stand at your right side." They stand facing the guests during the marriage ceremony, while the officiating rabbi stands facing the bride and groom and looking in an easterly direction, with his back to the guests.

All those under the huppah stand, and in many circles it is traditional for the assembled guests to stand as well, in deference to the bride and groom who are standing. It is customary for the parents of the couple to be present under the huppah. Others may also be present.

A minyan, or quorum, of at least 10 Jewish males over the age of 13 is required to be present during the ceremony for the legal validation of the marriage in accordance with Jewish law. [In liberal communities, a minyan consists of 10 adults of either gender, not just men.]

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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.