The opening mishnah of Kiddushin lays out the three ways in which a man can acquire (i.e. betroth) a woman: money, a written agreement and sexual intercourse. However, on today’s daf Rav Huna makes the argument that there’s a fourth way: by marrying her. He notes that if a priest betroths a woman with money, she still can’t partake in terumah (the portion of Temple offerings that priests are entitled to). Only once she has married him under the huppah (nissuin) is she entitled to those priestly portions. Therefore, argues Rav Huna, huppah is a more powerful connecting agent than money and surely, therefore, it is adequate to effect a full marital relationship.
Rava said: There are two refutations of this matter. One opinion is that we learned in the mishnah that a woman can be acquired through three modes of acquisition, and we did not learn that there are four modes.
In other words, says Rava, three means three, and there’s no room to add huppah as a fourth way for a man to acquire his wife, even if logic might be on your side. Offering a second refutation, Rava states:
And furthermore, doesn’t entering a huppah complete a marriage only by means of an act of (previous) betrothal? And can one derive that entering a huppah without betrothal effects acquisition from the case of entering a wedding canopy with betrothal?
A logical consequence of Rav Huna’s position is that if a couple skips kiddushin altogether and goes straight to nissuin, they will be fully married. Once the huppah has happened, whether or not he previously betrothed her is moot. Rava, though, argues here that the fact that betrothal plus huppah completes a marriage doesn’t prove that huppah without betrothal is effective. Therefore the couple that skips kiddushin is not married.
At this point, Abaye steps in to challenge Rava and defend Rav Huna. To Rava’s first point, he notes that the mishnah’s assertion that there are three modes of acquisition doesn’t discount the possibility of a fourth, since the mishnah teaches only those matters that are explicitly mentioned in the Torah, and huppah isn’t among them. He also proclaims the power of the huppah along the lines of Rav Huna’s original argument:
And with regard to that which you said: “Doesn’t entering a wedding canopy complete a marriage only by means of an act of betrothal?” — this is also what Rav Huna is saying. If money, which does not complete a marriage after money (i.e., after a woman has been betrothed through money an additional monetary gift cannot render her a fully married woman) effects acquisition, is it not logical that entering a wedding canopy, which is more powerful than money in that it completes a marriage after money, should effect acquisition?
Like Rav Huna, Abaye compares uses a kal v’chomer (a fortiori) argument: Money is strong enough for acquisition, but not strong enough to effect a marriage. Huppah, on the other hand, is powerful enough to bring about marriage where money cannot, and therefore ought to achieve mere betrothal, since even money can do that.
So, does the huppah make a couple that has not been betrothed married? Or is it ineffective at betrothal and therefore does not effect a marriage? One thousand years after the Talmud was compiled, the matter remained only partially unsettled, and though Abaye gets the last word in the Gemara, the halakhah largely favors Rava.
Codifying materials on this topic, the Shulchan Aruch states: “If he brings a wife to the huppah without appropriate betrothal, they are not married, but some say that they are doubtfully betrothed.” Probably few people standing under a huppah have the goal of being “doubtfully betrothed.” Based on this, we might not reach a thoroughly satisfactory conclusion, but it’s safe to say that you’re better off using one of the three agreed-upon methods to get engaged and saving the huppah for marriage itself (even if the two events are only a few minutes apart, as they are today). Of course, today this is a non-issue since generally betrothal — usually with a ring — is performed under the huppah mere minutes before nissuin, ensuring that Jewish couples are well and truly married.