Learning about the Chuppah

The chuppah, a canopy used in weddings, is an ancient and beautiful Jewish tradition. It can be constructed in many different ways and is used to create a sacred space for the couple to stand beneath for their ceremony. The word itself means covering, but can also be translated as protection. There are a variety of spellings – huppah, chupah, or chuppa – and that is simply because it is an approximation of the Hebrew word.

The structure itself consists of four poles that can either be held up by attendants or fixed to the ground. A cloth canopy, typically a square cloth made of silk, wool, velvet or cotton, is stretched across the top. More traditionally that cloth is actually a Tallit, the garment the orthodox Jewish men wear, but it’s not required. The poles are often decorated with flowers. The couple’s parents may also stand under the chuppah.

The great synagogue in Tel Aviv with a Chuppah set up.

The symbolism is just beautiful – it represents the home the couple will build together. When I describe it in a ceremony I always point out that the sides are open to be inclusive and welcoming to all. It also signifies that the couple must build harmony from all sides of their lives, from all four directions of the world, as well as take shelter in the sanctuary of marriage. It is not only a fascinating custom, but a ceremonial ritual with deep meaning and connections to the past.

As in most rituals from the Jewish tradition, there is long history, because it is a very old religion (Hinduism being the oldest of the organized religions that are still practiced). The Jewish year is currently marked at 5774. The chuppah itself is said to trace back to biblical times.

As the chuppah evolves and adapts, just about any arch or wedding canopy may be considered your chuppah. Today people create all kinds of chuppahs, sometimes very beautifully crafted and very elaborate, and sometimes simple and rustic.

Jewish weddings almost always include a chuppah, and for interfaith weddings the chuppah is definitely encouraged by this celebrant!

A great way to create an interfaith chuppah is to include patterns and materials that are traditional to the non-Jewish partner’s family or culture. You could even send guests squares of fabric and ask them to decorate them with words or drawings that will be significant. Then sew the squares together into a quilt that becomes the chuppah covering, and later a wall hanging in your home.  Whatever way you interpret the building of the chuppah, the meaning is what matters, and the meaning shows me how some ideas are indeed timeless.


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