Published: Thursday, Aug. 12th, 2021
The chuppah, or traditional Jewish wedding canopy, is a square cloth stretched above a couple during their wedding ceremony, symbolizing their joyful new home together.
It can be made from any fabric, and silk and velvet are both common choices. Sometimes, a tallit is used (a wide prayer shawl made of soft wool or cotton).
The cloth is spread high across four posts, or might be held up by groomsmen, friends, or relatives, to create a decorative canopy.
Holding the chuppah high!
In the past, the chuppah (sometimes called huppah or chupah) was more often draped over a couple’s shoulders during the ceremony, instead of being held by posts. This practice is still part of the Sephardic tradition (but not the Ashkenazi tradition), when the parents of the couple drape a tallit over the couple’s heads or shoulders before the blessing.
The chuppah’s meaning has changed over time. To some, it represents the presence of God, presiding over the union, or a home with open walls, to allow love and faith to flow freely within the marriage.
In ancient texts and interpretations, the symbolism was less delicate. At that time, when women had little autonomy, the word chupah described the marital bed or preparations for intercourse. The cloth symbolized the roof of a groom’s home, where he would soon take his newly-acquired bride to consummate the union.
In the context of modern Jewish weddings, including those for interfaith and LGBTQ+ couples, the canopy’s meaning has broadened. To modern couples, it’s a symbol of creating a new home together, one made equal and loving by marriage.
During the marriage ceremony, the couple joins the wedding officiant below the canopy to exchange vows. There, the officiant recites the Sheva Brachot, or ‘the seven blessings,’ considered one of the most important and fundamental elements of a Jewish wedding.
If the couple wishes, friends and family can read these blessings instead, as well as share their own. (The Sheva Brachot blessings are read again after the ceremony, during the celebration dinner).
An elaborate modern variation of the chuppah.
Traditionally, ceremonies with a canopy were held outdoors.
Many couples are also asking friends and family to officiate their Jewish weddings. This is an increasingly popular option, especially for interfaith and same-sex and LGBTQ+ couples. These couples might have a hard time finding an understanding clergy member, or just prefer the joyful presence of a loved one, and there’s no rule that Jewish weddings must be performed by a rabbi.
A chosen friend or relative can easily become an ordained minister online with AMM before the ceremony by completing a simple application.
A contemporary take on the wedding canopy,
using beautifully embroidered white fabric.
Become a Wedding Officiant with Our Free Online Ordination!