Nothing symbolizes a Jewish wedding more than a chuppah, which we today call a “wedding canopy.” The chuppah-bridal canopy of today is meant to represent the home of the groom into which the bride enters. The home is symbolized by the roof.
But the translation of chuppah into today’s traditional bridal canopy is based only on an assumed understanding, since the word is used without explanation in the Talmud (Kiddushin 3a) in describing the ways in which a wife is acquired.
This confusion surrounding this issue was described thus by Rabbi Moses Isserles (16th century Poland):
There are some who maintain that chuppah is not seclusion, but rather bringing the woman to his [the groom’s] home for the purpose of Nissuin (marriage). Others maintain that the chuppah refers to the act of putting a shawl over her head during the recitation of the benediction. Others maintain that the chuppah of a virgin is when she goes outside with a veil… and the standard custom today is to call chuppah the place where a cloth is spread on four staves under which the bride and groom are publicly led and where Kiddushin (betrothal) takes place as well. The Blessings for Eirusin and Nissuin are recited there, followed by the guests accompanying them to their home where the couple eat together in privacy (Code of Jewish Law, Even Ha-Ezer 55:1).
While chuppah is not essential for a marriage to be valid, it is the preferred way. And while in some communities there are deeply rooted traditions as to what a chuppah should look like (e.g. a talit, prayershawl), the chuppah is an excellent opportunity to add beauty and creativity to the wedding ceremony.
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