What is a Chuppah in Jewish Weddings?
The chuppah is a traditional wedding canopy that serves as a central component of Jewish wedding ceremonies. The word chuppah literally means “covering,” but it also refers to the ceremony itself. The traditional chuppah is an open, temporary structure, like a canopy or a tent. The structure is draped with a covering and is supported by four poles. Since the 16 th century, the chuppah has been a regular fixture at Jewish weddings. It likely originated from Poland.
Symbolism of the Chuppah
“Chuppah” can be written many ways—huppah, chipe, chupah, or chuppa—but it’s always pronounced like “hupp-uh.” However you spell it, a chuppah is full of symbolism. In the context of the wedding, it represents the new home that the bride and groom will share once they wed. It is also considered a symbol of God's presence and protection at the wedding and throughout their new marriage. Previously, the chuppah symbolized the home that the groom would take his new bride to and serves to publicly acknowledge the status of their new union.
The chuppah usually consists of a square cloth supported by four wooden staves. Like the biblical tent of Abraham and Sarah, it’s open on all sides. Abraham’s tent had entrances on all sides to welcome travelers from afar so they need not search for the door. In the same way, the open chuppah is meant to be welcoming and hospitable to the couple’s guests.
To further allude to Abraham and God's blessing of a large, fruitful family, the chuppah should be set up outside under the stars that represent Abraham’s descendants. For that reason, synagogues often have a skylight under which the chuppah can be installed. In the Bible, the tabernacle that was erected in the desert as a dwelling place for God's presence was described as a chuppah. To celebrate the very first marriage of Adam and Eve, legend has it, God created 10 magnificent chuppahs.
Chuppah design elements
Each couple can add their own touches to the chuppah that will serve as a central part of their wedding. The only limits are that it must be a temporary, handmade structure. In Eastern Europe, some chuppahs were draped in embroidered Torah ark coverings. Others are covered in a tallit, or prayer shawl, that was often passed down as a gift from the bride's family to the groom. Incorporating heirlooms like a grandparent's tallit signifies a connection between the couple's past and future. Using a tallit for the chuppah also affirms a shared commitment to Jewish life.
Since chuppahs are unique to the couple, there are plenty of modern options. Popular choices for chuppahs include swaths of fabric in a variety of textures and styles, personalized quilts, or a velvet cloth custom-made for the occasion.
Many couples also incorporate varied cultures into the fabric of the chuppah—all the way from a Scottish tartan, lace veil, African kente cloth, Indian sari, or Native American blanket—as an expression of solidarity. Floral chuppas woven with flowers and vines (see above) can also serve to complement the wedding decor.
The chuppah itself can be stationary or portable, with the poles that are long enough to stand on the ground that is carved or painted and wrapped in flowers or ribbon. Often, a simple cloth, like a tallit, may be carried by four friends of the couple, who carry the chuppah in support of the marriage. As the four men hold the chuppah above the couple during the ceremony, they represent the community of family and friends who will continue to support the couple through their marriage.
The chuppah is a beautiful, symbolic canopy used in Jewish or Jew-ish weddings. It represents the history and blessing of God in the couple’s marriage as well as good wishes from friends and family for a prosperous union.