Ritual Wedding Objects and Garments

  

Every religion and culture has its unique ritual objects and garments that are part of wedding ceremonies. When planning for your Jewish interfaith wedding you will want to consider which to include. You may choose to include ritual objects and garments from multiple traditions or just Jewish ones. We will explain some of the Jewish ones here.

The Chuppah (Jewish Wedding Canopy)

A chuppah (sometimes spelled “huppah”) is a Jewish wedding canopy with four open sides. Jewish wedding ceremonies typically occur under a chuppah, and this tradition offers great opportunities for interfaith couples to integrate elements from multiple traditions.

A basic chuppah looks like a square piece of fabric supported by four poles. The poles stand on the ground and are often held upright by friends of the couple. The poles can also be free-standing and decorated with flowers. Couples can make their own chuppah, use a synagogue’s or rent one. There should be enough space under the chuppah for the couple, clergy and a small table for ritual items like wine glasses.

The chuppah symbolizes the couple’s home. The ancient rabbis compared it to the tent of the biblical Abraham, who was famed for his hospitality; his tent had entrances on all four sides to signal a message of welcome to travelers coming from any direction.

Making or decorating a chuppah offers opportunities to include various traditions in the wedding. Partners who are not Jewish can include materials and patterns representing their heritage in the chuppah cloth cover. Some couples use a family heirloom, such as a grandfather’s tallit (prayer shawl; more on this below) or a prized family tablecloth (from Irish culture), as the chuppah covering.

The costs of making your own chuppah can be modest, especially if you keep things simple. You can get everything you need in one trip to a building supplies store for $100 or less (www.apracticalwedding.com has a great DIY page called How to build a chuppah). Prefab kits available online run from about $130 to $250. Rental costs vary but are often under $100. The website huppahs.com rents different styles of chuppot (plural of chuppah) as well as canopies and poles if you only need one or the other.

Two Cups of Wine/Grape Juice

Cup of wine

Credit: Jennifer Childress Photography

A typical Jewish wedding ceremony includes two cups of wine (or grape juice). Wine is a Jewish symbol of joy. (Learn more about how these two cups fit into the wedding ceremony.) You can use any cups or glasses for this purpose; however, these cups offer an opportunity to include elements from both families’ histories or traditions. Also, try using white wine or juice just in case of spills during the ceremony.

Some couples use only kosher certified wine or grape juice. Most rabbis who officiate at interfaith weddings don’t require kosher wine. The rationale behind what makes wine kosher goes back to very ancient times when Jews were concerned that wine they might buy in the marketplace could have been ritually dedicated to the polytheistic gods of their neighbors. Today, most liberal Jews don’t check whether wine is kosher, but some choose to buy kosher wine for weddings in order to support the industry, or in case they have guests who only drink kosher wine.

A Glass to Break

Most Jewish and interfaith weddings end with one (or sometimes both) partners smashing a glass (for an explanation of the meanings, see Elements of a Jewish Wedding Ceremony from our Guide to Weddings for Interfaith Couples). You can use any glass for this purpose. Just make sure it’s thin and will break easily. Wrap the glass in a cloth or put it in a cloth drawstring bag to avoid injury from the broken shards.

Some couples use shops like Mazel Tov Glass or Traditions Jewish Gifts that provide kits which allow you to send them the broken glass shards, which they then make into artistic keepsakes.

What to Wear at a Jewish Interfaith Wedding

There really aren’t any rules here. You can have a very casual wedding or a very formal one. There are some traditional ritual garments that one or both partners may want to wear including a kippah, tallit, kittel and veil.

A kippah (Jewish head covering, a.k.a. “yarmulke”) is traditionally worn by Jewish men, but sometimes by women too. Either or both partners can don a kippah for the wedding. You can also request that your guests wear kippot (plural of kippah)—you don’t need to be Jewish to wear one—though if you do you’ll want to provide them with some. You can order from wholesalers like www.kippot.com and spend anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars (for personalized embossed kippot). You can also support fair trade by ordering kippot through Jewish United for Justice.

Jewish partners, particularly men, sometimes like to wear a tallit (ritual fringed prayer shawl) during their wedding. In traditional Judaism, the tallit symbolizes the commandments of the Torah and the enveloping and protective presence of the Divine, though not all Jews who wear a tallit practice traditional Jewish lives. Wearing a tallit that belonged to a deceased relative, for instance, can add meaning. Some people take the opportunity of getting married to buy themselves a new tallit that they plan to use in the future, perhaps in the hope of passing it down to future generations.

A kittel is a ritual garment that is typically worn by more traditional grooms. A kittel is a belted white robe, usually made of linen, symbolizing purity. The kittel, which is worn by married men on Yom Kippur, is also used as a burial shroud.

Finally, some brides wear a bridal veil (and at same-sex weddings, sometimes both partners do). In a traditional Jewish wedding, before the ceremony, there is a ritual that takes place called Bedecken, which means “checking to be certain.” In heterosexual weddings, this involves the groom putting a wedding veil on the bride shortly before the ceremony. The groom gets to “verify” that the bride is in fact the person he means to marry. There’s a lovely version of this ritual for lesbian weddings here.

More resources:

Chuppah: Your First “Home”

  

By Maria Bywater

Chuppah - the first "home" for the engaged couple

I grew up in a large, close Catholic family, so when I got married in a Jewish wedding ceremony, finding meaningful roles for everyone in my family proved challenging. I had converted to Judaism, and the rabbi required that the roles linked to Jewish ritual—–signing the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) and reciting the Seven Blessings, for example—be filled by people who were Jewish. Eventually, I figured it out: I asked my two sisters and two of my brothers to hold the poles of the chuppah, the wedding canopy under which the ceremony took place (you’ll also see it spelled “huppah” and “huppa”).

Looking back, what I remember most about the ceremony was how comfortable I was standing there, in that space under the chuppah, surrounded by so many people who represented important parts of my life. I didn’t feel nervous. I felt supported. I felt at home because the chuppah is symbolic of the marrying couples’ home—both their physical home and the spiritual home they’ll build together. And today, as a chuppah designer and founder of Huppahs.com, I specialize in hand-held chuppahs.

The chuppah is a deeply traditional element of the Jewish wedding ceremony, but also one with a great deal of flexibility as far as what style you use, which makes it a great opportunity to make the ceremony your own, whether you use a hand-held or free-standing version, want something large or small, formal or casual, traditional or modern, or simply or elaborately decorated.

If you didn’t grow up hearing a lot of Hebrew, like me, the only really intimidating thing about using a chuppah might be the moment you first try to pronounce the word out loud in front of someone. It has that back of the throat “h” sound at the beginning. It’s the same sound as at the beginning of the word “Chanukkah.” People pronounce Chanukkah all kinds of different ways, so however you pronounce the first sound in the word “Chanukkah” is a good way to pronounce the first sound in the word “chuppah.”

And really, once you’re past the pronunciation, it’s on to the fun stuff.

Handheld or freestanding?

Chuppah freestandingThere are two basic styles of chuppah: handheld—the kind I used—and freestanding. Both kinds have a canopy held up by four poles. The difference is that a freestanding chuppah will have more structure so that it stands on its own.

Traditionally, the chuppah is open on all four sides, in a nod to the first Jewish couple, the Torah’s Abraham and Sarah, who traditionally kept the four sides of their tent open to welcome guests.

Hand-held chuppahs hark back to when the custom of using a chuppah first arose in Europe in the Middle Ages. Young boys would escort the bride from her home to the ceremony location, holding the canopy over her head like royalty on procession through the city. There’s even an official name for the chuppah bearers: unterferers, which means “supporters.”

To use a hand-held chuppah for your ceremony, you can have the chuppah bearers lead the procession or enter from the side of the ceremony space just before the procession begins. Aside from the links to tradition and community, a hand-held chuppah works great when your ceremony space doubles as your reception venue and you need to move the chuppah out of the way quickly.

For a chuppah that is set in place when the guests arrive, choose a freestanding chuppah, with bases to hold the bottom of the poles or a frame with supports connecting the poles at their tops. Using a frame is pretty much a must if you want a large chuppah, if the canopy is heavy or if you want to add drapery or a lot of decoration.

What size?

You’ll want enough square footage under the canopy for the couple, the officiant and a small table for the wine and other ritual items. It can be as small as 60 inches by 60 inches. Generally, poles that are seven to eight feet tall work well for small to medium sized canopies, although you’ll also find taller versions for a dramatic look.

Where to Get a Chuppah

Some synagogues, wedding venues, florists, and event rental companies have a chuppah to borrow or rent. If you’re interested in this option, be sure to check the condition of the chuppah early in your wedding planning process. Ask the chuppah provider if they set up and take down the chuppah and if there are extra fees for delivery and set up.

You can also buy or rent a chuppah or chuppah kit online. You’ll find both commercial and artisanal versions. If you want a custom design, look for an artist on Etsy or other sites selling handmade items. My company, huppahs.com, rents different styles of chuppahs as well as canopies and poles if you only need one or the other.

For the canopy, you can use a tallit or tablecloth that you have on hand, especially if it has special meaning to you. Just make sure the fabric is in good shape and will hold up to being secured to the poles.

Another great option is to make the chuppah yourself or have someone make it for you. You can choose the form and materials that work best for the wedding you want to create, and you can let your style shine.

If you’re looking for a wedding role for someone who is not familiar with the Jewish wedding ceremony, asking them to help create your chuppah can be a great way to include them. Depending on the chuppah you envision, there can be roles for sewists, fabric painters, embroiderers, weavers and other textile artists as well as folks with light construction skills.

DIY Advice

My book, Sew Jewish, includes instructions for making a chuppah canopy and poles, but here are some guidelines to keep in mind if you’re designing your own.

For the canopy, choose fabric that is lightweight, doesn’t stretch, and looks good from both sides. A canopy made heavy by the fabric or extensive needlework can make holding the poles or attaching the canopy securely to the frame difficult. If the canopy is lightweight and not too large, add some combination of loops, reinforced holes or ties to enable you to attach the corners to the supporting poles or frame. If the canopy is large or heavy, make sleeves on the edges of the canopy to fit into supports running across the top of the chuppah frame.

Hand-held chuppah

Popular materials for the structure are wood, dowels and tree branches, especially birch branches. PVC piping is also a popular choice for frames when you plan to cover the pipes with drapery.

If different people will be providing your canopy and poles or frame, make sure you know how they’ll fit together before anyone gets to work. Ideally, put the whole chuppah together for a trial run well before your wedding day so that you can make adjustments if you need to.

Whatever style of wedding you choose, with all the chuppah options available to you, you’re sure to find one that feels like home.

Maria Bywater is the founder of Huppahs.com, the leading national wedding chuppah rental company and author of the book Sew Jewish: The 18 Projects You Need for Jewish Holidays, Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations, and Home. She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson River Valley amid her large, close family.