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The Jewish Wedding Canopy (Huppah)
Return to the Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples.
The huppah typically consists of a square cloth made of silk, wool, velvet or cotton, 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 huppah, use a synagogue's huppah or rent one from a Jewish bookstore or florist.
The huppah symbolizes the new home that the couple will create. The ancient rabbis compared the huppah to the tent of Abraham, found in biblical story. Abraham was famed for his hospitality; his tent had entrances on all four sides so that travelers coming from any direction would have a door to enter.
The creation of the huppah can offer a way to involve your guests and your family's religious or ethnic cultures in the wedding. The huppah could include patterns and materials that are traditional to the non-Jewish partner's family or culture. Some couples also send their guests squares of fabric and ask them to decorate the squares with words or drawings that will be significant to the couple. The couple then has the squares sewn together into a quilt which becomes the huppah covering and then a wall hanging in their home. The space inside should be big enough for the couple, clergy and a small table for ritual items like wine and glasses. Family and friends in the wedding party, including parents, often stand outside the huppah.
Some couples also use a family heirloom, such as a grandfather's tallit (prayer shawl), a prized family tablecloth (from Irish culture) or other sacred or familial fabric, as the huppah covering, being careful to secure the fabric in a way that won't threaten its survival in case of rough weather. Make sure the huppah can withstand the weather, if outdoors, and is tall enough for the tallest person to stand under it with the center drag of the covering not hitting him or her on the head. Five-foot-by-six is the size of most large prayer shawls, often used as huppah coverings, and is a good size for most weddings. The poles are often 7 1/2 feet tall to accommodate people over 5-foot-10.
Brian and Kia Silverman's quilted huppah
This wedding canopy represents the marriage home, portable and open to friends and family. It requires support to hold it up, from the outside by the people in our lives, internally by our love of each other.
A Jewish wedding canopy that usually consists of four poles with a tallis (Jewish prayer shawl) suspended between them. At one time, the huppah was the marriage tent or room in which the bride and groom consummated their marriage; today it has many meanings. Primarily it symbolizes God's presence and the new home the couple will create together. The sides of the canopy remain open to symbolize the importance of the couple's involvement in their general community and with their family and friends.
The bride and groom are brought to the huppah (wedding canopy) by both parents. It is a symbol of the home to be built and shared by the couple. It is open on all sides, just as Abraham and Sarah had their tent open all sides to welcome their friends and family. Four friends and family members will hold up the poles of our huppah, symbolizing the importance of family and friendship in supporting and strengthening our home.
It represents the Garden of Eden, with the four poles symbolically standing for the four rivers that surrounded the garden in the biblical story. The couple is like the first couple, sharing new love in uncharted territory. Eventually they leave the Garden to enter the world. Hopefully, they take some of that experience of the Garden with them, to give them an image of what life can be like if we create it that way, with the help of those around us and the help of God.
It represents the creation of a new family unit, with parents and friends outside. It sets boundaries, in real space, for families that have trouble remembering that once married, we are primary to our partners and family of origin and earlier friends are in a second circle of closeness.
Ask your clergy for other interpretations. Like the glass breaking ritual, Jewish clergy have a cornucopia of ritual interpretations for huppah.
Surrounded by loved ones whose joy and prayers are with you, you stand at this huppah, a symbol of your new home. Its four sides are open, symbolizing the importance of community and of participation in each other's lives. Friends and family fill the home. May your home be a shelter against the storms, a haven of peace, a stronghold of faith and love.
Jewish clergy have various blessings in Hebrew to offer here, and you should speak to them about their choices.
The canopy is often seen as representing the protective blanket of God, and the love and presence of special people who have died and/or simply could not make the wedding. Talking about the huppah is often a good time for offering a moment of silence to remember these people. With close family and friends, their names are often provided to the clergy and read aloud before the silence. Again, ask your clergy for their preference and advice here.