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The Jewish Wedding Canopy (Huppah)

Return to the Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples

 

Explanation

huppah—often spelled "chuppah"—is a Jewish wedding canopy with four open sides. A Jewish wedding ceremony typically occurs under a huppah.

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.
 

Making your own huppah can offer a way to involve your guests and your family's religious or ethnic cultures in the wedding. The huppah can include patterns and materials that are traditional to both partners' families or cultures. Some couples like to 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 ultimately, a wall hanging in their home.

For the huppah covering, some couples also use a family heirloom, such as a grandparent's tallit (prayer shawl), a prized family tablecloth (an Irish tradition) or other sacred or familial fabric. Just remember to be 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. 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.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

 

Source: Kaufman, Michael, The Huppah, or Wedding CanopyMyJewishLearning.com.


Sample Program Definitions

  • 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, and internally by our love of each other.
  • A Jewish wedding canopy usually consists of four poles with a tallits (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 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. 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.
  • The huppah 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.
  • Ask your clergy for other interpretations. There are many, many traditions! 

Sample Introduction/Blessing of the 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.

 

The wedding canopy can be  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. During the ceremony, introducing the huppah can be a good time for offering a moment of silence to remember these people. Again, ask your clergy for their preference and advice here.

The Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples is available in on-screen reading friendly (PDF) and printer-friendly, downloadable (PDF) versions.

InterfaithFamily

InterfaithFamily is the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our new InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative providing coordinated comprehensive offerings in local communities.

If you have suggestions, please contact network at interfaithfamily dot com.

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