If you’re having a Jewish wedding, or adding a portion of Jewish tradition to your wedding, your bride or groom might have suggested adding a chuppah (pronounced ‘hoopa’) to the ceremony.
I’m sure this drove you straight to google to find out ‘what a chuppah’ even is? (and yes, google will tell you even if you spell it wrong ha ha) so as a Pastor and as someone who performs weddings a lot, let me give you my two cents.
The legend of the chuppah begins in the Old Testament
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”
Here God instructs the Hebrew people to make a ‘prayer shawl’ that would serve as a symbolic reminder of the Hebrew laws and customs. An observant Jew would wear this shall (tallit) and use it as a way to draw comfort in times of worship and prayer.
Years later, the custom began that the officiating rabbi would take one of these prayer shawls and then have two other people – lift it over the heads of a betrothed bride and groom. The symbolism was that “God hovers over his people” and that the Lord “oversaw” and protected this couple.
Even further after that, the helpers who held the prayer shawl were replaced by four sticks (probably because of long winded rabbis – ha ha) and the symbolism changed again so that the Chuppah represented the “home” this couple would build together.
During the first betrothal ceremony (the erusin) the groom would tell his bride…..
I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
This was his promise to her, that during their betrothal he would build her a home (or a wing onto his Father’s home).
So how do you make a Chuppah?
Well, I’m sure you’ve done a D.I.Y. search and seen a lot of pictures on pinterest, but a careful bride or groom who wanted to do it right, should observe a few key points.
1. It should really be 4 sided. I saw a Martha Steward video where hers was a triangle and I have seen some lovely floral arrangements that made it a circle – but the symbolism should be that the chuppah is a “home” and the best way to create that image is with 4 sides. The fabric canopy should then be attached to the very top of the poles or to the frame that makes the roof – do not attach the canopy to the “sides” of the poles – again, this takes away from the illustration of a home. The Jews have laws concerning what constitutes as a “wall” and what is a “roof.” It might not mean anything to you, but believe me, Grandma and Grandpa will notice (ha ha).
2. Using an actual prayer shawl would be the most traditional and most orthodox, although now couples typically want something a little more “pretty” and visually captivating. So, if you go the road of designing your own from scratch, I would suggest that you use a pure white fabric with no design or pattern. This becomes a symbol of the purity and delicacy of your marriage. Of course you can decorate it with flowers and ribbon, but the cloth itself should be pure.
3. Because of the time needed and for brides who want beautiful displays, the chuppah is typically set up early and left throughout the ceremony. This is fine, but if you wanted to lean more with tradition – and less with decoration and fancy – then a great thing to do would be to have the best man and the maid of honor hold a prayer shawl over the couple after the reading of the ketubah (the Jewish prenuptial agreement) or another great idea would be to have the grooms parents hold one side and the bride’s parents hold the other.
Most of all, have fun – discuss your plans with your bride or groom and get as much or as little information as you are comfortable with, before anyone else – this is YOUR special day so make it a great memory.