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Chuppah (חוּפָּה) is an essential part of a Jewish wedding. It is so essential that it’s even become a second name for the wedding ceremony. A Jewish couple cannot be brought under the marriage oath without the חוּפָּה. In order to get married, the couple has to stand under this canopy, which consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched over four poles. חוּפָּה is a traditional object that even non religious ceremonies include it. I even saw once a gay couple use the colorful LGBT community flag as a חוּפָּה on their wedding day.
חוּפָּה appears in the Bible as related to the bride and groom:
יֵצֵא חָתָן מֵחֶדְרוֹ וְכַלָּה מֵחֻפָּתָהּ
Let the bridegroom go out from his inner chamber, and the bride from her bridal chamber.
[Joel, chapter 2, verse 16]
וְהוּא כְּחָתָן יֹצֵא מֵחֻפָּתוֹ יָשִׂישׂ כְּגִבּוֹר לָרוּץ אֹרַח
It is like a bridegroom emerging from the bridal chamber; It rejoices like a mighty man running his course.
[Psalms, chapter 19, verse 6]
The root of the word חוּפָּה is ח.פ.ה, which means “to cover” or “to cover up”. And this is what the חוּפָּה is doing – it is basically a covering. There are several opinions on exactly what kind of covering was used for the חוּפָּה during biblical times. Some believe the חוּפָּה is a house – the newly married couple’s new home after leaving their parents’ houses. Some assert the חוּפָּה wasn’t a house but a place or room in which the couple gathers after the ceremony, and left alone for the first time – something a Jewish couple during the old times (and nowadays in religious communities, too) wasn’t allowed to do. Others think the חוּפָּה was just a place covered and designed especially for the wedding ceremony. Others believe it wasn’t a place covered with canopy, but merely a tallit used to cover the couple together during their wedding ceremony as a symbol of their union.
Although the biblical definition of the חוּפָּה is not clear, it is well agreed that only entering under this covering transforms the bridge and groom into husband and wife. Entering under the חוּפָּה symbolizes the beginning of their joint life. Pacing into the חוּפָּה is their first steps of marriage life. The wedding ceremony is also called in Hebrew the חוּפָּה ceremony, and in short we just call it the חוּפָּה.
The modern חוּפָּה is a white cloth or sheet, sometimes a tallit, stretched over four poles. The poles can be stuck in the ground, or held by four men the couple choose to give them this honor. It can be friends or relatives, but according to Judaism it must be men. The Jewish custom is to conduct the חוּפָּה out in the open air. It’s a way to bless the couple with as many children as the number of stars in the sky.
Chuppah = חוּפָּה
Bride = כַּלָּה
Groom = חָתָן
Fiancé = אָרוּס
Fiancée = אֲרוּסָה
Wedding = חֲתוּנָּה, נִשּׂוּאִין
Wedding day = יוֺם נׅישּׂוּאׅין
Ceremony = טֶקֶס
Wedding ceremony = טֶקֶס נׅישּׂוּאׅין
Jewish = יְהוּדִי
Jewish wedding = חֲתוּנָּה יְהוּדׅית