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The Chupah: Starting a life together beneath a mystical canopy

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Outdoor chupah in Vienna. WIKI COMMONS PHOTO
Outdoor chupah in Vienna. (WIKI COMMONS PHOTO)

Tisha B’Av and “the three weeks” – a traditional period of semi-mourning when weddings are not held – are behind us. That means the marriage floodgates have been breached and countless chatans (grooms) are about to be joined by their kallahs (brides) under the chupah. The chupah, or wedding canopy, is a beautiful and ancient tradition that many couples are now imbuing with personal touches.

Or as MyJewishLearning.com puts it:

“It is a home, a garment and a bed covering. Its openness recalls the tent of the biblical Abraham, a paragon of hospitality, who kept his tents open on all sides so that visitors would know they were welcome. The tabernacle built in the desert to house the presence of God is described as a bridal canopy. According to Midrash, God created 10 splendid chupahs for the marriage of Adam and Eve.”

 

Chupah: Why the Tent?

We find two Biblical references to chupahs: Psalms 19:6 compares the rising sun to a groom’s radiance as he exits his chupah and Joel 2:16 exhorts the “bridegroom [to] come out of his chamber and a bride from her canopy” to ask Divine forgiveness and avert national disaster.

In his essay, Chupah: From Eden to Today, Eliezer Segal explains that today’s weddings under the chupah harken back to the “paradigm of all weddings: the Revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai. In the biblical account of the marriage between God and the people of Israel, our sages also discovered allusions to the presence of a chupah, whether in the enveloping cloud of darkness that hovered over the people, or in the fact that the Israelites, about to enter into their marriage with God, were made to stand ‘beneath the mountain’ – just as the bride stands beneath the sheltering chupah on her wedding day.”

More on its symbolism: “Just as a chupah is open on all four sides, so was the tent of Abraham open for hospitality. Thus, the chupah represents hospitality to one’s guests. This ‘home’ initially lacks furniture as a reminder that the basis of a Jewish home is the people within it, not the possessions. In a spiritual sense, the covering of the chupah represents the presence of God over the covenant of marriage. As the kippah served as a reminder of the Creator above all, (also a symbol of separation from God), so the chupah was erected to signify that the ceremony and institution of marriage has divine origins.”

 

Chasidic Chupah (Nadborna-Ziditshov wedding)

As for what actually takes place under the chupah, there are many customs. The Jewish Virtual Library provides a very good summary of the wedding process from bashert to engagement to the ceremony itself.

I was particularly interested in the questions people have asked rabbis that are posted at the Jewish.com site. Questions like: Who circles whom and how many times? Were wedding rings used during the days of the Torah? And why are chupahs traditionally held outdoors? To that question, Rabbi Leibie Sternberg responds that since Abraham was blessed that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, we wish to apply that blessing to every chatan and kallah.

As chupah makers go, Richard Caro has some pretty interesting credentials. Caro is a direct descendent of Yosef Caro, the 16th-century kabbalist of Safed, author of the the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. The contemporary Caro from Hudson, N.Y., feels that he has a special responsibility to create the right chupah. “I see myself as a builder, and a chupah is a spiritual representation of a couple’s first house. When a couple decides to make a chupah, or have one made for them, they are creating something that they will have in their lives forever.”

READ: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE JEWS

 

Pinny Schachter – The Chupah Song

 You know that chupahs have hit the big time when they get a spread at Martha Stewart Living. A massive spread, that is. You can feast your eyes on “51 Beautiful Chupahs from Jewish Weddings“ including:

  • The Topiary Chupah (crowned with magnolia leaves and featuring a crystal chandelier)
  • The Heirloom Chupah (incorporating the same fringed fabric that the bride’s parents wed beneath)
  • The Asymmetrical Chupah (groupings of hydrangeas, roses, orchids, peonies, lisianthus, and seasonal greenery)
  • The Romantic Chupah (before a backdrop of string lights and under a sparingly-embellished chupah)
  • The Stark Chupah (in front of the family estate’s meditation studio, which was covered in ferns for the occasion)
  • The Unique Chupah (made of fabric garlands with balloons in the centre); and
  • The Bohemian Chupah (topped with a tie-dyed scarf and framed with lilac, spirea, sweet pea, and ferns)

 

Inspired? Next time, ideas for creating for your own chupahs – along with some chupah horror stories. (Don’t worry, they have a happy ending.)

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