Rab­bi Lawrence Hajioffs new book, Will Jew Mar­ry Me? is a great selec­tion with the Jew­ish cel­e­bra­tion of Tu B’Av on the hori­zon. Rab­bi Hajioff is guest blog­ging for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil asa part as the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

Of all the tra­di­tions we have in Jew­ish life, the one I believe is full of the most mean­ing yet is the least under­stood and appre­ci­at­ed is the cer­e­mo­ny that takes place under the chup­pah, the tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish wed­ding canopy. The bride and groom will spend months prepar­ing the right hall, cater­er, band, and dress for their big day, but many times they give lit­tle thought to the aspects of the cer­e­mo­ny itself. I was­n’t pleased with this, so before I per­form a wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny, I always invite the cou­ple to join me in learn­ing what is actu­al­ly go on under the chuppah. 

I also use treat the chup­pah cer­e­mo­ny itself as a teach­ing moment. I ask cou­ples if they are okay with me giv­ing very brief expla­na­tions of var­i­ous parts of the chup­pah as they hap­pen. Near­ly all cou­ples are delight­ed at the oppor­tu­ni­ty of hav­ing their guests appre­ci­ate the cus­toms of the chup­pah and not have to sit through anoth­er bor­ing Jew­ish cer­e­mo­ny. Invari­ably I’ll receive pos­i­tive feed­back from the peo­ple in the audi­ence, and quite sur­pris­ing­ly the peo­ple who enjoy the cer­e­mo­ny the most are often non-Jew­ish guests who, in most cas­es, are expe­ri­enc­ing a Jew­ish wed­ding for the first time.

When writ­ing my book Will Jew Mar­ry Me? I decid­ed to add a chap­ter out­lin­ing some of the beau­ti­ful and ancient cus­toms we per­form under the chup­pah. Here are a cou­ple of highlights:

The Chup­pah

The Chup­pah is a pub­lic dis­play that the bride and groom are now becom­ing hus­band and wife by sym­bol­iz­ing the home the cou­ple are about to build together.

If the chup­pah rep­re­sents the Jew­ish home, would­n’t it make more sense for the chup­pah to have four walls like any reg­u­lar home? Instead, the walls are removed and four poles hold up Chup­pah canopy. This design comes to remind us of the orig­i­nal Jew­ish cou­ple from the Bible, Abra­ham and Sarah. We are told that Abra­ham and Sarah lived in a tent. Although in their day peo­ple were liv­ing in stone struc­tures, despite being very wealthy Abra­ham and Sarah decid­ed to live in a more portable struc­ture so they could keep mov­ing around to dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tion cen­ters. They did this so they could ful­fill the incred­i­ble mitz­vah of hachansat orchim, wel­com­ing guests into their home. It was for this rea­son they kept their tent open on all four sides, so that pass­ing trav­el­ers trav­el­ing from all direc­tions knew they were wel­come into the tent of Abra­ham and Sarah. Jew­ish cou­ples recre­ate this tent at every wed­ding to reimag­ine them­selves as the first-ever Jew­ish cou­ple, open­ing their homes to the needy.

The Wine

Wine is used as part of the cer­e­mo­ny at many Jew­ish life­cy­cle events, and the chup­pah is no excep­tion. (White wine is gen­er­al­ly used under the chup­pah, since red wine could stain the brides dress, which is nev­er a good thing!)

Wine rep­re­sents change. An eight-day-old baby boy at his brit milah, or rit­u­al cir­cum­ci­sion (often called a bris), is giv­en wine, as he is about to enter into the Jew­ish covenant. We wel­come in the Shab­bat with wine, as the week is chang­ing from the mun­dane to the holy. On Passover we drink four cups of wine as we cel­e­brate the change the Jew­ish peo­ple went through from slaves to free peo­ple. Under the chup­pah, the wine rep­re­sents the bride and groom’s tran­si­tion from sin­gle to married.

Why is wine cho­sen for this — why not water, orange juice, or cof­fee? Well, we like wine! But fur­ther­more wine itself con­tains with­in it the great­est change: at one point the grapes sat on the vine bask­ing in the sun, before they were plucked, and crushed. An out­sider would won­der why such a beau­ti­ful thing as a grape would be giv­en such harsh treat­ment. How­ev­er after tast­ing the result of the crush­ing in the deli­cious wine it pro­duces, we under­stand that the suf­fer­ing the grape had to endure was tru­ly worth it.

Rela­tion­ships are the same. We go from our sin­gle, inde­pen­dent lives into the some­times chal­leng­ing envi­ron­ment of shar­ing every part of our lives with anoth­er per­son. For many peo­ple this can be an extreme­ly chal­leng­ing tran­si­tion. The wine teach­es us that the grape is won­der­ful on the vine, but through some chal­lenge and a lit­tle pres­sure, an even greater life awaits it in the future. 

Rab­bi Lawrence Hajioff is the author of Jews Got Ques­tions? and Will Jew Mar­ry Me?: A Guide to Dat­ing, Rela­tion­ships, Love, and Mar­riage.

Relat­ed Content:

Lawrence Hajioff | Jew­ish Book Coun­cil Vis­it­ing Scribe

Orig­i­nal­ly from Lon­don, Eng­land, Rab­bi Lawrence Hajioff grad­u­at­ed with hon­ors in polit­i­cal sci­ence from Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­si­ty. After work­ing for MTV in news pro­duc­tion, and win­ning the nation­al com­pe­ti­tion Jew­ish Stand-Up Come­di­an’ of the Year, Rab­bi Hajioff trav­eled to study in Israel and then Mon­sey to receive his rab­bini­cal ordi­na­tion. Rab­bi Hajioff is the edu­ca­tion­al direc­tor of Birthright Israel Alum­ni in Man­hat­tan, New York.

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