- What makes a huppah a huppah?
- What do you call the people who hold the huppah poles?
- Who can hold the huppah poles?
- Why does a Jewish wedding ceremony take place under a huppah?
- How old is the practice of using a wedding huppah?
- How do you pronounce huppah (or chuppah or huppa)?
- Huppah, Huppa, Chuppah, Chupa, Khupa – Which spelling is correct?
What makes a huppah a huppah?
The structure of the huppah evokes a tent; specifically, the tent that was the home of Judaism’s first couple, Abraham and Sarah, 5,000 years ago. A huppah has a fabric canopy held aloft by four poles or a frame with four legs. The huppah is open on all four sides, as the tent of Sarah and Abraham is said to have been because of their great hospitality.
What do you call the people who hold the huppah poles?
“Huppah bearers” is the conventional American term. The classical term is unterferers, meaning “supporters”, which I learned from my friend Rabbi Dr. Michael Shire in his book, Mazal Tov!: The Rituals and Customs of a Jewish Wedding.
Who can hold the huppah poles?
Anyone can hold a huppah pole. That makes it a great role for honoring someone who isn’t Jewish or isn’t comfortable reciting Hebrew during the ceremony. Of course, as with all aspects of a Jewish wedding, always double check with the rabbi who will be performing the ceremony.
Why does a Jewish wedding ceremony take place under a huppah?
The huppah serves as a visible representation of the home, both physical and spiritual, that the bride and groom will share as a married couple. The bride creates their shared spiritual space as she steps under the huppah and circles the groom.
How old is the practice of using a wedding huppah?
Huppahs became a part of the Jewish wedding ceremony during the Middle Ages in Europe, about the same time and place that men began covering their heads with kippot (yarmulkes). The earliest huppah poles were only a few feet tall. Four young men would hold the poles as they escorted the bride, who walked under the huppah, from her home to the synagogue. The Middle Ages sounds like a long time ago, but when you consider that the history of Judaism goes back 5,000 years, the wedding huppah is a practice that still has a lot of youthful energy.
The painting on the right shows a wedding ceremony in the European medieval Jewish tradition. The bride and groom are marrying outside a synagogue, surrounded by family and community. The couple stand together, with a tallit (prayer shawl) draped over their heads and across their shoulders.
How do you pronounce huppah (or chuppah or huppa)?
In American English, you won’t be too far off if you pronounce it the way it looks from this spelling: “huppah”.
In the Hebrew version, the pronunciation is a bit trickier since the first sound is not a part of the English language. The section below on spelling the word will give you an idea of how to make this sound.
(Now, if you are not a proficient Hebrew speaker, you may run into someone who takes exception to your pronunciation and lets you know. Don’t let it bug you. To my mind, anyone who uses the language of the Torah to make someone else feel distanced from the community, especially anyone who diminishes the joy of a bride, jeopardizes his place in the world to come.)
Huppah, Huppa, Chuppah, Chupa, Khupa – Which spelling is correct?
All these spellings are correct, and you might even see others. The word originally comes from Hebrew, and the Hebrew alphabet has some letters and sounds that English doesn’t have. Different people substitute English letters for the Hebrew letters in different ways. We like the spelling “huppahs” because the English sounds in “huppahs” are closest to the Hebrew pronunciation than the English sounds of other spellings, like “chuppahs” or “khupas.” We also like huppahs because it is the spelling used in our favorite Jewish wedding planning book, The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant.
Interested in a more detailed discussion? Buckle up and read on:
This is how the word huppah looks in Hebrew:
The first letter: Het. The first letter is the letter on the far right (Hebrew is written right to left, unlike English, which is written left to right). This letter, called het, makes a sound that doesn’t exist in English. It’s a kind of raspy, rolling h sound that you make with the back of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. If you’re not a native Hebrew speaker it can take some practice. If you haven’t heard a Hebrew speaker pronounce it, the sound is difficult to get just from a written explanation.
In prayer books, the het “h” is often shown with a dot underneath it, as in our logo for Huppahs.com:
Second letter: Vav. The second letter from the right, vav, can make three different sounds depending on the word. It can sound like the English v, or the long vowel sound o, but in “huppahs” it makes a sound like the English u.
Third letter: Peh. This letter sounds like the English p. When our word is written in English, it is most often written with two p’s, although you’ll sometimes see it with one p.
Last letter: Hay. In our word, the letter hay has a soft “ah” sound which some people write with an ah and some people write with just an a.
We hope we’ve explained all this in a way that makes sense. Now, the difference between making nouns plural in English and Hebrew is a whole other can of worms. If you’re interested, send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll send you additional information.
More Jewish wedding planning resources:
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