While wedding ceremonies vary, common features of a Jewish wedding include a ketuba (marriage contract) which is signed by two witnesses, a wedding canopy (chuppah or huppah), a ring owned by the groom that is given to the bride under the canopy, and the breaking of a glass.
Technically, the Jewish wedding process has two distinct stages: kiddushin (sanctification or dedication, also called erusin, betrothal in Hebrew) and nissuin (marriage), when the couple start their life together. The first stage prohibits the woman to all other men, requiring a religious divorce (Get) to dissolve, and the final stage permits the couple to each other. The ceremony that accomplishes nisuin is known as chuppah.
Today, erusin/kiddushin occurs when the groom gives the bride a ring or other object of value with the intent of creating a marriage. There are differing opinions as to which part of the ceremony constitutes nissuin/chuppah; they include standing under the canopy - itself called a chuppah - and being alone together in a room (yichud). While historically these two events could take place as much as a year apart,they are now commonly combined into one ceremony.
According to the Talmud, only the man and the woman united compose a complete human being. As these two parts unite and enter a new stratum of their existence, some of the old gets erased. The Talmud says that when a person gets married his sins are corked. (Yevamos 63b) Thus the day of ones wedding is also a personal Yom Kippur.
As on Yom Kippur, both the chosson and kallah fast. In this case, from dawn until after the completion of the marriage ceremony; although some fast only half a day so as not to be too weak for the wedding. And at the ceremony, the chosson wears akittel, the traditional white robe worn on Yom Kippur.
It is customary for the chosson and kallah not to see each other for the week preceding the wedding. Separate receptions, called Kabbolas Panim, are held just prior to the wedding ceremony.
The chosson’s reception is also called the Tisch (Yiddish for table). The signing of the Tannaim and the Kesubah take place at the Tisch.
Next comes the badeken, the veiling of the kallah by the chosson. The chosson, accompanied by family and friends, proceeds to the kallah’s reception room and places the veil over her face. A tender ceremony that perhaps dates back to the Talmudic period, the Bedeken serves as the first of many actions by which the groom signals his commitment to clothe and protect his wife. It is reminiscent of Rebecca covering her face before marrying Isaac. According to some opinions the Badeken may even be considered as Chuppah. (Chuppah means covering)
The Jewish wedding ceremony takes place under the chuppah (canopy), a symbol of the home to be built and shared by the couple. Although the chuppah itself belongs to the second part of the wedding ceremony known as Nissuin, presently the entire wedding ceremony is conducted under it. The chuppah is open on all sides, just as Abraham and Sarah had their tent open all sides to welcome friends and relatives in unconditional hospitality.
The chuppah is usually held outside, under the stars, as a sign of the blessing given by G-d to the patriarch Abraham that his children shall be as the stars of the heavens.
The chosson and kallah traditionally don’t wear jewelry under the chuppah(marriage canopy). Their mutual commitment to one another is based on who they are as people not on their respective material possessions.
The chosson, and then the kallah, are usually escorted to the chuppah by their respective sets of parents.
Under the chuppah, the kallah circles the chosson seven times. Just as the world was created in seven days, the kallah is figuratively building the walls of the couple’s new home. The number seven also symbolizes the wholeness and completeness that they cannot attain separately.
The kallah then settles at her chosson’s right-hand side.
Photos and information courtesy of Rabbi Mendel Druk from