Walking Down the Aisle (the the Chuppah) at a Jewish Wedding

When a wedding is depicted in a Hollywood movie, it always seems as if the groom just kind of appears from some secret side door and stands in front of a priest or some kind of officiate.   The bride floats down an aisle, flanked on either side by rows of guests seated on benches or chairs, on the arm of her father; following a procession of some 15 bridesmaids in identical, horrific dresses.

Bizarrely, the mother of the bride is always shown sitting by herself on one side of the aisle, with tears of happiness streaming down her face.  In contrast, the groom’s parents are left to their own devices on the other side of the aisle.

The guests, as I understand, are seated according to their connection to the happy couple: either on “the groom’s side” or “the bride’s side” of the aisle.  This is NOT how a Jewish wedding is organized and weddings in Israel are even less similar.

In this article, I want to discuss how the bride and groom walk down the aisle at an Orthodox Jewish wedding.  Other parts of a Jewish wedding ceremony will be discussed in future articles.

Firstly and by definition, a Jewish wedding is a communal event.  The wedding is designed this way so that the marriage, and consequently the unavailability of the bride and groom to anyone else, become immediate public knowledge.

Why do we accompany the bride and groom to the Chuppah?
The tradition of accompanying the bride and the groom to the Chuppah is based on variety of social and religious customs, viewpoints and attitudes.  However, there seems to be a common basis or way of thinking that connects all these traditions and they include:

(1)        It is said that Ha’shem accompanied Chava down to the Chuppah, when she married Adam.  From this belief grew the idea of accompanying the bride and groom to their Chuppah.

and 

(2)        Just as a king and queen are always surrounded by an entourage as a symbol of their importance, so the bride and groom, who are considered as a king and queen on their wedding day, must be surrounded and accompanied by an entourage. This entourage includes the perspective parents of the bride and groom, their closest relatives and friends.

Before the creation of Wedding Halls, weddings took place in the village’s or city’s open court yard or any area that could hold a large gathering.  The entire community of that village or city would join together and accompany the bride and groom down to the Chuppah. 
At the head of these processions would be the parents of the bride and of the groom.  Either each set of parents accompanied their own child or the mothers accompanied the bride and the fathers accompanied the groom.   Orphans would many times be accompanied to their Chuppah by prominent members of the community to help illustrate the importance of the mitzvot of Hachnasat Kallah and Mesa'meach Chatan V’Kallah.  

There is no ‘right way’ to accompany the bride and groom.  Each family has its own custom. 

In weddings held outside of Israel, all the guests are usually seated on either side of an aisle leading up to the Chuppah either wherever they wish or one side of the aisle is reserved for women, while the other side of the aisle is reserved for men.  Usually the first row or two of seats, closest to the Chuppah, are reserved for older guests, so they can see the ceremony more easily. 


Grandparents and great grandparents usually stand under the Chuppah with the rest of the family, but they can also be seated in those front rows.  In general, in Israel, there are only two or three rows of chairs (at most), reserved for people who will find standing during the Chuppah ceremony too much of a burden.  Everyone else stands around the Chuppah during the entire ceremony, thus the idea of an “aisle” disappears as soon as the bride and groom are standing under the Chuppah.
Procession without an aisle in Israel
The idea of a Jewish wedding procession has no true basis in Jewish tradition.  The idea of bridesmaids and flower girls has been adopted into some Jewish weddings in one form or other, but it does not have the importance or significance it has in gentile weddings.

Who accompanies the bride and groom?

ONLY the bride and groom and their procession to the Chuppah are important. The procession begins with the groom, as he is lead down the aisle either by his parents or both fathers and his closest friends and male relatives.  Once he and, usually, those who walked down with him are standing under the Chuppah, it’s the bride’s turn.  She may walk down the aisle, flanked by either her parents or both mothers and by close friends.  As she is lead down to the Chuppah, she may also recite prayers for people in need.

Procession of groom with the fathers and friends


Candles in holders with ribbons and flowers
Candles
Many Ashkenazi families have the minhag of the parents or mothers/fathers accompanying the bride and groom to the Chuppah to hold specially designed glass holders with lit candles in their hands. Sometimes they hold simple long havdala candles with a “handle” of tin foil to prevent hot wax from dripping on their hands.
  
Procession of bride with the mothers and friends
I have heard and read many reasons for this minhag; from lighting the way to the Chuppah to the gematria for the Hebrew word "aish" (fire) and the Hebrew words for "man" and "woman" and so on.  My feeling is that since nearly all weddings took place outside and in the evening, candles were needed to light the way for everyone.  As time went on and weddings began to take place indoors, the idea of 'lighting the way' for the Chatan and Kallah was preserved as part of the larger ceremony.

Under the Chuppah
Depending on the size of the actual Chuppah, the people that will stand under the Chuppah, in addition to the bride and the groom and the Rabbi, are the parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents and many times close friends. The witnesses and other honoraries usually stand to the side of the Chuppah, but that is the topic of future articles.

Once everyone is standing under the Chuppah, the wedding ceremonies formally begin.  I will discuss these ceremonies and rituals in future articles.


Do you have questions about a Jewish wedding, its customs, traditions and practices?  Please feel free to contact me today!

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