The Chuppah: Canopy of Kings & Queens

The following article is reprinted with the kind permission of the author, Barbara P. Billauer

So, you’re getting married. Mazal Tov!

You, like your mother and grandmother and her mother and grandmother before her, will be married under a Chuppah – the marriage canopy which represents the Jewish Home, open on all sides as was the tent of Avraham, a sign the Jewish home is always open to visitors and travelers. But the Jewish wedding ceremony wasn’t always like that. In biblical times, the marriage was consecrated in the house of the groom and the tent stood for what it was, the home:

Bereishis Pereck 24

67 And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for his mother. {P}

סז וַיְבִאֶהָ יִצְחָק, הָאֹהֱלָה שָרָה
אִמּוֹ, וַיִקַח אֶת רִבְקָה וַתְהִי לוֹ - -
לְאִשָה, וַיֶאֱהָבֶהָ; וַיִנָחֵם יִצְחָק,
אַחֲרֵי אִמּוֹ. {פ}

The first actual reference to the word Chuppah comes from Tehilim 19:5

6 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course.

ו וְהוּא - -כְחָתָן, יֹצֵא מֵחֻפָתוֹ;
יָשִיש כְגִבּוֹר, לרוּץ אֹרַח.

In the time of David HaMelech, the term Chuppah represented the premises of the groom, where the bride would ultimately sojourn. Later, it appears that the word refers to the abode of the bride, which she would leave to begin her new life with her husband:

Joel 2:16: "Let the bridegroom emerge from his chamber [chedro], and the bride from her chuppah.")

16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts; let the bridegroom go forth from his chamber, and the bride out of her pavilion.

טז אִסְפוּ עָם קַדְשׁוּ קָהָל, -
קִבְצוּ זְקֵנִים - -אִסְפוּ --
עוֹלָלִים, וְיֹנְקֵי שָׁדָיִם: יֵצֵא
חָתָן מֵחֶדְרוֹ, וְכַלָה מֵחֻפָתָהּ.

By the time of the Talmud, the word Chuppah was used to mean the room where the marriage was consecrated. But we also find reference to the canopy as a symbol of the marriage rite in Gittin 57a, (Talmud Bavli) :"It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches". 

The Medrash also relates that Mt. Sinai was held over the heads of Bnei Yisroel at the time of Mattan Torah. Like “a chuppah” of a bride and groom, HKBH was consecrated to his bride, B’nei Yisraoel. The Rosh held that in the days of the Talmud the decorated hand-carried coach that transported the bride to her wedding served as the Chuppah.

By the early Middle Ages customs varied from community to community. In some communities, the Chuppah referred to the veil of the bride. In others, couples were married under a tallit, or the robe of the groom spread over the couple, or a cloth draped over them (as you can see in the illustration below). Only in the 16th century do we begin to see the Chuppah in a form we would recognize today.

Wedding, Nuremburg, 15th Cent. Without a Chuppah
but with musical accompaniment.

The tapestry or cloth canopy that we know today as a Chuppah was first identified by Rabbi Moses Issereles (Rema) in the sixteenth century, but the earliest illustration I could find dates to 1695.

Wood cut of a wedding in Amsterdam, 1695

R’ Isserles notes (before he composed his commentary to the Shulchan Aruch) that the portable marriage canopy was widely adopted by Ashkenazi Jews as a symbol of the chamber within which marriages originally took place. Other scholars believe that the form originated from the weddings of the Catholic Church (see Joseph Gutman, The Jewish Life Cycle, p.16). It appears more likely that the Chuppah (and the Catholic adaptation of the concept, as well) derived from the concept of the bride and groom considered as King and Queen. It is just too coincidental that the Chuppah almost exactly resembles the Monarchial design of the Baldachin.

The word Baldachin derives from Baldac, a Medieval Latin term for Bagdad, from where fine silks and tapestries were transported to Europe. Merriam Webster defines Baldachin as: 1) a cloth canopy fixed or carried over an important person or a sacred object, 2) a rich embroidered fabric of silk and gold, or 3) an ornamental structure resembling a canopy used especially over an altar. Its use signified the elite status of the individual it covered.

The Solemn Entrance of Emperor Charles V, Francis I of France, and of Alessandro Cardinal Farnese into Paris in 1540.  By Zuccari

The first baldachins were used as bed canopies, although the idea of a “Canopy of State” which accompanied the regent, dates back to the Egyptian times and Neo-Assyrians in Athens. By the late 5th century the parasol of the ‘elite’ women filled the same role.

“The Dream of St Ursula” by Carpaccio, c. 1500 (from “Baronial Bedrooms” by Barbara Billauer Bailey) (Notice how similar the scalloped edges on the canopy are to the chuppah in the woodcut seen earlier.)

Over the years baldachins became more elaborate and their uses expanded. These canopies were made of anything from muslin to heavy brocade. Transportable ones were constructed of less flexible materials, and supported by poles, whether affixed to a carriage, or carried by people walking on each side. By the mid 1800’s the baldachins had become spectacular structures, commanding awe that might have even surpassed that lavished on the Kings and Queens they were supposed to grace.

The Bedroom of the tragic Maxmillian and Carlotta in Miramare (from “Baronial Bedrooms” by Barbara Billauer Bailey) Max and Carlotta abandoned this incredible room so he could go to Mexico and be Emperor. There he was killed and Carlotta went insane. (She had a really nice bedroom though – just not as grand as this.)

The Travelling Baldachin
Baldachins were later placed over thrones and carried over the monarchs. As the monarchs themselves became more mobile, the travelling baldachin came into use (as you saw previously). We find these on route to war, or in processions such as royal entrances, coronations and funerals.

Wedding, Germany, 19th Cent. under Tallit and hand-held Chuppah.
The Couple wear wedding belts.

So, how did I come to know so much about Baldachins?
It all started when my husband told me our bedroom resembled a palace. Nice Yeshiva girl that I am, I had no idea what he was talking about. Especially since our room was decorated using smoke, mirrors, paper and cardboard (I kid you not about the last three items). 

So, I started researching what palatial bedrooms looked like. And I found they were all the same. Then how come they all look so different? – you ask. Much of it was just a matter of the colors and textures they chose (it’s amazing how much) and a couple of other ‘tricks’ that can be easily and cheaply copied. 

I learned so much about bedrooms (and baldachins) that I decided to write a book which was just published, "Baronial Bedrooms: The Kama Sutra of Grand Design". In it I share both what I learned (it’s amazing what you find out about Kings and Queens when you limit your searches to "bedrooms") and the techniques I used to copy the ‘Beauty of the Baronial Bedroom” on bubkes. You can order this paperback on Amazon

Barbara Pfeffer Billauer (Bailey) is a lawyer, science-educator, historical researcher and popular Torah-teacher. She is a research Professor at The Institute of World Politics by vocation and a designer by avocation. She lives in Zichron Yaakov where she is giving Shiurim and researching an upcoming book on Aaron Aaronsohn and a children’s book on Dona Gracia HaNasi.

Her design history and how-to book, “Baronial Bedrooms” can be ordered from or from Westphalia press. It will be available on Kindle shortly.

All pictures reprinted with the permission of Barbara P Billauer
Copyright Barbara P Billauer 2013

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Be kind to your photographer or How to create more beautiful memories!

While writing this article, I enlisted the help of a wonderful photographer and fellow wedding service provider Herschel Gutman of Herschel Gutman Photography ( ), to get his perspective on wedding photography, selecting and working with a photographer and more. His advice and comments are spot on!  All of Herschel’s comments in this article are marked with HG.
Herschel in action on the beach with a lovely bride!
(All photographs included with the kind permission of Herschel Gutman Photography)

Wedding photography is one of the only wedding tasks that must be dealt with before, during and after the wedding.  The wedding photos freeze a moment in time that can never be duplicated.

With this in mind, this article is divided into before, during and after the wedding advice and I believe it can help you avoid many of the most common wedding photography mistakes, as well as give you the tools needed to ensure you enjoy your wedding and then enjoy your wedding photos for many years to come.

Before the Wedding or Why can’t my cousin take a few pictures with his new digital camera?

Herschel in action
Choosing a photographer should take as much effort as choosing the gown!

HG Choose a photographer you get on with. Don't feel stiff in their presence, they should relax you. Also, have a fun engagement shoot with your photographer not only will you get beautiful pictures but it is a chance to spend time with your photographer and to create a bond. Both I and the clients gain invaluable information about each other which makes the wedding day so much better. Remember, your photographer is with you from the morning until the night on the most important day of your life - so choose wisely!
  • HG Don't only go with the photographers who only shoot the latest trends - a professional photographer will capture images that will never be dated and always in.
  • HG Find a style that you like and then look for that photographer. Price is important, but if you are searching for the cheapest, then you must accept that you will get below-average photos and SERVICE
  • HG Research! Everyone knows the best photographer in town, someone might have been excellent two years ago and been inundated with work, so now they are not producing the results they used to. Phone them/email them, see how long they take to get back to you, how is their behavior on the phone/email, do they make you relaxed, do they know what they are talking about? Ensure you set up a meeting with them and you will quickly know if they are right for you.
  • HG Ask them if they have a 2nd camera (professional photographers will have two sets of everything, if not - they not professional and you should look elsewhere). Do they have liability insurance - if yes - they are professional, if not – avoid them! 
  • HG Ask them what happens if they are sick, do they have replacement photographers?Professional photographers always have backups and state that in the contract that you sign. Professional photographers work together, assisting each other, so if he is in the industry, you shouldn't worry - you should ask to see their backups portfolios.
  • HG Some companies introduce you to their pro photographer and on the day, send you a student - ask them who will be shooting, get a guarantee! 
  • HG Sometimes smaller one-man businesses are better, more personal.
  • HG Ask them who designs the photo albums. Professional photographers will have a graphic designer that will do this. Photographers take photos while designers design! Always make sure you will be able to speak to the designer through the design process so that you get a product that you want.
  • HG Ask if they have package deals (photographers/videographers/makeup and hair stylists, magnet photographers, etc.) Professional photographers will have this and you will find that they all work well together and enjoy working together - this creates an excellent atmosphere at your wedding!  You don’t want a situation where the videographer and photographer are fighting for the best position by the chuppah.
  • HG Good equipment is vital to any professional and your professional photographer should have the best equipment around - especially if your wedding held at night or in a dark hall. Professional equipment will be able to handle the low-light scenarios much better than nonprofessional equipment.
  • HG I love it when people ask me if they will be able to blow up the picture to a standard A4 size. What a lot of people don't realize is that good photographers like to shoot very large files and in a format called RAW as opposed to JPEG. RAW gives you much more scope for adjustments in the editing process; an example will be if the photographer is photographing you under the chuppah and the videographer decides to point his large flash in your direction, in JPEG the photo will possibly be burnt or over-exposed, but with a RAW file, you can easily correct this in an editing program.
  • HG A good photographer should be able to provide you with a number of backups, in the cloud and at least two external hard drives of your photos - you don't want to lose the photos!
  • Be kind to your photographer and sit down with her/him BEFORE the event and discuss your expectations. 

Herschel Gutman Photography
HG Many couples are so caught up in the emotion of the day, that they forget who they want in the photos. Sometimes when the couple see the family photos after the wedding, they realize that an uncle or a brother-in-law or aunt is missing. I always tell my clients to give me a list detailing who they want in the family photo, this enables the families and the couple to relax while the photographer and the assistant scramble around looking for the family members.

Let me add: Appoint a friend or relative that knows you and your family to work with the photographer to ensure you get all the photos you need, without BOTHERING YOU during the wedding.

Give a copy of this must-have photos list to the photographer and to your friend/relative (mentioned above). Remember your photographer does not have to know that your two great aunts have not spoken since Lincoln was shot, so they need to be seated at opposite ends of the table when photographed.  The photographer does not need to know that your cousin married your first fiancé and you do NOT want to see his ugly face in any of your photos. 
Herschel Gutman Photography

  • HG Weddings, especially in Israel are big. Very big. I always recommend that there should be two photographers at the event. One being your main photographer, who is with you from morning until the end and then the second photographer who will be there for the critical hours; from one hour before the chuppah and through a few hours of dancing. This additional photographer adds another style to your photos and if the photographers work well together, your pictures will truly be spectacular.

  • Let me add: I have spoken about this in past articles, but you must be mindful of the ladies (of all ages) in your bridal/groom party when choosing wedding colors, flowers and dresses. Otherwise you may only find out in the photos that your mother looks washed out in black or your best friend’s dress does not fit her as well it does on your cousin. 
Take the time to think about the lighting in your venue, the lighting around the chuppah and at the tables before you make your final color decisions.  Light-colored flowers can lighten up a dark venue, a strategically-held (for instance, low on the waist) bouquet can hide a “multitude of dressing sins” for full-figured gals.  If you are not sure about something, revisit your venue, talk over color choices with your makeup artist.  Talk to professionals – they are there for you!

  • I also want to discuss final scheduling for the wedding day, which is very much in the hands of the photographer, especially the hours before the wedding.  I always ask the bride to talk to the photographer, in advance of the day, in order to ensure that we will all be in sync with the schedule to avoid unnecessary hurrying and worrying.  There are always last-minute changes – rain or oppressive heat may cause the pre-wedding photography session to be taken in doors or heavy traffic my cause unwanted delays in getting to the venue. 
The following table should help you understand the pre-wedding scheduling issues.

Time table – working BACKWARDS from Chuppah:

Action Time Amount of time needed
6 Start of chuppah

(What time the chuppah is set to start according to the invitation) No time – you are already in the venue.
5 Start of wedding reception

(What time the reception is set to start according to the invitation) Depending on the type of wedding, you should be in the venue 20 -30 minutes BEFORE the time listed, so you can greet your guests or 10-15 minutes before the guests arrive you should be seated in your kallah chair and the like.
4 Travel to the venue from the photography session

How long will it take you to travel from the photography session site to the venue?
3 Start of photography session

How long will the photography session last? Close this with your photographer IN ADVANCE.
2 Travel to the photography session site

How long will it take you to travel from your home to photography session site?
1 Makeup, hair and dress and final touchup ~ 5 hours for the bride!

  •        Finally, remember that your photographer and his/her team, as well as the band are people too and need to be fed during the wedding!  A table should be reserved for them to be able to eat and drink during their breaks in their work.  Remember, these folks are on their feet serving you for hours, making sure your simcha is perfect!

During the Wedding or Can I stop smiling now, my mouth is numb?

Herschel Gutman Photography

  • HG RELAX - it is OK if you spill wine on your dress, or get food on your shirt - it’s all part of the fun and if you go with it, the photos will look very spontaneous and fun - the alternative to this is a bride and groom will spend too much time worrying about unnecessary things and the photos will capture that.
  • Herschel Gutman Photography
HG Let the photographer direct you. He knows what works best and what will get the best moments. Be natural and relax and, of course, in love - a good photographer will be able to tell that story through a few pictures.
Herschel Gutman Photography

  • HG Don't always look at the camera (unless the photographer asks you), the camera will mostly be on you, so act natural for the best journalistic shots.

After the Wedding or Isn’t this over yet?

Herschel Gutman Photography
All the planning, crying, wishes, dreams, fights, misunderstandings, sweat and tears expended before and during the wedding, disappear immediately after the Big Day and all that is left are happy memories.  Not exactly!  There is still one last and many times, painful and BORING task: selecting the wedding photographs for the wedding album(s)!

You would think that in the era of digital photography, digital printing, and all the “fun” advancements in visual media, the whole “wedding photography” portion of the wedding would be an easy task to handle or perhaps not even necessary.  But the opposite is true!  Wedding photography, albums and all the visual memory aids have made this part of the wedding exhausting, tedious and sometimes impossible to control.

Today, we all know, there is no such thing as changing rolls of film, worrying about over-exposures, under-exposures, babies crying or grandmothers fainting.  Today the photographer will “just” take 40 shots in a row of the same scene; until everyone is smiling, standing, sitting, facing forward and in general “decent looking”.  The photographer will take 100 shots of the bride looking off into the sunset.  The photographer’s assistant will then take 50 shots each of the makeup/hair sessions, bridal shoes, the grooms tie, kitel, rings, ketuvah and every other symbol of the wedding.

The photography was the easy part.  Days after the wedding, the happy couple will get a seemingly innocuous email from the photographer containing a link to something like 5,000 photos, with the simple message – “choose some 50 – 75 shots for your album”.  Seriously? I personally know of couples that a year or more after the wedding still have not selected their wedding photos!   Children have been born and are entering Gan before the albums are printed. 

The “problem” with this overflowing file of photos is that you can receive a hundred photos that show you walking every half-step down to the chuppah and hundreds more of guests eating sushi, of flowers in the sunset, of the chuppah before, during and after the wedding and more. 

  • Ask the photographer to provide you with an edited file and a manageable number of photos for final selection.  You do not need to see 50 photos of yourself getting dressed or 30 photos of you kissing a baby, 45 photos of your giving brachot to your friends or 100 photos of you walking down the aisle. 
  • The photographer’s eye should be professional enough to ensure that you see only the very best photos.  Agree upon a maximum number of photos for final selection and have that number included in the work contract.  You do not need to remember this agreement during the wedding or want to fight over it after the wedding.
Herschel Gutman Photography

  • Select photos or your album(s) immediately!  Take a day off of work, shut your phones and the TV, order in a meal and then sit down with your beloved and CHOOSE THE PHOTOS.  The longer you wait the harder the selection process will be. Believe me!
Remember to be kind to your photographer – she/he is the holder of your wedding memory photos! 

Thanks Herschel for all your professional input and advice!

Did you enjoy my article?  I’d love to hear from you!  Drop me a line or tell me on my facebook page and please feel free to share my blog with a bride and all your friends!

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“Always Tweeze in the Direction of the Growth.”


“Always Tweeze in the direction of the growth.”  You may have heard this mentioned or read it somewhere – but is it really the correct way to groom your eye brows and can I do this at home?

What grows where and how?

Most brows can be divided into the top half and the side half. The top half begins at the inside edge of the brow bone closest to the nose and until the top of brow bone (usually at a point either in the middle or two-thirds of the way on the brow line), while the side half begins from the highest point of the bone and until the opposite corner of the eye.

Brow hairs, in general, grow UP in the top half and DOWN and to the SIDE in the side half.

To style and groom your brows: brush up the top half and lightly and carefully trim, with brow scissors, the hairs that are too long.  Next brush down (and a little to the side) the hairs of the side half.  You can now see the direction in which the hairs grow.

Only tweeze the hairs underneath the brow bone.  Slowly create a clean line under the brow – you can draw the line with a white or black eye pencil to make the demarcation more clear.  Now holding your tweezers straight down, grab the hair and pull the hair straight up and out of the top half.  Then holding your tweezers at an angle, grab the hairs of the side half and pull out the hair sideways.

Tweeze single hairs at a time, pulling gently but steadily to prevent the hair from tearing at the root before it is removed.  These torn hairs are the ones that can grow back either stuck under the skin or grow back crooked. Always brush your brows after each tweeze – remember in brow styling less really is MORE!

Once this is done, you can remove a few more hairs (one at a time!) from the area between the top and side halves to create the arch you want.  Removal of a few hairs will create a soft arch, while removing too many hairs will create a harder, V-shaped look.

Don’t forget to tweeze the area between your brows for any stray hairs.

Have patience, your brows may not take the shape you desire right away.  Allow them to grow and fill in, especially if you have done some overzealous tweezing in the past!

Want to learn how to style and groom your own brows in a one-on-one lesson? Contact me today!

(*Thanks Judy Kleinman for the great name!)