It is fairly standard today for Jewish wedding invitations to list two times at which the affair will begin. The first time is for the reception/cocktails, and the second time is for the "chupah." While there are certainly those who feel that the former is more important, there is no doubt that it is the latter that is the religious high point of the wedding. It is with the commencement of the "chupah" (or perhaps its conclusion) that the man and wife become officially married to one another, ready to begin their new lives together. However, there is much debate among the Rishonim and poskim as to what is meant by the term "chupah."

Why should it matter? In fact, what we consider to be the chupah has tremendous ramifications for various areas of Jewish law. We will use this introduction to note a few of these areas as background, and will then investigate some of the various opinions concerning this practice.

In the good old days, a man and a woman would enter into a state of "erusin" a significant time before they actually got married. Unlike modern-day engagements, which have no real halachic status, this stage was a kind of a partial-married state. However, while this stage meant that the man and women were designated for each other, there is a slew of laws regarding husband and wife that do not kick in until the marriage has been completed, which Rambam and Tur agree happens with the chupah.

Bamidbar 30 speaks about the laws of taking vows. A woman who lives in her father's house can have her vows cancelled by her father if he hears them on the day that she makes them. Once she is married, however, the husband assumes this privilege, and can negate the vows taken by his wife. Only once chupah has happened does the husband acquire the power to do such a thing. Until that point, the girl is still considered to be in her father's house. Similarly, if a woman were to pass away unmarried, any possessions that she owns would go to her relatives. Once she is married, her husband assumes the position of prominence among her heirs. Once again, only once chupah has happened does he achieve this status.

One of the most serious areas of law that is involved here concerns the laws of yichud. A man is not allowed to be alone in a closed room (or any place where they do not fear being disturbed) with a woman, with very few exceptions. One such exception is his wife, and this topic will lead us directly into the first of the opinions on chupah, that of Rambam.


Assuming one of the strictest views on what chupah is, Rambam writes (Hil. Ishut 10:1) that chupah occurs when the man brings the woman into his house and has yichud with her. At this point she is considered to be a "nesu'ah" (married woman) and is considered to be his wife for all areas of halacha. He concludes by noting that this seclusion accomplishes the goal of cementing the marriage even if the couple had not yet had relations with each other, so long as they could have done so ("chupah ha-re'uyah l'bi'a").

This last comment of Rambam is crucial to his overall view. As the Derisha notes, Rambam's position is based on the perspective that the entire point of the chupah is the relations that will follow. Thus, even if the relations do not occur, as long as it is possible that they could have, the chupah is valid. This becomes an issue in an area that we will only mention briefly here, namely the case of a "chupat nidda," when the woman is menstruating at the time of the chupah. Since she is forbidden to any man at that time, there is no possibility for relations to occur, and the two are not fully married and may not be alone with each other until such time as she is pure and they can consummate their marriage (we should note that this is not the view that is followed today).

The Kesef Mishna cites Ran, who is shocked at the view of Rambam. He brings in the gemara in Yevamot 57b, which states clearly that women who are unfit for marriage for whatever reason can still have a valid chupah. Rosh (Ketubot 5:6) also objects to the view of Rambam. He first cites Rabbeinu Channanel and Rif, who agree with Rambam, and then cites Rambam himself. However, he notes that throughout the gemara, whenever the issue of chupah is involved with the ramifications being whether or not a non-kohein woman who is marrying a kohein will be able to eat from terumah (food given to the priests that only they may eat), the question of a chupat nidda is never raised. Thus, says Rosh, there is clearly an assumption that a chupat nidda is valid. To deal more directly with the concerns of Rambam, Rosh notes that so long as the groom enters the chupah with the intentions to consummate the marriage, the chupah is valid even if his wife is then found to be impure (the Magid Mishna agrees with this opinion). Perhaps concerned with the view of Rambam, the Hagahot Ashri notes in the name of the Mordechai that there was the practice to inform the groom before the chupah if his wife was impure. While he does not specify whose view he is following, if he were to be following the view of Rambam, then the chupah would clearly not be valid if the woman were to be impure.


As we have already noted, the view of Rambam, if only due to its stringencies, is not the one that is popularly followed these days. That being the case, what do we consider to be the chupah? The Beit Yoseif, after citing Rambam and the dissension of Ran against him, goes on to rule that chupah occurs when the groom brings the wife from her father's house into his house. This view seems to make perfect sense with the various verses in the Torah that refer to an unmarried girl as still being in her "father's house." (e.g. Vayikra 22:13, Bamidbar 30:4) This view also makes sense in light of a statement of the Perisha. He notes that the word "chupah" stems from the word "chofeh," meaning to cover or protect. It is used here to indicate the fact that once the woman enters into the domain of her husband, he then accepts upon himself the responsibility of caring for and protecting her (we will see that this statement of the Perisha can work for other views as well).

The Beit Yoseif also brings down two more views as to what chupah is. He cites the Orchot Chaim, speaking in the name of the Ittur, who claims that chupah occurs when the father of the bride hands over his daughter to her groom and they together enter into a house (or some structure) that has something new done to it and they are alone together there. As an example, he notes that some people fulfilled this by making a booth out of roses, which sounds somewhat similar to what we refer to today as a chupah. The Beit Yoseif also notes a view that says that a chupah is when a cloth is spread over the heads of the bride and groom when the blessings are made for them. While he rejects this view, we will see that it is a practice which has survived and is part of our "chupah" today.


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