ח׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ה (November 30, 2014)

Yevamot 57a-b: The Significance of the Huppa

Anyone who has been to a Jewish wedding has noticed that the bride and groom stand under a canopy – a huppa – that symbolizes the home that the two of them will build together. In the time of the Talmud, the huppa was a type of small room that was decorated in honor of the newly married couple, where they would have their first private moments together. It was closed off from others so that the husband and wife could be intimate with one another, which is the essence of marriage. In truth, there are several different opinions about what constitutes huppa.
Some require a real opportunity for intimacy between the couple.
Others say that it is a ceremony – similar to ours today – in which a shawl or canopy is draped over the couple.
Some say that it is actually an event that takes place after the wedding ceremony, when the wife enters her husband’s home.

In later times, the purpose of the huppa became more symbolic of the relationship than an actual opportunity for intimacy, a change that affected the way the huppa is treated by the halakha (Jewish law). For example, in our Gemara, Rav and Shmuel disagree about the effect a symbolic huppa will have on a woman who is not really allowed to marry the groom. For example, if a widow who is the daughter of a kohen enters a huppa with a , who she cannot marry because she is a widow, will she lose the right to eat the tithes from her father’s house because she has entered a forbidden marital relationship? Or, perhaps, the huppa is only symbolic and we know that no forbidden sexual relations have taken place, so she remains an upstanding member of her father’s house and can continue eating terumot? Rav believes that the huppa is significant, while Shmuel does not.

One case where both agree is if the wife in this story is an underage child. In such a case, since there is no possibility of sexual relations having taken place, Shmuel argues that even Rav would agree with his reasoning.