Custom has it that the bride, as she arrives under the chuppah, walks three times around the groom (in some communities, seven times). The tradition is both beautiful and meaningful, although it is not required by the Halakhah.

The reason for this unusual custom is shrouded in the mist of the past. One rabbinic author suggests that a woman is a "protective wall" for her husband, preventing him from foolishness and guarding him from harmful influences. As Jeremiah (31:22) says, "A woman encompasses a man." Another rabbinic author says that it symbolizes the light that now envelopes a man as he emerges from bachelorhood. There he was considered only palga gufa (half a person), now he is completed and encircled by his wife.

Another cogent and meaningful reason may be offered. The marriage canopy described by Rema is the marriage chamber with the walls removed, so that it may be the center of public ceremony. Thus there will be no question that chuppah, to be complete, will require seclusion in private. The bride makes invisible walls by drawing a circle with her own body and then stepping inside. This is both public declaration of togetherness, and a separation from the rest of society at this most awesome and decisive moment. It is a physical expression of the marriage proposal, "sanctified unto me," in which "sanctity" implies "separated unto me." It is a statement of the new status of the couple.

The exclusivity of marriage signifies more than just conjugal fidelity: it signifies to all others that no one may step into that circle to invade their privacy or interfere in their lives; and it signifies to the couple that they may not arbitrarily expose their personal marital concerns to anyone outside the circle.

The bridal circuit is also a demonstration of the fundamental verse of marriage in Genesis: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh" (2:24). Both bride and groom leave their parents after the procession and station themselves under the chuppah which, for the duration of the wedding, is owned solely by the groom for the couple's use. When the bride draws the circle, she stakes out a new series of relationships: her husband is at the center, and her parents, still the objects of respect and loyalty, are now at the periphery. As she steps inside, she signals the beginning of "and he shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." It is a new family circle within society.

Carried further, the circle yields yet another truth of marriage. The Rema required a public symbol of the yichud seclusion in order to complete the nuptials, and so he removed the walls of the chamber. This openness is an expression that marriage, though exclusive and inviolable, is not a closed system. The family is part of a community, the community part of the world. The love that makes marriage beautiful must make life beautiful, and its influence must slowly spread to the larger circles of society, to bring to the outside world a spirit of selflessness, sanity, and warmth.

Why three circuits are made is a matter of conjecture. The number three occurs several times in the subject of marriage. The Bible mentions betrothal (ki yikach) three times; a man may legally betroth a woman in one of three ways; and his obligations to his wife are subsumed under three general biblical requirements of food, clothing, and conjugal relations. Another reason may be the threefold repetition of betrothal in Hosea (2:21-22), representing the marriage of G‑d, the groom, to Israel, the bride: "and I will betroth thee unto Me forever. Yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving kindness and in compassion; And I will betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness." These sentences are recited by men donning the tefillin (phylacteries worn at weekday prayers) every day as they wind the tefillin straps three times around the middle finger. As the celestial betrothal is symbolized by a threefold circling, so the earthly betrothal is represented by the bride's encircling of the groom three times.