The Groom’s Home

Marriage is dramatically symbolized when the bride leaves her parents’ home and sets up house with her husband. In ancient times, the groom’s father built special quarters in the family home for the married couple (the chuppah represents that chamber in the wedding ceremony). It is this private room that yichud—the togetherness that declares to the community that the bride and groom have been chosen by each other above all others—takes place and the marriage is effected. Ran holds that the process of the bride moving in with her husband is enough of a statement to effect the marriage, even without the immediate ceremonious privacy of yichud.

The Bride’s Home

If the groom’s family was too poor to afford a gala celebration, the bride’s parents made the wedding at their home. Indeed, the groom often lived in their home for the first several years of marriage, especially if he was a student. In this case, however, no move took place, and there was no "recognizable" change in the bride’s living conditions. In ancient times, therefore, the bride’s home was not a desirable location for the wedding. (Today the wedding can be held at the bride’s home if desired, though it is not only proper but also technically preferable that the groom give the bride’s family some small gift—not only in gratitude, but as a symbolic lease for the chuppah. )

The Synagogue

To remedy this problem, according to the Gaon of Vilna, the wedding was held in the synagogue. Since the synagogue was considered community property, the community could cede the area where the chuppah would stand to the groom, as though it were his own room. A refinement in the law was added which transformed the fee customarily paid a synagogue for its use for a wedding into a lease of that property for the groom. This became an attractive alternative to holding the ceremony in the bride’s home.

Outdoors

The community could not abide placing the chuppah directly in front of the Ark because the chuppah is, after all, a public representation of the bridal chamber. Hence the chuppah was kept on the synagogue grounds, but it was held in the chatzar beit ha-ke’nesset (the synagogue patio), or the schulhauf (the courtyard) rather than in the sanctuary. Rema, in the sixteenth century, who was the first to record the use of a portable room in the form of the chuppah, was also the first to record the outdoor wedding. For Rema, the outdoor ceremony was a reminder of the stars that symbolized to Abraham the multitude of his progeny. A practical reason, of course, was the ability to accommodate a large number of guests at the service. In addition the generally hostile gentile environment made a home religious service undesirable.

 

Halakhically, it is preferred to hold the wedding service on the synagogue premises, but sensitivity should be shown in placing the chuppah in the inner sanctum of the synagogue. Historically, it was the presence of a symbolic bedchamber near the Ark. Despite this concern, weddings today are frequently held in the sanctuaries of orthodox synagogues. It is felt that the positive qualities of a synagogue wedding outweigh the negative connotations.

The Hotel or Catering Hall

Because the chuppah is portable and can represent the groom’s home, the wedding may be held at a hotel or wedding hall (the fee for the wedding may also be counted as the groom’s lease).

Where Then Is It Preferable?

Technically, the wedding may be held anywhere. It is preferable to hold it at the synagogue, which has its own ke’dushah (sanctity) and which therefore is the appropriate environment for kiddushin, the sanctification of marriage. In addition, the couple is associated at the beginning of married life with the institution of the synagogue, to which it can look for help and to which it will return in nostalgia for a replay of the most glorious moment of life.

If at all possible, the wedding should be held in the general area of the synagogue, "under the canopy of heaven." It is beautiful and meaningful to hold the wedding in a natural setting, where one can feel closer to G‑d. It also provides a historical connection with what must have been the original setting for the wedding before the Babylonian exile of the sixth century B.C.E.

Preferences for wedding locations are rabbinic and customary in nature, not mandatory. The traditionally preferred location should not cause family strife—quarreling is prohibited by the Bible. It is better to follow the biblical edict than to marry in a rabbinically optimal location! The Sages noted in the Talmud that weddings are usually marred by family dissension: "there is no ketubah that is signed without quarreling." One wonders if parents, in their zeal to "do the best" for their children, ever realize how much harm is done by quarreling at a time when the lesson should be family solidarity and cooperation?