Customs from the Wedding Chupah

    February 2009            
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The Chupah, the wedding canopy


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Opinion & Society

Under the Chuppah

By Moshe Howard

Most people who have gone to Jewish weddings are familiar with the special act that seems to be part of the Chupah – this is when the groom stomps on a glass and breaks it. To many this is a happy point in the wedding ceremony; some sort of milestone has been reached.

Before the bride and groom actually come to the chuppah, there is the writing of the Kethuba and then the groom is escorted to the chuppah followed shortly by the bride. She circles the groom seven times, slowly, as they both recite palms. The various rabbis and honored guests are called up to recite blessings under the chuppa as the guests listen quietly and respectfully. At the end of all of this a glass is placed under the heel of the groom and he smashes it with his foot to the roar of approval of the guests who greet this action by exclaiming "mazel tov!"

Breaking the Glass under the Chupah

At many weddings this is the turning point. The crowd begins to sing; the band begins to play a joyous melody and every one smiles and the wedding festivities are set to begin. The bride and groom are escorted by the guests who dance and sing to them as they make their way to their "yechud" room, the room set aside for them to be together.

But it is interesting to note the manner in which this custom of breaking the glass began and how it developed. First let us see where did the concept of breaking the glass start?

The source is in the Talmud Brachot, 30b:

    Mar, the son of Ravina, made a wedding for his son. He saw that the rabbis were getting too merry so he took a glass that was valued at four hundred zuz and broke it in front of them and they sobered up.

    Rav Ashi made a wedding for his son. He saw that the rabbis were getting too merry so he took a glass that was from white glass (very expensive) and broke it in front of them and brought them down from their merriment.

From these two cases cited in the Talmud began the tradition of breaking a glass at a wedding. However, we should note that in the beginning it was not broken by the groom, but by the father of the groom. Later in time, it developed to become that the glass that the blessings were made over was smashed on a nearby wall, some communities even had a special stone in the shape of a lion upon which to smash that glass.

Some give the reason for the incorporating the smashing of the glass into the wedding ceremony as a remembrance of the Temple, basing it on a verse in Palm 137, "If I forget you Jerusalem...if I do not bring Jerusalem to mind at the height of my joy…"

Some try to explain it allegorically that the glass is made from sand, a very common and cheap material in our earthly world. Yet through the workings of a master craftsman (in there times at least) it was transformed into a vessel of rare beauty and value. Yet it can not last forever, someday it will be broken and then it will return to the sand from which it was taken. This is an allusion to man, who through the craftsmanship of G-d, is created from the dust of the earth to become a valuable creation, yet, no matter how valuable he may be or greatness he may achieve, he too will return to the dust. Therefore when the rabbis saw the glass being broken, it reminded them that they too will return to their former state and give an explanation to their Maker for all of their actions.

Yet through the generations the custom slowly evolved that it be the groom who breaks the glass, not the father, and that he break it by stepping on it with his foot, not smashing it into a wall. Not only that, but instead of it becoming a moment of sober reflection, a time of reducing the level of the merriment, it changed and evolved into a time of raising up the merriment.

The custom of breaking the glass at weddings has perhaps changed throughout the generations, but the lesson that is in the custom is still relevant, but it is upon us to contemplate the meaning of it. May we all merit to see many Jewish weddings.


from the Februrary 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine