Bimahs (pulpits) are amazing places! They can be filled with the laughter and joy of little ones at a Tot Shabbat and also with the somber sounds of Kol Nidre, the melancholy prayer of Yom Kippur. They can be occupied by a newborn, crying at their naming ceremony, and also with the cries of a grieving family.
All of these only deepen the importance of both the chuppah (the wedding canopy) and the bimah, the holiness of one adding to the holiness of the other.
When a wedding couple chooses to marry in the synagogue, they make a powerful statement about the path they envision for themselves and their life together. The synagogue becomes “home base,” and the bimah becomes a launching pad for a lifetime of sacred moments. Every time they come to a Shabbat or holiday service, they see the bimah where their married life began. Every time they come to the synagogue, they return to the loving roots of their family. And, as the years roll on, all those moments blend together, creating a sacred tapestry of what it means to be connected to a temple and to Jewish tradition.
One of the most recognizable parts of a Jewish wedding is the chuppah. Literally, the word “chuppah” means “covering,” and it serves to set apart the area where the sacred rituals of the marriage ceremony will take place. The chuppah can be freestanding or made up of poles held up by honored members of the wedding party. The chuppah can be erected in any location – outdoors, in a rental hall, or inside a synagogue – where the couple chooses to have their ceremony.
There are just a few rules or requirements for the chuppah: that it be a temporary structure erected by human hands. It needs only to include poles long enough and a covering big enough to make it comfortable to stand underneath.
Because of this flexibility, there is the opportunity for the wedding couple to integrate personally significant and symbolic elements into the design of their chuppah. A grandparent’s tallit (prayer shawl) or a family member’s heirloom tablecloth can be used for the roof. Flowers can, of course, be used to decorate the chuppah, and so can special keepsakes from each of the couple’s childhood bedrooms. I once officiated at a wedding where the poles were taken from a tree on the family’s farm!
Even with the inherent portability and flexibility in the design and placement of the chuppah, I encourage couples to consider raising their chuppah in the synagogue, on our bimah. There are so many elements of the wedding ceremony that are intensely personal and private; after all, this is the moment when two people come together to form a new family. However, I have always relished the opportunity to expand this personal simchah (moment of joy) to become a moment of celebration for the entire community.
Erecting the chuppah on the bimah makes that sacred lifecycle moment a part of the life of the congregation. In doing so, the couple links their special day with all that happens in the course of the year at the congregation.
If you are planning a wedding, consider the beauty of having the ceremony on the bimah, the place where life will unfold for years and generations to come. When the chuppah is erected on the bimah, it stands in the shadow of the Torah scrolls – and those sacred teachings form an extraordinary and timeless blessing for the newlyweds. There’s no better place to begin a life together!
Find a Reform congregation near you. The rabbi or cantor would be happy to speak with you.
Rabbi Peter W. Stein is the senior rabbi of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY and an adjunct professor at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He is active with RAC-NY, serves the Central Conference of American Rabbis as a committee chair, and is a member of the national Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood. He formerly served at Temple Sinai in Cranston, RI and at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh, PA.