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Symbols, Old and New

The chuppah or marriage canopy is regarded by many as a key element of a Jewish wedding. Though there are a variety of interpretations, generally it is seen as a symbol of the couple’s new home, with open sides in honor of Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality. In addition to this symbolic meaning, the canopy itself often holds a personal significance through the use of specially chosen fabric – such as a tallit, or other meaningful fabric – or the labor of a loved one.

Velvet chuppah used for various weddings at Mogen Abraham Congregation, Baltimore, in the 1920s. Gold braid forms a Star of David in the center, with other stars and flowers around the edges. This Orthodox congregation was located on South Bond Street at the time.


Gift of Isaac Kinek. JMM 1990.50.1

Read a Just Married "extra" about this chuppah from the JMM collections!


A wedding at Har Sinai, complete with a floral bower chuppah, circa 1980. Sometimes the chuppah is more an idea of a canopy than a literal one; floral arches like this one were popular with Reform and Conservative couples for many decades, particularly in the early-mid 20th century.


Gift of Har Sinai Congregation. JMM 2012.108.117

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Joy Freedman and Lisa Gilden were married by Rabbi Steven M. Fink of Oheb Shalom on September 18, 2011. Their chuppah was created by joining the tallitot of both of their fathers. 


Courtesy of Joy Freedman and Lisa Gilden. JMM CP 2017.29.1

The wedding ring is a gift, of specific and known value (hence, no additional gems, or pierced designs, that might alter the value), given by the groom to the bride. Since halacha specifies the function but not the form, some Sephardic traditions use a coin rather than a ring. In either case, the gift, accompanied by the proper words spoken by the groom, is the culmination of the ceremony, finalizing the marriage transaction. Technically, a double-ring ceremony – though popular, and sanctioned by many movements – runs counter to this law, as it is an exchange rather than a gift.

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Elinor Schunick and Michael Shack were married at Rogers Avenue Synagogue, Baltimore on August 15, 1965. The groom is putting the wedding ring on the first finger of the bride's right hand, as required by Jewish [law]; today, most brides switch the ring to the American option of the third finger of the left hand.


Courtesy of Michael and Elinor Shack. CP 2017.22.1 

An antique wedding “house ring,” date unknown. Silver, with a hinged top and a removable silver Torah scroll inside; the Hebrew inscription reads “The voice of joy and happiness/ the voice of groom and bride.” Though house rings are an ancient form and are not in common use, in some families they are a beloved tradition.


Gift of Joann Jace. JMM 1997.53.12


Wedding veils have a long history, and are common in the traditions of many religions. Some modern American brides still wear the traditional face-covering veil — a nod to the Biblical story of Rachel and Leah — but others opt for something a little lighter.

Veil with headdress, worn by Ilene Gudelsky of Bethesda when she married Neri Cohen of Baltimore in Washington, DC on June 8, 1986.  A satin circlet with lace, net, and beaded flowers, and a pouf of tulle with a short veil in the back.


On loan from Ilene Gudelsky Cohen. JMM L2016.15.3

Though seldom seen today, orange blossoms – symbols of good fortune and fertility – were once extremely common in the ensemble of a fashionable bride. They were so popular in the 19th century that they were used during all seasons, and so were often made of wax and wire when fresh ones were unavailable.


This spray of artificial orange blossoms is from the headdress of Ella Oppenheimer, who married Henry S. Miller on June 3, 1925.

Gift of Patsy Miller Perlman. JMM 2011.80.6, 2000.85.5

Traditionally, the ceremony ends with the groom stomping on a glass, as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple — and, today, as a celebratory signal that the marriage is now official.

Abigail Rome and Eileen Nivera each stomped joyfully upon a glass at their wedding on May 1, 2011 at the Strong Mansion, Sugarloaf Mountain, Dickerson, Maryland. Reconstructions Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb (center) officiated. Photo by Deb Lindsey. Courtesy of Abigail Rome and Eileen Nivera. JMM CP 2017.4.4


Satin bag holding the broken glass from the wedding of Naomi Hendler and Leslie Legum, married at the Hendler mansion near Druid Hill Park, Baltimore, June 20 1939. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Legum. JMM 1991.156.2

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