Friday, July 25, 2008

Walkin' 'Round the Groom

A very good friend of ours went to a Jewish wedding recently and asked me why the bride circles the groom seven times. Unfortunately (sorry, K!), I haven't had a chance to answer the question until now. To be honest, there were too many things going on at the same time when she asked, and then I kept remembering the question at all the wrong times and forgetting about it at all the right times. Until now.

I did a bit of research online to find the best answer, or rather answers, I could.

So, why DOES the bride circle the groom seven times under the Chuppah?

Fluffy answer: This tradition has ties to Jeremiah 31:21, where the prophet says that a woman encompasses and protects a man (Circling the Groom at

Fluffy yet more manly answer + reason for SEVEN times: Other brides circle seven times. As Joshua circled the wall of Jericho seven times, and then the walls fell down, so, too, after the bride walks around the groom seven times, the walls between them will fall and their souls will be united (same source as above). SOOOOO ROMANTIC!! :)

Fluffy answer for tradition of THREE times: Some brides will circle three times. This tradition comes from Hosea 2:21-22 where God says to the Jewish people: "I betroth you to myself forever; I betroth you to myself in righteousness and in justice, in love and in mercy; I betroth you to myself in faithfulness..." God betroths to Jewish people to Him in three different ways: Righteousness/justice, love/mercy, faithfulness (same source again!).

Cool Chabad answer (that makes the groom VERY manly!): When they arrive at the Chupah, the bride and family circle the groom seven times. One of the many explanations for these seven circuits is that they represent a seven-fold bond which marriage will establish between the bride and groom and their families. This act also recalls the seven times that the Tefillin straps are wrapped around a man's arm. Just as a man binds himself in love to G-d, so is his bond in love to his bride. The number seven represents the completion of the seven day process in which earth was created. During these seven days, the earth revolved on its axis seven times. Since marriage reenacts the creative process, the Kallah's encirclement symbolizes the repetition of these seven earthly rotations. Also, on the day of his wedding, the groom is compared to a king. Just as the king is encircled by his legion, the groom is to be encircled by his bridal entourage. When the bride has finished encircling the groom, she stands at his right, as the Psalmist states, "at the right hand does the queen stand" (The Chabad Jewish Wedding Guide - next section, as PART of the ceremony, is the reading of the Rebbe's letter - odd, since the Rebbe didn't write the letter SPECIFICALLY to any bride and groom since his death in 1994, but we won't go there...).

Mystical, and somewhat practical reason: Under the chuppah, the bride traditionally circles around her groom either three or seven times, some say to create a magical wall of protection from evil spirits, temptation, and the glances of other women (The Modern Jewish Ceremony Personally, I'm no Brad Pitt, James Dean, or George Clooney look-a-like, so I don't think there's any personal danger for myself there. On the other hand, notice the reason given isn't that the GROOM shouldn't glance at OTHER WOMEN... :)

19th Century Victorian reason: The circling of the bride denotes how central to her life her husband is and it also represents a seven-fold bond which marriage will establish between the bride and groom and their families. The other meaning of the ritual is that just as the world was created in seven days, the kallah (the bride) is figuratively building the walls of the couple's new home. The number seven also symbolizes the wholeness and completeness that they cannot attain separately (Jewish Wedding).

All purpose reason, courtesy of the English: Circling
As we note above, circling is a great example of a custom with multiple variations that is attributed to different sources. The numbers of circuits is usually either seven or three. According to one variation, the bride circles alone, while in another, she is escorted on either side by a bridesmaid with a candle. Sometimes, the bride is accompanied by the singing of traditional hymn or with nigun, a wordless melody. The custom of circling is attributed to multiple sources and given multiple explanations. One source cited for the custom is a verse from Jeremiah: "for the Lord hath created a new thing in the Earth, a woman shall compass a man." (Jeremiah 31: 21). One source for three circles is a verse from Hosea with three descriptions of God's betrothal to Israel: "Thus says the Lord, I will betroth you to Me forever. I will betroth you with righteousness, with justice, with love, and with compassion. I will betroth you to Me with faithfulness, and you shall love the Lord." (Hosea 2:21-22) The number seven is generally considered a number of good fortune in Judaism, and is attributed to various sources. One Kabbalistic explanation for the number seven is that it symbolizes the removal of seven shells of solitude encrusting the groom's soul, so that it can be encompassed by the luminescence of his bride. As we mention above, many couples opt to update the custom by having the bride and groom walk around each other, or by having both walk around the chuppah together. No matter what variation feels most comfortable to you, we encourage you to think about incorporating the custom of circling. It has endured as a custom for good reason; it can have a powerful effect on the bride and groom and everyone present (Jewish wedding guide |

And there you have it. In truth, it's probably just a custom (like so many others) that got picked up somewhere along the way because it's just kinda nice. And it's certainly better (and cleaner!) than some pagan customs we picked up along the way, like Kaparos... (K, you'll have to ask the wife about that one - it's one of her pet peeves...)


anonymous said...

That is so excellent! I didn't know when I asked that I'd be getting a thesis-style explanation, and I am duly impressed. Thanks for looking into this for me.

These are actually some really intetesting theories, and the whole thing really is nice, isn't it. I'll have to ask Mrs. Am Kshe Oref about that pet peeve of hers!

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

My pleasure! :-) We'll talk to you soon. I understand the Mrs. made your day yesterday about your mutual friend from long ago... ;-)

Give a call you have time!