Q. At marriages I have seen the chuppah situated either indoors or outside. Is there any preference as to where it should be? Also, why do the bride and groom to have a few minutes together in private after the ceremony?
A. The word chuppah, from a root that means “to cover”, was known from Biblical times, not as a public wedding canopy but as a private room or tent. Thus Psalm 19:6 likens the happiness of the groom coming forth from his chuppah to the sun rising in the morning. Joel 2:16 speaks in similar terms about a bride emerging from her chuppah. This must indicate a marriage room, her entrance into which makes intimacy possible and creates the status of marriage.
As marriage customs developed, the word chuppah meant not a private marriage room as such but a canopy under which the couple were placed, though not necessarily for the ceremony itself. In some places, bride and groom sat under a pavilion or canopy in the synagogue courtyard prior to the ceremony. In some places, during the ceremony which took place in the synagogue the groom lifted part of his garment (e.g. his tallit) over the bride’s head, presumably as a token of protection.
The Talmud discusses the issue of when they become man and wife and asks whether it is at the moment of chuppah. The question is whether this means the private marriage room or the public covering before or during the ceremony. The answer that evolved combined the options (the Rema on Even HaEzer 55:1) so that there is both a public ceremony under a textile covering on four poles, and a few minutes when the couple eat in private; “that,” says the Rema, “is the chuppah“.
Since the time they spent together (yichud) reflected the fact that the chuppah was originally the private marriage room or tent which provided the opportunity for intimacy, it may have been thought inappropriate to have the chuppah – in either sense – in the synagogue itself, and hence in many communities the preference developed to have the canopy in the synagogue courtyard. The Rema, however, adds the additional explanation that a canopy in the open air is a sign of blessing (Even HaEzer 61:1), not that there is a prohibition on weddings in the synagogue (the Rema to Yoreh De’ah 391).