Fact: Traditional sources state that one should stand during the recitation of the berachot recited under the chuppah, but the practice of standing as the chatan and kallah walk down the aisle seems to be a newer innovation.
Background: The question of whether to stand while the chatan and kallah walk down the aisle presupposes that the celebrants are otherwise seated and that there is a formal processional in which the chatan and kallah walk to the chuppah. While both assumptions are true for most twenty-first century weddings that take place in the US, this may not have been the case in other times and places. Even in contemporary times, in certain locations, this is not the custom. For example, nowadays, at many weddings in Israel, there are few chairs at the chuppah.
A modern Jewish wedding consists of two primary components: kiddushin (the giving of the ring and the recitation of Birkat Erusin) and nissuin (the recitation of the sheva berachot under the chuppah). Various sources discuss the need for guests to stand during the recitation of the sheva berachot under the chuppah.
One of the earliest sources to mention this practice is Rabbi Aaron HaKohen (Provençe, fourteenth century; Orchot Chaim vol. 2, Hilchot Kiddushin 21) who, quoting Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (chap. 16), states that a chatan is compared to a king1 and therefore2 should be praised and dress honorably, and should not go to the market alone, et cetera. According to Rabbi HaKohen, the universal practice is that everyone rises for a chatan when he walks on the road, when Birkat Erusin and nissuin are recited and when the chatan gets an aliyah. Thus it appears that 700 years ago in certain parts of France, the practice was for guests to stand during the chuppah.
Rabbi Mordechai HaLevi (Egypt, d. 1684; Shu”t Darchei Noam, OC 3) records that the custom in his country was not to stand for the recitation of Birkat Erusin; however, he writes that it is appropriate to do so during the recitation of the sheva berachot because these berachot have the status of a davar shebikedushah3 [such as Kaddish and Kedushah]. He also notes that the custom to stand, as suggested by Rabbi Yaakov de Castro (d. 1610, Egypt; Erech Lechem, EH 61; see Yabia Omer 6: EH 8), may be due to the fact that the sheva berachot include the blessing of “Asher Bara,” which is directed to all of the Jewish people, similar to Birkat Kohanim, for which the universal custom is to stand. It thus seems that in seventeenth-century Egypt, guests stood during the recitation of the sheva berachot but did not do so for Birkat Erusin.
Rabbi Chaim Benveniste (d. 1673; Turkey; Knesset Hagedolah, Tur 62:2; quoted in Be’er Haitev, EH 62:1) observes that in Constantinople (Istanbul) the custom was for all assembled to stand for the sheva berachot recited under the chuppah,4 while in Salonika, also under Ottoman rule, the prevailing custom was not to do so. Rabbi Benveniste suggests that the reason for standing is to honor the chatan and kallah who are standing themselves. Furthermore, Rabbi Benveniste says, since a chatan is compared to a king (Shiurei Knesset Hagedolah, Beit Yosef, OC 282:11), just as one would stand when a king would read from the Torah, one should stand when a chatan gets an aliyah. He personally stood up whenever a chatan walked by.
Rabbi Chaim Palagi (Turkey, d. 1869; Chaim v’Shalom, EH 28) understood from the Knesset Hagedolah that the obligation to stand applies to the sheva berachot only, and he thus wondered about those who stand during the kiddushin, a custom which he observed in his day in Izmir, a city in Turkey. He suggests two reasons for the local custom. First, he cites the position of Rabbi Benveniste in Knesset Hagedolah that standing is required because the chatan resembles a king. However, he notes that halachic authorities differ as to when the groom assumes the status of a “chatan.” Many opinions, including one cited by the Knesset Hagedolah, state that the groom assumes the status of chatan/king with nissuin, that is, with the recitation of the sheva berachot. On the other hand, there are those who maintain that the groom attains the status of a chatan/king once the kiddushin is performed.5
A different approach is taken by Rabbi Palagi, who explains that one should stand for the chatan and kallah because they are in the midst of performing a mitzvah. The Mishnah records that when the shopkeepers and artisans of Jerusalem would see the throngs of people bringing bikkurim to the Beit Hamikdash, they would cease working and stand in their honor (Bikkurim 3:3; cf. Kiddushin 33a and Chullin 54b). The Mishnah does not provide an explanation as to why they stood. Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura (d. 1515, Jerusalem) explains that they stood out of respect for those actively engaged in performing a mitzvah.6 He says this is similar to the well-known practice of standing for those engaged in various mitzvot, such as carrying a body for burial (cf. SA, YD 361:4, Taz, YD 361:2) and carrying a baby for the purpose of performing a brit milah (cf. Rabbi Akiva Eiger, YD 265:1).7 There are those who question this opinion since there is no custom to stand when observing individuals engaged in most other mitzvot. However, Rabbi Palagi maintains, though no previous commentator on the Mishnah in Bikkurim suggests as such, that since the chatan is engaged in the mitzvah of getting married, we stand for him.
There is also a kabbalistic tradition to stand during the sheva brachot recited under the chuppah. Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (d. 1869; Shu”t Haelef L’cha Shlomo, EH 115) notes that he found in the Tikunei Zohar that all are obligated to stand with the chatan and kallah when the sheva berachot are recited under the chuppah, and that one should follow this custom. Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvot v’Hanhagot 4: EH: 286:6) records that this is indeed the custom in Yerushalayim, based on the Tikunei Zohar.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 6: EH 8) notes the custom in Jerusalem is that the entire assemblage stands from the beginning of the Birkat Erusin until the conclusion of the sheva berachot; he adds that if someone is seated during the sheva berachot, he should be rebuked and asked to stand.
After reviewing the halachic literature on standing during the chuppah, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Toledano8 (d. 1960; Yam HaGadol 72), notes that in the 1940s, Egyptian Jews stood for the duration of the chuppah. Yet he argues that despite this, there is no obligation to stand9 and the custom probably started because there is simply no room to seat all of the guests. In addition, he argues that because weddings tend to take place in a synagogue10 and the ceremony is held on an elevated bimah, there is no need for the assembled to stand, similar to the exemption from standing for a Torah or a sage on an elevated platform. He concludes that in order to prevent mixing of the genders and to keep the event dignified, only the chatan, the kallah, the rabbi and a minyan of people near the chuppah should stand; everyone else should remain seated.
While there seems to be plenty of discussion in halachic literature regarding the need for guests to stand during various parts of the chuppah, none of the sources discuss the requirement to stand for the chatan and kallah as they walk down the aisle.11
If the requirement to stand is based on respect for the berachot recited under the chuppah, there is certainly no reason to stand while the chatan and kallah are walking down the aisle. If it’s due to the fact that a chatan is compared to a king, then, as noted, he does not really have the status of a king until after the ceremony. If, however, the reason for standing is because the chatan is engaged in a mitzvah, then his marching to the chuppah is an integral part of the performance of the mitzvah; this may, in fact, be the basis for the practice.
In his sefer Chazon Yeshaya (Brooklyn, 1988), Rabbi Yeshaya HaLevi Gold mentions the custom of standing during the chuppah. Seeking to explain why people sit during the chuppah—even during the recitation of the sheva berachot—despite the extensive halachic literature discussing the obligation to stand (siman 35, in section Shaarei Teshuvah [p. 104 in back]), he suggests that the reason for standing is to show respect for the bride and groom. Possibly, he posits, the respect due a chatan shares similarities with the respect shown to a Torah. In shul for example, when the Torah is in motion, there is a requirement to stand; however, once it arrives at its destination, there is no longer a requirement. Similarly, when the chatan and kallah walk to chuppah,12 one must stand. Once they reach the chuppah, only those under the chuppah need to stand in their honor.13
With regard to wedding celebrations, the overriding mitzvah is to bring joy to the new couple. The Talmud (Berachot 6b) states that anyone who brings joy to a chatan and kallah merits Torah, and it’s as if he sacrificed a korban todah and re-built one of the ruins of Jerusalem. The Tashbetz writes (end of 467) that all who add happiness to the chatan and kallah will merit to see the joy of the Livyatan [i.e., the messianic era]. If rising for the bride and groom as they walk down the aisle puts a smile on their faces, then it is a very worthwhile act indeed.
1. Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer does not mention that a kallah is like a queen, but it seems logical that the wife of a king is a queen.
2. One might have thought this statement is allegorical, an Aggadic and not an halachic statement. Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (Salmat Chaim 335) says that it is absolutely halacha, and ruling like the Tashbetz (467 [not 465, as written in Salmat Chaim]), he maintains that this means that a chatan, like a king, is not obligated to stand for a talmid chacham. Actually, the Tashbetz says that because he is like a king, he has “chen” (charm) and he should not go out alone. While he does not explicitly state that a chatan need not rise before a talmid chacham because he resembles a king, that seems to be the reason.
3. For Birkat Erusin, ideally there should be a minyan (SA, EH 34:4), albeit it is not essential (Beit Shmuel, EH 34:7); sheva berachot require a minyan (EH 62:4) and thus are considered by some a davar shebikedushah. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 6: EH:8) is not satisfied with this reasoning.
4. Note that all these sources discuss sheva berachot under the chuppah. None of them say that it is required to stand for the sheva berachot recited during the week at the festive meals following a wedding.
5. He is certainly not a chatan prior to that, and hence on a chatan’s wedding day, Tachanun is recited at the Shacharit minyan in which he davens (Mishnah Berurah 131:21).
6. The Gemara adds that in the case of bikkurim, respect is offered to the farmers to encourage them to bring bikkurim in the future. Rambam (to Mishnah Bikkurim 3:3) says that with regard to bikkurim there is the added element of kavod hatzibbur because of the large entourage engaged in doing a mitzvah together.
7. Cited also by Knesset Hagedolah (YD, Beit Yosef 265:2). The Taz (YD 361:2) extends this obligation to stand for anyone doing a mitzvah. Some feel this obligation applies to a gabbai tzedakah as well (see Pitchei Teshuvah, YD 256:1; Shu”t Minchat Yitzchak 10:86).
8. A fascinating talmid chacham, he was a native of Tiberias who wrote this responsum while serving as chief rabbi of Cairo. He later served as Sephardi chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, and from 1958 until his death in 1960, he was minister of religious affairs.
9. This does not seem to be the objective reading of the earlier sources. Indeed Rabbi Chaim David HaLevy (d. 1998, Sephardi chief rabbi of Tel Aviv; Mekor Chaim, vol. 5, 237:24) objects to wedding MCs who request people be seated. He writes that there is an obligation to stand during the chuppah. Rabbi Daniel Terni (d. 1814, rabbi of Florence; Ikrei Hadat, Dinei Kriat HaTorah: 15 [p. 19a]) notes that the Knesset Hagedolah required guests to stand during the sheva berachot recited under the chuppah because most people had the custom to stand, and thus it was inappropriate for one to remain seated. This implies that standing was a custom and not an absolute obligation.
10. While that must have been the practice he was familiar with, in many places, weddings were specifically not held in synagogues. See for example: David Katz, “Performing a Wedding in a Synagogue,” Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 18 (1989): 47-60.
11. There may be a reason to stand for others who walk down the aisle. This might include the grandparents, as there is a mitzvah to honor the elderly, which includes standing for any man or woman over age seventy (Vayikra 19:32; Kiddushin 32b-33a; YD 244:1-2; Yechave Daat 3:72).
12. He does not address the issue that they are not yet technically chatan and kallah.
13. An additional point worth considering: is this practice borrowed from the surrounding culture? There is a custom at American non-Jewish weddings to rise when the bride walks down the aisle; it is possible that the custom of standing while the chatan and kallah walk down the aisle at Jewish weddings is based on a non-Jewish custom.
Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky is a professor of brain science at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.