Question: Should the chupah take place outside and under the stars?
Short Answer: Ideally, yes, the chupah should take place outside and under the stars, as this was minhag Ashkenaz. However, various Acharonim, as well as Sefardim, are not makpid to observe this custom.
I. Minhag Ashkenaz
The Rama (Even HaEzer 61:1) writes that some people have the custom to perform the chupah under the stars as a good omen (“siman tov”) that the couple should have many children like the stars in the sky. The Rama does not cite any dissenting opinion, but also does not write that we follow this custom.
Rav Gedalia Oberlander (Ohr Yisroel Journal 14, p. 191) suggests that the source of the Rama is the Sefer HaMinhagim by Rav Isaac Tyrnau, who quotes similar language. [See Ohr Yisroel Journal, ibid, where he also cites the Maharam Mintz who appears to follow this custom.]
II. Additional Reasons
In addition to the “good omen” reason, other reasons are given for the custom to perform the chupah under the stars.
First, the Sh’eiris Yaakov (see Ohr Yisroel Journal, ibid) quotes numerous reasons, including (i) that looking up at the starts will encourage the chasan and kallah to do t’shuvah, (ii) to symbolize that the heavens and earth will testify as to whether there is peace between the chasan and kallah in their new marriage, and (iii) to remind the chasan and kallah that they should not forsake the love of Hashem and the Torah on the day that they are focused on their love for each other, as Hashem only upholds the heavens and earth because of our love for Him and His Torah.
Similarly, the Hadras Kodesh (p. 50) suggests that we perform the chupah under the stars because now that the couple is married, they do not rely on their parents’ moral support anymore, but only rely on Hashem, symbolized by looking up at the stars in the sky.
Second, the Vilna Gaon (Even HaEzer 55:9) and the Aruch HaShulchan (Even HaEzer 55:18) [cited in Mishnas Yehoshua (11:40)] suggest that the reason for the custom is so that the chasan “owns” (at least a portion of) the land where the chupah takes place. This way the chasan can optimally perform the kiddushim/nisuin process by entering the kallah into his domain.
Third, the sefer Chupah v’Kiddushin with the commentary Ohel Yaakov (Rav Yaakov Skoczylas, son of Dr. Tali Skoczylas z”l) cites the sefer Nisuin K’Hilchasam, which gives a different reason. We perform the chupah outside so that there is more room for the separation between the men and the women, to avoid improper mingling.
III. Importance of the Custom
The Chasam Sofer (Even HaEzer 1:98) cites the Rama and discusses at length the custom to perform the chupah under the stars. The Chasam Sofer concludes that we follow the Rama for all minhagim, especially where the minhag is longstanding and leads to a good omen, and thus one should be very careful to adhere to this custom. The Rama decries the newfangled approach to ignore the custom and instead get married in a shul like the custom of the other nations of the world.
The Shalmei Simchah (158) [see Chupah v’Kiddushin, ibid] notes that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l was very makpid that the chupah be held under the stars, like the opinion of the Chasam Sofer.
Likewise, the sefer Shuvah Yisrael (1:97) rules that even if it is rainy or snowy, the chupah should take place under the stars, like the opinion of the Chasam Sofer.
Nevertheless, other Acharonim downplay the importance of this custom. For example, the Az Nidb’ru (9:55) writes that even though the Chasam Sofer rules that one should adhere to this custom of the Rama, the language of the Rama itself downplays the significance of the custom, because the Rama only cites the custom as “some have the custom” and himself does not conclude that this is our minhag.
Moreover, the Igros Moshe (Even HaEzer 1:93) downplays its importance, as the custom only stems from performing a “good omen” and not from any halachic basis. Indeed, Rav Moshe writes that the Chasam Sofer was primarily writing to counteract the Reform movement of his generation, which was beginning to proliferate, which attacked the customs of Chazal. Finally, Rav Moshe writes that this custom itself is not even so ancient, as Tosafos (Sukkah 25) mentions the custom to get married in the street/courtyard of the shul as an option only because they couldn’t fit into the wedding house.
As an aside, the Sefardim do not have this custom altogether. See Yabia Omer (3:10:4). Indeed, the sefer Shaarei Nisuin (8:18) notes that Sefardim receive the good omen instead by following their own custom, i.e., by not having the chupah under the stars.
IV. First Marriage vs. Second Marriage
Interestingly, the Pischei T’shuvah (Even HaEzer 62:1) notes that this whole custom only applies to the first marriage of the kallah, where the chupah is the start of the nisuin stage, and thus there is no delay between the kiddushin and nisuin stages, regardless where the chupah takes place. However, the chupah for a second marriage should take place indoors and close to the yichud room, which is the start of the nisuin stage by a second marriage, so that there is no delay between the kiddushin stage and the subsequent nisuin stage. However, the Pischei T’shuvah notes that some argue and think that both a first and second marriage should occur under the stars. The Aruch HaShulchan (Even HaEzer 55:24) adopts the first view.
The Ohr Yisroel Journal (ibid) cites the Likutei Mahariach who suggests a different reason for the difference between a first and second marriage. Marriage is compared to the receiving of the Luchos. The second Luchos were obviously longer lasting than the first, and thus do not need any “good omens.”
V. Retractable Roof
The Ohr Yisroel Journal (ibid) cites the Mishneh Halachos who rules that a retractable roof over the chupah that is opened during the ceremony suffices to fulfill this custom and to receive the good omen.
However, the Nit’ei Gavriel (Nisuin 1:16:5) challenges this idea and posits that it should not suffice, as the symbolism is not realized if the chasan and kallah do not even realize that they are standing under the stars.
Next Week’s Topic: May a chupah take place in the sanctuary of a shul?