(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)
1. The common custom amongst ashkenazim is that the kallah and her shushbinim (those who escort her down the aisle) circle the chosson, clockwise, under the chuppah.
2. Because the chosson has the status of a king, the kallah and her attendants (her mother and mother-in-law) walk around the chosson, just as troops march around the king.(see Taamei Haminhagim 961)
3. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (147:5) writes that they circle the chosson seven times. Harav Aryeh Kaplan zt”l explains that the seven circuits allude to the seven shepherds of Israel (Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and Dovid) and the seven prophetesses (Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chanah, Avigayil, Chuldah and Esther). Some say that they allude to the three Patriarchs and four Matriarchs. It is the couple’s hope that in the merit of all these great ancestors, their marriage will be blessed with success.
4. Others have the custom to circle the chosson three times (Shulchan Haezer 7:4). Why three circuits are made is a matter of conjecture. The number three occurs several times in the subject of marriage, the Bible mentions betrothal (ki yikach) three times, a man may legally betroth a woman in one of three ways, and his obligations to his wife are subsumed under three general biblical requirements of food, clothing, and conjugal relations.
5. The custom of Chabad Chassidim is that the kallah and both pairs of shushbinim (male and female) all walk around the chosson. (Sefer Haminhagim page 67)
6. Sefardim do not have the custom of circling the chosson (Shulchan Haezer ibid.).
7. While the kallah is circling the chosson, the cantor chants “mi ben siach shoshan chochim ahavas kallah misos dodim hu yivarech es hechosson ves hakallah.” (May the one who speaks of the rose of thorns, the affection of the kallah, the joy of the beloved, may He bless the chosson and the kallah). (Shaar Hakollel)
Others, such as Square Chassidim, do not recite this poem (Netai Gavriel on Nisuin).
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