The custom of circling the groom is explained in many ways:
o The book of Jeremiah states that “A woman encompasses a man” [31:22].
o The Rema (a famous 16th century Jewish scholar, Moshe Isserlis) explained that because the chuppah evokes the marital chamber, in circling the groom the bride creates a sort of invisible wall around him and their symbolic new home. She then enters to join her future husband – what follows, while graced by the attendance of the community, is essentially a private matter. An exclusive space is thereby created, dedicated to the bride and groom alone.
o In some mystical traditions, circling was associated with protection from the evil eye.
There are two longstanding versions of the practice of hakafot, and they differ in the number of times the bride circles the groom:
Seven Circles – There are several interpretations of the significance of this number: seven is the number of days of creation and the wedding ceremony is the creation of a new household. Seven is the number of times the phrase “when a man takes a wife” occurs in the Bible. Seven is the number of times Joshua circled the walls of Jericho in order to bring them down, and in circling her groom a bride brings down any wall that may remain between them.
Three Circles – This custom is generally taken to derive from the Biblical description of the paradigmatic marriage of God and the nation of Israel. In the book of Hosea [2:21-22], God utters the phrase “and I will betroth thee unto me” three times.