At most traditional Jewish weddings, just before the wedding ceremony itself, the groom veils the bride. This is often an exciting and emotionally charged moment, especially when the groom and bride have observed the custom of not seeing each other for days before their wedding. The groom is danced by male friends to the bride who sits on a throne-like chair. The men arrive with raucous singing, and the groom veils the bride. Sometimes the bride and groom’s parents give blessings to their child and their soon-to-be son/daughter-in-law. This brief ceremony is called the bedeken.
For many years the bedeken was not particularly popular outside Orthodox circles. The veil was, for feminists, tied to some troubling ideals of modesty for women, and many women still eschew the tradition of wearing a veil, or being veiled. However, in recent years, some couples have come back to the bedeken, often tweaking the ceremony to suit their tastes and beliefs. Here are some ideas for creating a progressive and meaningful bedeken ceremony:
Bedeck Each Other
Many couples make the ceremony more egalitarian by having both bride and groom clothe each other. The groom veils the bride, and the bride helps the groom into a kittel or tallit, or places a kippah on his head. Covering one another can be a sign of recognition of the holy and awe-filled time; an enactment of how precious bride and groom are to each other; a statement of the bride and groom’s willingness to care and provide for each another; a wish for God’s protection from around and above.
Keep the Veil Out Of It
It’s also possible to have a bedeken ceremony without doing any veiling at all. This ceremony is designed to help the couple and their close family focus on the meaning of the moment they are about to enter, in just a few minutes, under the huppah. The bride and groom stand back to back and receive blessings–some biblical, some personal–from their families. Then the bride and groom turn to face each other, and are invited to take each other’s hands. The rabbi points out that this is the moment when the parents send their children forth from their family of origin so that they may make their own family. All they have tried to teach and all their love goes with these adult children who will soon commit their lives to each other.
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