Before the Jewish Wedding Ceremony

Before the wedding, bride and groom are feted, the bride is veiled, and the groom dons a shroud-like garment.

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At the conclusion of this procedure, called kinyan, a scribe or the rabbi then adds to the end of the ketubah text the Aramaic word v'kanina (and we have properly concluded the legal act of transference), and the witnesses sign to affirm the groom's acceptance, through the act of kinyan, of all the conditions of the ketubah document, thereby validating the ketubah. In some communities, it is customary for the groom also to sign it.

The Veiling Ceremony

The groom is then escorted by his father and the bride's father, the rabbis, the dignitaries, and the others in his retinue to the bridal reception area for the veiling ceremony, known in Yiddish as the bedeken (Hebrew, hinuma). Accompanied by his friends, who dance and sing in front of him, the groom leads the procession to the bride. He approaches the bridal throne and covers the bride's face with a veil (Yiddish, dektich). He is then escorted back to the groom's reception room by the men, to prepare for the huppah ceremony [the public marriage ceremony that takes place under the marriage canopy, or huppah].

The veiling ceremony dates back at least to early medieval times, and some find a reference to the custom in the Talmud. The reason for the ceremony is probably related to modesty; the veil symbolically represents the added level of modesty the bride is expected to adopt with her elevation to the married state. The Torah relates that when Rebecca saw her bridegroom Isaac coming toward her, "she took her veil and covered herself." The bedeken ceremony thus recalls to all Jewish brides the matriarch's gesture of modesty at seeing her bridegroom, inspiring them to emulate their biblical forebears and conduct themselves with an elevated level of modesty in their married lives.

Some ascribe the custom of the bride's veiling to her position of centrality at the wedding, and the possibility that some men, undisciplined in their thoughts, might cast lustful eyes at her. The veiling accordingly underscores that, from this day on, the beauty of the bride is reserved for her husband alone to appreciate. Others see in the ritual a symbolic act directing attention away from the physical toward the spiritual at the wedding, constituting a public demonstration by the groom that his interest in the bride lies not in her beauty, but in the deeper, inner qualities of her character which, unlike her physical beauty, will not disappear in time.

There is also a rabbinic opinion that the tradition has a legal basis, as it symbolizes the groom's public obligation to clothe his wife, and is thus a procedure which is an integral part of the legal marriage process.

In some communities it is not the groom, but the rabbi who performs the veiling procedure. When the rabbi veils the bride, he often simultaneously recites to the bride the biblical blessing that Rebecca's handmaidens gave her: "O sister! May you grow into thousands of myriads."

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Dr. Michael Kaufman studied at Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Vodaath, Telshe Yeshiva, Brookyn College, and the University of Louisville. His books include The Art of Judaism, A Timeless Judaism for Our Time, and A Guide to Jewish Art. He lives with his family in Jerusalem.