The complex reasons behind the Jewish Customs at our celebrations. 

Jewish celebrations. 

They’re joyous, exciting, beautiful, and…sometimes, odd.

While much is familiar to us, I’m sure we’ve all noticed something unusual either before or during the wedding ceremony that left us scratching our heads and wondering “what are they doing?”  Or maybe you wanted to jump up and shout  ‘Excuse me, why are you doing that?’

Jewish weddings are by nature traditional, regardless of how religiously observant the couple may be. This month, we’ll look at a Jewish wedding custom that is as old as the Bible.

When I come to the wedding, the bride and groom are sitting in separate rooms before the ceremony. Suddenly, and with great fanfare, the groom is danced over to the bride. Like the big reveal – only he covers her face with the veil! Why does he do that?

This emotional ceremony is known as the bedeken, a veiling ceremony that comes from the Bible.  (Bedeken in Yiddish means ‘covering.’)

Many couples choose not to see one another for a full week before the wedding.  (A column for another week!) The bride and groom sit in separate rooms until just before the chuppah because they have not yet seen each other! Guests come to greet the bride, who “holds court” on a beautiful chair decorated with flowers, surrounded by her family and friends.  The groom sits in another room and is greeted with singing and dancing by friends and family.  As the time for the chuppah nears, the music begins, the excitement builds, and the groom’s friends and family joyously dance him all the way to the bridal chair, for what is known as the bedeken. 

Think of it as the “big reveal,” as the couple sees one another for the first time in a week, ready to come together as husband and wife, beautifully dressed as chatan (groom) and kallah (bride).

As he approaches his bride, the chatan places the veil over her face. This tradition comes from the Biblical story of Yaakov, Rachel and Leah.  Yaakov worked for seven years in order to marry Rachel, the woman he loved. But at the wedding ceremony, Leah stepped in for her sister undetected (at the behest of her father Lavan), because her face was covered with a veil. 

As a nod to never having another groom be tricked again, the chatan looks at his bride and places the veil over her face, “making sure” he’s marrying the right woman.  In some circles, it’s become a sign that his love is based on her inner beauty rather than her physical appearance.

Once the bride is veiled, the couple is danced off to be married under the chuppah.

The bedeken is actually a very emotional part of the wedding. It gets me every time (I’m not crying, you’re crying…), so don’t forget the tissues!