Monday, June 02, 2014

Decking the bride

The terms used to describe the veiling of the bride is most often spelled  bedeken, but also occasionally spelled badeken,  badecken, or even badekin,   as 
there are no hard and fast rules about the English spelling of Yiddish words. 
 The Ashkenazic custom is for the groom, accompanied by friends and relatives who sing and dance around him, to approach the bride and pull the veil down over her face.    This is one of the key moments that any Jewish wedding photographer knows is a must-have shot.  Remember, the bride and groom have not seen each other for some time now.   They are usually quite happy to meet up, and their joy is reflected in their faces.  The veiling is traditionally followed by the bride getting blessed by her father, mother, and, possibly, grandparents who lay their hands over her head -- another great picture moment.
The question is: why go through this public veiling, and why make the groom responsible for it?  The practice goes back to really ancient history.  Brides would cover their faces out of modesty.  We see that in the Bible when Rivka [Rebecca] is brought over to her groom, Yitzchak [Issac], she covers her face.  
In the next generation, the cover of the bridal veil prevented Yaakov [Jacob] from realizing that he was, in fact, marrying Rachel, for his duplicitous father-in-law put her sister, Leah, in her place.  To avoid such bridal switches, the groom ascertains that the woman behind the veil is the woman he means to marry by putting it on himself.   Some also suggest that putting on the veil points to the groom's obligation to provide for his wife's clothing and other essentials, as stipulated in the kethuba.
In his book Beyom ChasunasoAn Explanation and Analysis of of the Laws and Customs of a Jewish Wedding(2007)Rabbi Zev Cinamon gives another reason for the groom's role in the veiling.  According to some opinions, the bedeken, in spreading a covering over the bride constitutes the chuppah.  Consequently, they would suggest that the groom be the one who owns the veil that he spreads  over his bride.  Some would even designate witnesses for the bedeken as an actual act of marriage (Cinamon 37).

In Megillas Ruth, the heroine of the story tells Boaz, "uparashta knafecha al amatecha" [you should spread your wings over your handmaiden] (3:9) Rashi elucidates that term to mean, spreading the wings of the garment, that is to cover her in a tallith in the terms of nesuin - marriage.   
Some people like to ascribe further meaning to the veil, by declaring it a symbol of  the fact that what's inside is the real measure of a person rather than physical beauty.  But I haven't seen that reason in historical written sources.  It also does not completely fit the custom of declaring the bride to beautiful and kind.  According to the ruling of Hillel, which trumped the ruling of Shamai, the proper thing to say at a wedding is,  "kallah na'ah vechasuda," regardless of the objective assessment of the bride in question. We literally sing the bride's praises by declaring her to be beautiful, as well as good.
 As everyone watches the bride walk down the aisle, the veil gives her some small measure of privacy.  Nevertheless, at a standard Orthodox Jewish wedding, the wedding veil will be made of the standard tulle or illusion fabric, which is very close to sheer.  Hasidic brides, on the other hand, do wear opaque veils that completely obscure their faces.  Happily, the bride is not left to make her way on her own, so her blocked vision should not result in any missteps.



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