Why does the bridegroom lift his wife’s veil? Ask the rabbi…

October 22, 2018 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. Why does a bridegroom lift and then replace his bride’s veil prior to the wedding ceremony?

A. The bride’s relatives usually make a joke about it.

The bride is ready to come under the chuppah, but she has to sit and wait for her bridegroom to come towards her, lift and replace her veil, and assure the rabbi and everyone else that it really is the right girl.

The chattering relatives are likely to wonder what a quaint, outlandish custom this is. The right girl? After all those weeks or months of frantic activity, with all the effort to find a hall, a band and a caterer?

With the honeymoon booked and the new apartment full of wedding presents, now someone starts talking about the right girl or not the right girl?

Enough already of the funny business! Let’s get on with the ceremony, for heaven’s sake!

What are we talking about?

The traditional “bedecken” ceremony, which owes its rise to the verse in the Torah about Rebekah’s family blessing her and saying, “achotenu, at heyeh l’alfei r’vavah”, literally, “Our sister, be the mother of thousands of ten thousands” (Gen. 24:60), followed shortly afterwards by Rebekah seeing her bridegroom and covering herself because of modesty (verse 65).

The blessing given to Rebekah does not simply say, “Have many children,” but implies, “Fulfil your destiny as the mother of a great nation” (Samson Raphael Hirsch).

Bedecken is no joke, but a serious moment when the groom acknowledges that this is the woman with whose life his is henceforth to be intertwined and whom he will partner in building a future and a destiny.

Why does all this go with the placing of the bride’s veil?

To emphasise the sanctity of the moment, the privacy of the bond between husband and wife and the uniqueness of their relationship.

A wedding is conducted publicly, but a marriage is lived privately. The couple are part of their respective families, but from now on their inner world is each other and in due course their own children.


Q. Why do Christians think so badly of Pharisees?

A. After a lifetime of involvement in interfaith encounter this evil and inaccurate prejudice still disturbs me greatly. It is one of the ugliest aspects of the classical Christian attitude to Judaism.

It begins with the savage chapter 23 of Matthew and gives Pharisees and Pharisaism a monstrous reputation.

They really should extol the Pharisees, not excoriate them. But they allow themselves the impossible view that the Pharisees were hypocrites who put on a pretence of piety whilst really being venal and mean.

Matthew hurls at them the vicious slogan, “Scribes and Pharisees – hypocrites”. The terms “Scribes” and “Pharisees” are used pejoratively, though gentler texts show some sympathy for them both. In general, however, they are called snakes and vipers.

The Pharisees – apparently all of them – are tarred as hypocrites, and the hypocrites – apparently all of them – are deemed Pharisees.

Christianity hardly ever admits the truth, that Pharisaism was a progressive movement dedicated to spiritual and ethical outreach that democratised religion and applied it to changing circumstances.

Far from being hypocrites, the Pharisees themselves warned against hypocrisy (Sotah 22b; Avot d’Rabbi Natan, ch.37, etc.; cf. G.F. Moore, “Judaism”, vol. 2, 1932, pp.192-4).

Far from being narrow-minded, they taught love and concern for all God’s creatures.

If Jesus’ teaching echoed that of any Jewish sect of the time, it echoed the Pharisees.

Not all Pharisees were paragons of virtue, but neither are all the adherents of any faith absolute saints. But it distorts the facts to condemn all the Pharisees for the possible faults of a few.

It is high time that Christians spoke the truth about the Pharisees and demanded that dictionaries deleted the negative and unhistorical way in which they use terms like “Pharisee” and “pharisaical”.


3 Responses to “Why does the bridegroom lift his wife’s veil? Ask the rabbi…”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    Rabbi Apple is talking about Jewish weddings, Adrian.

    • Adrian Jackson says:

      Jewish weddings can be modern too. Veils are a hang over for the old days and have little place in the 21st century.

  2. Adrian Jackson says:

    For many modern weddings veils are not used anymore (eg) the royal wedding in Windsor, UK, last week.

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