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Why Does a Jewish Bride Wear a Veil on Her Face?

Why Does a Jewish Bride Wear a Veil on Her Face?

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Since ancient times, Jewish brides have been wearing veils.

The Mishnah (completed in the second century) records the custom of some Jewish brides to wear a veil.1 But in truth, the custom is even older than that, predating the Jewish people as we know it. The Bible tells us that when soon-to-be-married Rebecca first beheld her groom, Isaac, she took her veil and covered herself.2

So we know we have been doing this for a long time, but why? Why should a bride cover her face?

The Two Stages of Marriage

The Jewish wedding process contains two distinct stages: kiddushin and nissuin.

Kiddushin means “sanctification” or “dedication,” and it is from that moment on that the bride is set aside for her suitor, forbidden to every other man in the world. From then on, they would need a get (divorce) to dissolve their union. Yet, they are not yet a couple. This is affected through nissuin, marriage, when the couple starts their life together.

Originally, these two stages were performed separately, with weeks, months or at times even years elapsing between the kiddushin and the nissuin. Nowadays, however, both stages are completed during the wedding. Nevertheless, they are still two distinct stages, and there are elements of the ceremony that are performed because of kiddushin, and parts for nissuin.

Kiddushin is fairly straightforward, accomplished by the groom giving the bride a ring. There are, however, various opinions regarding how nissuin is accomplished, and the custom is to do as many potential acts of nissuin as possible. According to some opinions, the covering of the bride with a veil is an act of nissuin.3 It is for this reason that in many communities it is the custom that the groom himself covers the bride with the veil.

This is, however, not universally practiced. In fact, in some communities the groom isn’t even present when it is done.

Additionally, there are a number of other explanations for the bride’s veil.

Don’t Gaze at Her Face

In general, it is not proper for men to ogle at women, or even their clothing or jewelry. However, one is permitted to gaze at the beautiful clothing and jewelry of a bride in order to make her more beloved by her future husband. Yet, even so, it is not proper to gaze at her face. Therefore, the custom is to cover her face with a veil.4

More Valuable Than Gold

Another reason why the bride's vision is obstructed during the marriage ceremony is for her to show that she isn’t overly concerned with the exact monetary value of the ring the groom is giving her. This demonstrates that she is entering the union with full intent to be married even if the ring turns out to be worth less than she had originally envisaged.5

Beauty Is for Her Husband

Some explain that the reason she covers herself is to show that from this moment and on her beauty is reserved exclusively for her husband.6

Righteous Children

Our sages say that because Tamar (daughter-in-law of Judah) modestly covered her face, she merited to have kings and prophets descend from her. Therefore, the bride modestly covers her face, hoping to merit righteous offspring. (Fun fact: Rebecca and Tamar are both noted in the Bible as having covered faces, and both end up having twins.)7

Like Moses

The Torah tells us that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai after the sin of the Golden Calf, his face was so bright with holiness that no one dared look at him. He therefore wore a veil whenever he spoke to the people.

When the bride and groom stand under the chuppah, they are in an elevated state, as their union is a re-enactment of the union between G‑d and His people at Sinai. Like Moses, the women took no part in the sin of the Golden Calf. Accordingly, the bride radiates a special holiness; the Divine Presence (Shechinah), the feminine aspect of G‑d, shines through her face. Like Moses, she therefore wears a veil.8

Averting an Evil Eye

Since especially during the chuppah, all eyes are on the bride and groom, we cover the bride's face so no one will view her jealously and give her an ayin hara, “evil eye.”9 (Read more: Do You Believe in the Evil Eye?)

Inner Beauty

“Charm is false and beauty is futile; a God-fearing woman is to be praised,”10 says King Solomon in the famous chapter of Proverbs that is sung in Jewish homes every Friday night. Thus, the bride’s face is covered to signify that the groom is marrying her not for her external beauty, but for who she really is.11

Footnotes
1.
See Mishnah Ketubot 15b; it was the custom for virgins to wear a veil to their wedding.
3.
See Tosafot on Talmud Yoma 13b; Ramah in Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 55:1.
4.
Ramah, Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 31:2; see also Chatam Sofer on Genesis 24:63.
5.
Ramah, Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 31:2.
6.
Mishnat Yehoshua 12:5.
7.
Sefer Matamim, Chatan V’Kallah 13; Rabbi Nachman of Breslav in Sefer HaMiddot, Chitun 7, see also footnotes ad loc. by the “Rav of Tsherin”; see also Oz Vehadar Levusha, where he explains that this has to do with modesty being a source for blessing to have children.
8.
Sefer Matamim, Chatan V’Kallah.
9.
Sefer Matamim, Chatan V’Kallah.
11.
Sefer Matamim, Chatan V’Kallah.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Dennis Burns Daytona Beach Shores August 9, 2017

Are we to believe the groom has never seen his bride's face? It's a beautiful ceremony with much symbolism. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem August 31, 2017
in response to Dennis Burns:

Of course the groom has seen his bride's face. Even in the strictest circles they have to see each other at least once to see if they like the way the other looks before they decide to get married.
And this is not on the wedding day because we have minhag (tradition) that the bride and groom do not see each other the week because the wedding. Reply

DENNIS RICHARD BURNS Reno September 4, 2017
in response to Shoshana:

My highest level of respect for a very ancient tradition which has guided many over the millenia.. Reply

Steven Frankel Manchester August 8, 2017

In some circles (particularly among Chassidim) the veil is totally opaque so that the kallah literally cannot see the chosson or the ring etc. In other circles, a thin veil is used which does allow the kallah to see but gives her a degree of concealment. I'd be interested to know the origins or basis of this difference in customs. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem August 31, 2017
in response to Steven Frankel:

All my daughters and daughters -in-law wore thick opaque veils that you could not see her face at all, but they could see out of it. You heard of one-way glass? So the kallas ( brides) wear a one-way material. We are not Chassidim. Reply

Yehuda Jerusalem August 8, 2017

Only Ashkenazim have the tradition of the bride wearing a veil under the chupah, and not since ancient times. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalems August 31, 2017
in response to Yehuda:

Sefardim also wear veils, but not thick ones. I have been to many Sefardie weddings and never saw a kalla without a veil. Reply

Mike Ramirez Texas August 7, 2017

Add a comment...The requirement for a veil was also adopted by Muhammad in Islam. However, it was meant for women to always wear a veil to cover their face so that men would not be attracted and tempted to look upon the face of Muhammad's wives. This was then ordered for all Muslim women. The "hijab' is only a scarf while the niqab and burkah which provide full body covering are the true "veils" that fundamental Islam prescribes. More: Google Questionable Teachings of Islam Reply

DCB Somerville, MA August 8, 2017
in response to Mike Ramirez:

It seems to me that both traditions are based on superstition. Some teachings of Islam may be questionable, but so are some teachings of Judaism.The proof of the pudding is in the eating.Ask people in Yemen (Sunni) their opinions about Iran (Shia); ask Palestinians about their opinions about Israel. The Middle East is a mess and divisive and prejudiced opinions only make matters worse. Reply

Ruven Golan Boynton Beach August 12, 2017
in response to DCB:

Israel is not a mess Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem August 28, 2017
in response to DCB:

Nothing in Judaism is based on superstition. Anyway, what does your comment have to do with wearing veils at a wedding? And if Jews did not wear veils there would be peace?
And if you would ask a so-called "Palestinian" (There is no such thing as a "Palestinian" by the way, it's all one big lie), but anyway, if you would ask one, he would tell you that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where he has freedom, the only p;ace where he can progress and get a descent job other than being a terrorist, the only place he won't get his head chopped off. The only country where he can practice whatever religion he chooses. Reply

Anonymous Here August 7, 2017

Interesting Reply

Nwabude Obosi, Nigeria. August 12, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Truly Interesting, and "Beauty-filled". Reply

Bat-Ami Pleasantville August 7, 2017

Better peek I thought peeking under the veil was based on poor Jacob's experience when Laban switched brides on him. Better be sure you're marrying the right girl! Reply

Simcha Holon August 7, 2017

Kavod harav, could the Rav explain the meaning of this: "However, one is permitted to gaze at the beautiful clothing and jewelry of a bride in order to make her more beloved by her future husband. "? Does this mean so they look at her and then tell him she's beautiful? I'm a kallah teacher and would love to understand this properly. Reply

Anonymous Texas November 29, 2016

Veil The veil is also her uncut hair for " the woman's glory is her hair". The young man's glory is his strength , the elder's glory is his grey hair. Very interesting point about ' beaming and horns, as horns depict power, and the beaming speaks of G-d's glory. Eg. Glory of G-d = power? Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem November 17, 2015

I bought my veil at Walmart on the morning of our chuppah because the day before I went to the mikvah for the first time as a new convert. We had a small ceremony in our local Kollel surrounded by friends, no family. The veil is in a special place on a shelf in my closet and I get a special feeling of joy each time I open the door and see it, remembering how thrilled I was to be finally marrying my beloved under a chupah in an orthodox wedding. Your veil is a sign of the modesty that will stay with you for the rest of your B"H happy married life. All the best! Reply

Ruven Golan Boynton Beach August 12, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

welcome to the tribe Reply

Kev Lancashire December 25, 2014

Is this made up? Reply

Curtis Portland March 23, 2014

Moses and the veil If you read Exodus carefully, Moses did NOT wear the veil when he talked to the people - he wore it AFTER he talked with them, to conceal the fading of the glory. He wanted only God's glory to shine, so he veiled himself when it began to fade.
In a wedding, when the veil is pulled back, it might symbolize the way God's glory is shared with his people - and so the Bride (God's people) begins to radiate the glory that comes from the Groom (God). Reply

Anonymous Nigeria December 29, 2012

Is a typical jewish wedding done in the synagogue? Reply

Micheal Montreal August 6, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Most Jewish weddings are celebrated in a wedding hall including the chuppah. Some have the chuppah at a synagogue then travel to the ballrooom for the reception Reply

Anonymous mumbai November 1, 2011

nice article very nice article Reply

Shoshanah Yerushalayim, Israel November 6, 2010

abandonned-orlando If you were abandonned by your filrst husband, make sure he gives you a "get"
(Jewish devorce according to Orthodox Jewish law) otherwise you are still married to him and cannot marry someone else,
because obviously you can only have one husband!
With best wishes. Reply

AJB Adelaide, Australia May 23, 2010

The Veil I always understood the veil to represent the virginity of the bride.

A woman marrying for the second time would not wear a veil. Reply

Gloria Etta Hamilton Texas August 7, 2017
in response to AJB:

I was taught that the Veil represented that this woman is hand chosen by G-d to be the groom's wife and is therefore consecrated to him in marriage Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org October 16, 2009

RE: Isn't there still another spiritual reason? If either the bride of the groom are getting married for the first time, the veil placing ceremony is exactly like it is by any other first-time wedding.

In the event that both the bride and the groom were previously married, a veil is placed over the bride's face before the chupah, but not by the groom. Reply

Anonymous Orlando, fl October 16, 2009

Isn't there still another spiritual reason? Wearing a veil is for those who never marrie ? Can someone who was abandon from her first husband can not wear one on her next marrage ? Reply

Anonymous NL April 16, 2008

wow this makes me feel happy to wear my veil
I will Make sure to soak in and utilize every holy second. Reply

Teresa Garcia Antioch, ca June 17, 2007

moses veil When studied thoroughly you will come to find out that Moses came down from the mountain with out the veil on and then he had to put it on so people would not see the glory of God fade away from him. That said I beleive the veil is worn for modesty and the husband does receive the extra excitement from lifting. I plan on wearing one on my wedding day. Reply

Shoshannah Louisville, KY March 24, 2007

Why does a bride wear a veil? If the tradition of the bride wearing a veil started with Moses, how would Laban have been able to use a veil on Leah to deceive Jacob?

I thought the veil of a bride had some sort of symbolism with the veil in the Temple. Reply

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