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