Dear Cyber Rav,
A couple weeks ago I attended the wedding of a niece whom I love dearly. The wedding was, as I suspected, a real tear-jerker for me, but I was surprised to see her walk down the aisle without a veil. Kosher? I’ve never seen it. When I asked my kid sister about this (bride’s mother), she said her daughter had bristled at the idea of covering her face. She and her friends determined that it was yet another instance of men forcing women to be invisible in the world. The rabbi said, “Lose the veil!”
I’m not the biggest feminist in the world, but I’m no shrinking violet. I’ll stand up for women’s rights sooner than my sisters, but this struck me as a bit over the top. I couldn’t wait to walk down the aisle in bride attire, veil included. I’m curious about your views in this matter.
Looking for a Cover Up
Dear Looking for a Cover Up,
Interesting! I, too, have encountered an increasing number of brides questioning the use of the veil.
The veil is part of the badecken ceremony during which the groom veils the bride and then the rabbi blesses the bride. The blessing is a very beautiful one: “O sister may you be fruitful and prosper…” and then the bride and groom are blessed with the threefold, priestly benediction (i.e., “May God bless you and protect you…”).
There are instances in Jewish history where brides were not veiled. The veil is in someway connected to huppah, the bridal canopy, which itself is a symbol of the future intimacy that the groom and bride will share together. Some rabbis believed that the canopy we so easily identify as a huppah wasn’t good enough and required the bride to wear a veil as the more powerful symbol of future physical intimacy. And so, in true rabbinic fashion, we tend to encourage both so that we have huppah lekhol hade’ot, a huppah that is a real huppah according to all opinions expressed on the matter.
The veil is also a symbol of tzeni’ut or modesty, an important Jewish value. I think I would be hard-pressed to argue that the veil is a symbol of female invisibleness, precisely because all the veils I have ever seen in these ceremonies, made of very sheer fabric, permit viewing the bride’s face. These are not the opaque veils of the Islamic world which we see in the media, though perhaps brides are responding to that as well. There is always a danger in saying symbol x = y, because symbol x invariably = y or z or a or f or q… You get my drift? Symbols are always interpreted on multiple levels and anyone who seeks to define one symbol with one interpretation is almost always wrong.
And so, if someone claims that the veil is a symbol of female invisibility, the rabbi might say “Lose the veil” knowing that the veil is only a minhag, a custom to begin with. But others might want the brides to broaden their view on the veil in the interest of preserving a time-honored tradition. Being a traditionalist, I do encourage use of the veil. I do believe that tzeniut is an important Jewish value that men and women ought to embrace. And ours is a tradition that certainly does not want women to be invisible, only respected and honored, whether at a ceremony as sacred as a wedding, or at any other time of day or night.
Rabbi Rafi Rank
The Cyber Rav