Popular lore says that the reason a Jewish bride traditionally wears a veil relates to the Bible story of Jacob’s wedding to Leah. That’s not quite right, although to explain the real reason, it’s a story worth telling: Jacob intended to marry a woman named Rachel. He worked for seven years for her father to earn the privilege. But Rachel had an older sister, Leah, who the father wanted to marry off first. So Leah stood in her sister’s place during the wedding ceremony, wearing a heavy veil over her face to hide her identity. Jacob didn’t realize the deception until the next morning. In the end he married his first love, Rachel, as well, but he had to work for her father another seven years.
The real reason the Jewish bride wears a veil derives from the moment Jacob’s parents, Rebecca and Isaac met: when Rebecca saw Isaac for the first time she covered herself with a veil.
Today, when the groom lowers the bride’s veil over her face before the huppah ceremony, he recites the words that Rebecca’s mother and brother said to her when she left to make her life with Isaac:
In Hebrew: Achotenu: At hayi le alfei revavah
In English: “Our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of ten thousands.” (Genesis 24:60)
[Image: Unidentified couple on their wedding day; Vienna, Austria. Martha Werner Collection, Leo Baeck Institute via Wikimedia Commons]