The bedeken is the veiling ceremony, during which a groom places a veil over his bride just prior to the marriage rites. This ceremony is often considered one of the most moving elements of a traditional Jewish wedding.
Customarily, the bride and groom are in separate rooms as their wedding festivities begin. The groom celebrates with the male guests, and the bride is seated on a throne or regal chair, surrounded by the female guests, with her mother and the mother of the groom immediately on either side. The men encircle the groom and, singing and dancing, escort him to his bride. If the bride and groom have maintained the custom of seclusion prior to their wedding, this will be the first time they have seen each other in several days. The groom approaches the bride and lowers a veil over her face in preparation for the upcoming ceremonies. The blessing “May the Lord make you as Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah” is recited. The groom then departs, surrounded again by the male guests, who are singing and dancing all the while. The wedding ceremony begins shortly thereafter, and couple next meet under the chuppah.
There are two commonly cited origins for the bedeken. One is the matriarch Rivkah, who covered herself with a veil when she first approached the tent of her intended husband, Isaac. In so doing she signified that she was setting herself aside for him. Since then, the veil has been taken to represent modesty. The other source for the veiling ceremony is the story of Jacob, who was tricked into marrying Leah, the sister of his intended wife, because she was covered during the wedding. He did not confirm the identity of the woman he wed until after the marriage rites were performed, and had to wait, and work, for seven years before he was permitted to marry the woman he had meant to - Rachel. By covering his bride with a veil, a groom ascertains her identity, and confirms that he is marrying the woman of his heart’s desire.