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Why are veils so important in the Torah?

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27.10.2021

Why does the Torah specifically utilize a veil in the stories of Rivka and Tamar without explaining its importance? How is it not superfluous?

When Rivka is brought from her family home in Aram to her betrothed in the land of Canaan, she reveals an intriguing cultural nuance. Upon seeing her future husband she covers her face with a veil in a curious haste to conceal herself (Breishit 24:65). The only other time in the Torah when a veil is referenced is in the story of Yehuda and Tamar (38:14,19) with similarly conspicuous cultural overtones that escape our contemporary sensibilities. The Torah provides no context for the reader to appreciate the role of the veil, likely because its import is self-evident; to conceal the woman’s face. However obvious, the specific mention of the veil is superfluous relative to the succinctness of simply stating its purpose. The Torah could have said Rivka was modest and Tamar was disguised. Obviously, the veil itself has importance for the reader.

The lesson of the veil and its lack of included explanation implies its meaning was ubiquitously appreciated to the ancient reader. The modern reader is left to wonder if the veracity of our interpretive power is hindered by our lack of cultural context [1]. To suss out the meaning of such elusive details, one must realize that the societal reality of the patriarchs was dictated by the dominant power of their time. We can never know for certain but through careful comparison to known law codes from the ancient Near East, we can hope to glean a sense of that long forgotten culture.

Specifically, the Middle Assyrian Law code (MAL) from the time of Tiglath-Pileser I, dating back to as early as the 15th century BCE, just after the time of Rivka and Yitzchak’s betrothal [2]. This legal system would have been implemented in the region of Aram and possibly extended in some form to the land of Canaan as well. MAL tablet A 40 describes that ‘daughters of status’ must have their heads covered as well as cover their face with a veil.

Applying this law to the story reveals intriguing insights otherwise lost to history. Prior to arriving at the home........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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