Is it required to perform the bedeken immediately before the chuppah or may one have a break in between, such as for mincha or a tisch? Generally, are there any halachot surrounding the bedeken or is it primarily minhag?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. The custom of covering the face of the bride with a veil before the chuppah is mentioned in many early sources as one possible definition of what the “chuppah” is. We are accustomed to call the canopy that the couple stand under as the chuppah – but in fact there are several opinions as what exactly is the legal “chuppah” that creates a legal marriage. One opinion is the covering of the face of the bride with the veil. In the Ashkanazi practice we try to follow all the opinions as to what the legal (halachic) “chuppah” is, so we cover the bride with a veil, as well as stand under the canopy, and go into “heder yichud” - a private room after the ceremony. Because it has a halachic status, the practice is to have two witnesses present, just as for the rest of the wedding ceremony. Not every Jewish community accepted this practice – but it is the normal practice in the Ashkanazi world today. Most of the Sephardim do not have this practice, and if the chatan wants to none the less cover the bride with a veil, he does so without witnesses – unlike the Ashkanazim who make sure that there are two witnesses for this “bedeken” (as it has halachic status for the Ashkanazim). There are other reasons for the bride to cover her face apart from it perhaps being the halachic “chuppah”. Perhaps it is for modesty. Or to remind us of Rebecca who veils herself as she is told that Isaac is approaching. "And she said to the servant, 'What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?' And the servant said, 'It is my master.' And she took her veil and covered herself" (Gen 24:64). There are other reasons given also. For these reasons it would not matter if it was the the groom who covered her or someone else. And, in fact, in some communities the parents covered the bride, and not the groom. It would also not matter if there were witnesses or not. As we said, the Ashkanazi practice is to have two witnesses and for the groom to cover the bride with a veil. As to the timing, as long as it is done before the chuppah ceremony, it does not matter if there is a break of time after it. In fact some communities did the “bedeken” ceremony in the morning before the wedding service which was held at night. I hope this question is a practical one – that allows me to wish you a mazel tov. May you merit to build a faithful house in Israel. Blessings.