An indispensable part of the outdoor dress of Eastern Ladies, who live secluded from the sight of all men except their own husbands and their nearest relatives. If an Egyptian lady is surprised uncovered, she quickly draws her veil over her face, with some exclamation like, "O my misfortune." To lift or remove one's veil was to insult and degrade her, Ge 24:65; Song 5:7; 1Co 11:5,10. The custom of wearing veils, however, has not been prevalent at all times. Sarah the wife of Abraham, and Rebekah and her companions at the well do not appear to have worn them, Ge 12:14-15; 24:16. Compare also Ge 38:14-15; Pr 7:13. See ABIMELECH.
Veil were of different kinds. Those now worn in Syria and Egypt may be divided into two classes, the one large and sometimes thick, the other small and of lighter materials. The usual indoor veil is of thin muslin, attached to the headdress, and falling over the back, sometimes to the feet. A similar veil is added to the front of the headdress on going abroad, partially covering the face and hanging low. The other veil, to be worn in the street, is a large mantle or sheet, of black silk, linen, or some coarse material, so ample as to envelope the whole person and dress, leaving but one of the eyes exposed, Song 4:9. Such was the veil worn by Ru 3:15, translated "mantle" in Isa 3:22. Many women wear no other veil than this. The Greek word translated "power" in 1Co 11:10, probably means a veil, as a token of her husband's rightful authority and her own subordination. This was to be worn in their Christian assemblies "because of the angels;" that is, because of the presence either of true angels, or of the officers of the church, who being unaccustomed to see the unveiled faces of women, might be distracted by them in the discharge of their public duties.
For the "veil of the temple," see TABERNACLE and TEMPLE.
(See DRESS.) The mitpachath (Ru 3:15), tsaiph (Ge 24:65; 38:14,19), and radial (Song 5:7; Isa 3:23). Moses' veil was the masveh (Ex 34:33-35), related to suth (Ge 49:11). An ample outer robe, drawn over the face when required. Mispachot, the false prophets' magical veils or "kerchiefs" (Eze 13:18,21) which they put over the heads of those consulting them as if to fit them for receiving a response, that they might be rapt in spiritual trance above the world; placed "upon the head of every stature," i.e. upon persons of every age and height, young and old.
Re' aloth, light veils worn by females, called "mufflers" (Isa 3:19), from rahal "to tremble," i.e. tremulous, referring to their rustling motion. Tzammah, translated "locks" (Song 4:1,3), the bride's veil, a mark of modesty and subjection to her lord. Isa 47:2, "take off thy veil," or "thy locks," nature's covering for a woman (1Co 11:15), a badge of female degradation. Anciently the veil was only exceptionally used for ornament or by women betrothed in meeting their future husbands, and at weddings (Ge 24:65).
Ordinarily women among the Jews, Egyptians, and Assyrians, appeared in public with faces exposed (Ge 12:14; 24:16,65; 20:16; 29:10; 1Sa 1:12). Assyrian and Egyptian sculptures similarly represent women without a veil. It was Mahometanism that introduced the present veiling closely and seclusion of women; the veil on them in worship was the sign of subjection to their husbands (1Co 11:4-15).
With regard to the use of the veil, it is important to observe that it was by no means so general in ancient as in modern times. Much of the scrupulousness in respect of the use of the veil dates from the promulgation of the Koran, which forbade women appearing unveiled except in the presence of their nearest relatives. In ancient times the veil was adopted only in exceptional cases, either as an article of ornamental dress,
or by betrothed maidens in the presence of their future husbands, especially at the time of the wedding,
or lastly, by women of loose character for purposes of concealment.
Among the Jews of the New Testament age it appears to have been customary for the women to cover their heads (not necessarily their faces) when engaged in public worship.
VEIL. Women were wont to cover their faces with veils in token of modesty, of reverence, and subjection to their husbands, Ge 24:65; 1Co 11:3, &c. In modern times, the women of Syria never appear in the streets without their veils. These are of two kinds, the furragi and the common Aleppo veil; the former being worn by some of the Turkish women only, the latter indiscriminately by all. The first is in the form of a large cloak, with long straight sleeves, and a square hood hanging flat on the back; it is sometimes made of linen, sometimes of a shawl or cloth. This veil, reaching to the heels, conceals the whole of the dress, from the neck downward; while the head and face are covered by a large white handkerchief over the head dress and forehead, and a smaller one tied transversely over the lower part of the face, hanging down on the neck. Many of the Turkish women, instead of the smaller handkerchief, use a long piece of black crape stiffened, which, sloping a little from the forehead, leaves room to breathe more freely. In this last way, the ladies are completely disguised; in the former, the eyes and nose remaining visible, they are easily known by their acquaintances. The radid is a species of veil, which Calmet supposes is worn by married women, as a token of their submission and dependence, and descends low down on the person. To lift up the veil of a virgin is reckoned a gross insult; but to take away the veil of a married woman is one of the greatest indignities that she can receive, because it deprives her of the badge which distinguishes and dignifies her in that character, and betokens her alliance to her husband, and her interest in his affections. This is the reason why the spouse so feelingly complains; "They took away my veil, ???, from me," Song 5:7. When it is forcibly taken away by the husband, it is equivalent to divorce, and justly reckoned a most severe calamity; therefore, God threatened to take away the ornamental dresses of the daughters of Zion, including the radidim, the low descending veils: "In that day the Lord will take away the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils," Isa 3:18, &c.
The ordinary Aleppo veil is a linen sheet, large enough to cover the whole habit from head to foot, and is brought over the face in a manner to conceal all but one eye. This is perhaps alluded to by the bridegroom in these words: "Thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes," Song 4:9. In Barbary, when the ladies appear in public, they always fold themselves up so closely in their hykes, that, even without their veils, one can discover very little of their faces. But, in the summer months, when they retire to their country seats, they walk abroad with less caution; though, even then, on the approach of a stranger, they always drop their veils, as Rebekah did on the approach of Isaac. But, although they are so closely wrapped up, that those who look at them cannot see even their hands, still less their face, yet it is reckoned indecent in a man to fix his eyes upon them; he must let them pass without seeming at all to observe them. When a lady of distinction, says Hanway, travels on horseback, she is not only veiled, but has generally a servant, who runs or rides before her to clear the way; and on such occasions the men, even in the market places, always turn their backs till the women are past, it being thought the highest ill manners to look at them. A lady in the east considers herself degraded when she is exposed to the gaze of the other sex, which accounts for the conduct of Vashti in refusing to obey the command of the king. Their ideas of decency, on the other hand, forbid a virtuous woman to lay aside or even to lift up her veil in the presence of the other sex. She who ventures to disregard this prohibition inevitably ruins her character. From that moment she is noted as a woman of easy virtue, and her act is regarded as a signal for intrigue. Pitts informs us that in Barbary the courtezan appears in public without her veil; and, in Pr 7:13-14, the harlot exposes herself in the same indecent manner: "So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face," a face uncovered and shameless, "said unto him, I have peace-offerings with me, this day have I paid my vows." But it must nevertheless be remarked, that, at different times, and in different parts of the east, the use, or partial use of the veil has greatly varied.