Congratulations on choosing a papercut ketubah for your wedding! Papercut ketubah artwork adds meaning and beauty to your modern ketubah experience. Papercut artwork also holds an interesting place in Jewish history and in the history of ketubot.
Ketubot have been essential to Jewish marriages since the first century CE. Jewish law requires that a ketubah document be provided by the groom to establish their obligations in marriage and in case of divorce or widowhood. The traditional halachic ketubah text is written in Aramaic and is signed by two witnesses. These days many couples use the traditional ketubah language and also add an egalitarian perspective by including a modern English text on their ketubah (which is not a direct translation of the Aramaic) as a meaningful expression of their hopes for the marriage. Some couples choose a modern Hebrew alternative to the Aramaic text along with a thoughtful English text (which may or may not be a translation of the Hebrew). Same-sex versions of modern ketubah texts are also now often an option.
Only the text itself is required on a ketubah by Jewish law. And yet, Jewish artists began to illuminate ketubah texts about a thousand years ago. We know that papercutting was used to decorate a ketubah text as early as the 18th century. And yet, while the Jewish art form of papercutting has been common for quite a while, there wasn’t much papercutting of ketubot until relatively recently. A revival of papercutting as a Jewish tradition took place over the past several decades, with artistic papercut embellishments becoming very popular on modern ketubahs.
The first papercuts we know of were created in China around the time that paper was invented there, in the first or second centuries CE. Papercutting as an art form spread over time from China to Turkey, North Africa, Persia, and Eastern and Central Europe. Jews who lived in these places learned the art from their neighbors. So Jewish papercuts varied in style between different regions. And yet, papercuts made by Jews were also readily identifiable as Jewish because of the Jewish symbols and inscriptions found on them, as well as because of the particular nature of their design.
Typical Jewish papercut ketubahs of the 18th & 19th centuries were made by cutting out a design from a folded sheet of paper with a sharp knife, so that a symmetrical design was revealed when the folded sheet was opened. Hebrew texts were often added in calligraphy as a way of expressing our love for the words from treasured Jewish sources. So papercutting was, and continues to be, good for the expression of Hiddur Mitzvah, the beautification of a mitzvah.
By choosing beautiful papercut artwork to decorate your modern ketubah, you are engaging in hiddur mitzvah, and you are celebrating the Jewish tradition of papercutting.