Reconfirming a commitment to Judaism

By Glen Pickus, Temple Beth Or | May 15, 2013

Confirmation is 200 years old, yet it is among the youngest of Judaism’s life-cycle events.

The Confirmation ritual originated in the Reform movement and now is almost universally practiced in Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues. Even some Conservative synagogues have Confirmation classes and ceremonies.

Simply put, the Jewish Confirmation is an individual and group affirmation, by Jews 16-17 years of age, of their commitment to the Jewish people after several years of class learning, group exploration and social service projects.

When Jewish Confirmation was created by the Reform movement in the early 1800s, it was an alternative ceremony to the bar mitzvah, a rite early Reform Jews did not practice.

In the 1970s, when the Reform movement revived bar mitzvah celebrations for boys and introduced bat mitzvah celebrations for girls, Confirmation became an additional, rather than an alternative, ceremony to b’nai mitzvah.

Whereas bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies are a rite of passage focusing on an individual child becoming a Jewish adult, Confirmation ceremonies focus on a community of young adults confirming their commitment to Judaism.

Therefore, Jewish Confirmation differs significantly from Christian Confirmation, which is a sacrament or a coming of age ceremony.

Confirmation is traditionally held on Shavuot, the festival celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Reform leaders drew a parallel between the Jewish people’s acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai and Confirmation students accepting the role of Judaism in their lives.

This year Shavuot begins at sunset on May 14. Temple Beth Or will celebrate Shavuot on May 14 and our Confirmation ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 18, the first Shabbat after Shavuot.

At Temple Beth Or the Confirmation class is for students in grades 8-10 and culminates with the class leading a service in which each confirmand (10th grade student) affirms their commitment to Judaism and the teachings of Torah sharing with the congregation what their Jewish identity means to them and how they want to continue their learning.

Confirmation studies teach young adult Jews that they are entering a community in which they can question, challenge and debate Jewish questions without being judged. Confirmation students frequently work together as a community to contribute to the world around them.

Thus, Confirmation emphasizes the importance of communal participation in Judaism.

There is no typical Confirmation ceremony. They can vary from an elaborate synagogue service to a private individual ceremony with the rabbi.

Even Confirmation classes can differ between congregations, in most, 10th grade students are confirmed, but a number of synagogues now mark the event in 9th, 11th or even 12th grade.

During the Confirmation ceremony, Temple Beth Or’s confirmands will confirm a commitment to Judaism and its ethical values.

At age 13 they were considered to be spiritual adults. But at age 16 they are mature enough to make the kind of emotional and intellectual commitment to Judaism the name Confirmation implies.

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