I remember feeling jittery with excitement as my bat mitzvah approached. Surprisingly, my exhilaration did not come from the hullabaloo of parties and gifts. I was flying high knowing that I could finally quit going to Hebrew School.
In response to the widespread desire of Jewish youth to drop-out, the more liberal branches of Judaism promote confirmations. Cofirmations, graduation ceremonies for students (ages 16-18) completing their religious school studies, encourage youth to continue their Jewish education beyond age 13.
Origins in Reform Judaism
In the early 1800s in Germany, Judaisms Reform Movement instituted the ceremony of confirmation based on the belief that a 16-year-old is more equipped than a 13-year-old to affirm his Jewish identity.
The first confirmation ceremony in the United States took place in 1846. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise officiated over this confirmation service in a Reform temple in Albany, New York. By the end of the 19th century, the ceremony had become widespread in Reform communities.
Early confirmation ceremonies extended Jewish education beyond age 13, provided an opportunity for young adults to confirm their commitment to Judaism and to Jewish life, and even provided a coming-of-age religious ceremony for girls.
Originally confirmation was created as an alternative ceremony to the bar mitzvah. In the 1970s, however, an increasing number of previously Orthodox and Conservative Jews, who wanted their sons to have a bar mitzvah, were joining Reform communities. Thus, the Reform movement revived bar mitzvah celebrations for boys and introduced bat mitzvah celebrations for girls. Today, confirmation is an additional, rather than an alternative, ceremony to bar and bat mitzvahs in almost all Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues and in many Conservative synagogues.
Jewish Confirmation Ceremonies
Todays Jewish confirmation ceremonies celebrate a class of students graduation from high school Jewish studies.
Confirmation studies teach young adult Jews that they are entering "a sacred community" in which they can question, challenge, and debate Jewish questions without being judged. The confirmation model also encourages youth to work together as a community to contribute to the world around them. Confirmation classes generally adopt a tzedakah project, such as raising money to restore Torah scrolls. Thus, confirmation emphasizes the importance of communal participation in Judaism.
In most confirmation ceremonies, the students lead all or part of the service, including the Torah reading. Often a confirmation class focuses on a theme during its studies - such as God, Tikkun Olam, or Israel - which it incorporates into the confirmation service.
Whereas bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies focus on an individual child becoming a Jewish adult, confirmation ceremonies focus on a community of young adults confirming their commitment to Judaism and Jewish living.
Celebration on Shavuot
Reform leaders drew a parallel between the Jewish peoples acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai and Jewish confirmation students accepting the role of Judaism in their lives.
Thus, it has become customary to hold confirmation ceremonies on the festival of Shavuot, which celebrates the anniversary of receiving the Torah. The graduating class stands in front of the ark just as the Israelites once stood at Mount Sinai.
In some congregations in recent years, confirmation ceremonies have been moved from Shavuot to Shabbat so that each celebration will get its full due.