The mandate of Confirmation is often confused with that of Bar/Bat Mitzvah. They are related yet separate ceremonies, each of which is incomplete without the other. Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an individual, familial affair, while Confirmation is a group, communal affair. In the former, the candidate demonstrates that he or she has reached “a chronological and educational level where he is able to lead the service as well as participate fully as a member of the congregation.” Confirmation represents the Confirmand’s affirmation, intellectually and spiritually, of his/her commitment to Judaism.
As is obvious from the above definition, Confirmation requires a high level of study and commitment. “Confirmation is about the candidates affirming their faith in Judaism. This requires them to have come to some measure of deeper understanding of their Judaism. Our teachers deliberately promote a seeking, searching spirit in these candidates. No longer are they to be content to be Jews because of birth; they must learn deeper reasons that will equip them to form a mature understanding.” They must study, on an adult level, God, prayer, ethics, ritual, practice, and family life, and how each of these might be viewed by the students as Jews and, more specifically, as Reform Jews.
Thus Confirmation is the culmination of the candidates’ years of formal Jewish study, a period for mapping out a spiritual direction for adult life; a time for finding out the questions, if not always the precise answers. This is the goal of Temple Shalom, to help our students to explore and define their Reform Judaism on an adult level at this peak time in their life-long Jewish studies.
Confirmation: The festival of Shavuot has its origins in an ancient agricultural festival that was celebrated in the spring of each year. In biblical times, Jews would commemorate this festival by bringing an offering to the Temple of two loaves of bread made from the most recent harvest of grain. They did this in order to show thanks to God for giving them sustenance from the earth. Thus Shavuot, in its initial incarnation, was the spring thanksgiving festival for the Jews.
According to our Bible, Shavuot is to be celebrated seven weeks after the first harvest (giving the festival the name “Shavuot” which is derived from the Hebrew for “weeks”). According to the modern Jewish calendar, this time is determined to occur fifty days after Passover, in the Hebrew month of Sivan.
In modern times, Shavuot has developed into more than just a spring thanksgiving festival. Some time after most of our people had been forced out of the land of Israel and were therefore no longer tangibly aware of her seasonal cycles, Shavuot became a festival commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. This second interpretation of the festival has a biblical origin. In the Book of Exodus we read that God revealed himself to the Israelites and gave them the Ten Commandments “in the third month” after the celebration of Passover. Because the end of the fifty day period following Passover does fall at the beginning of that third month, Shavuot and the giving of the Law at Sinai became linked in Jewish tradition.
Shavuot has thus come to represent the spiritual culmination of the Passover experience: We are taken from slavery in Egypt, to freedom in the wilderness, and, finally, we find ourselves standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai, ready once again to receive God’s mitzvot.
It is this theological meaning of Shavuot that lead the Reform movement in the early 1800’s to create a “radically” new ceremony that has since become a standard one among Jews of most every denomination. This ceremony was named “Confirmation” and is celebrated each year during the festival of Shavuot. It was tied to this festival because during the Confirmation ceremony, our Confirmands (from the Religious School’s tenth grade) will renew the promise their ancestors made at Sinai, to obey the God’s mitzvot as symbolized by the Ten Commandments and to devote themselves to the teachings of Judaism.