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What is Confirmation?
by Barry Shainker

Confirmation, a fundamental part of Reform Judaism for more than a century is I must admit, a topic I knew little about until I was a sophomore in high school. Although I knew early on that Confirmation was a special ceremony held three years after bar or bat mitzvah for those students who chose to continue school, I knew nothing of its significance on the Jewish calendar, its place in Reform, or the symbolism it represents. Both my parents were confirmed and they told me about the beauty and power of the occasion, but walking down the hallway of the synagogue lined with Confirmation class pictures, I wondered why teens would want to wear fancy robes and engage in intense study.

During that 10th grade year, I learned much about the milestone and all that it represents. As early as the 19th century, Reform rabbis believed that 13 is too young for a child to affirm a lifetime commitment to Jewish tradition and practice, and thus the Confirmation service was developed. It usually is held when young people reach 16, and are considered more mature in their understanding of a truly Jewish lifestyle. Using this reasoning, it is easy to see why Confirmation initially took the place of bar or bat mitzvah in Reform synagogues. Over time, of course, that position was modified, and today many teens have the distinct honor of becoming both a bar or bat mitzvah and a confirmand.

The year I was confirmed, the service was held on a Friday morning in early June. At first this meant nothing more than a day off from school. But after a year of study, I understood the significance of holding the Confirmation service on Shavuot. In class, we'd talked about Shavuot as the final holiday—following Sukkot and Passover—the shalosh regalim, the pilgrimage festivals. Like its predecessors, Shavuot was a time when the ancient Israelites brought a part of their seasonal harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem. As Rabbi Peter Knobel notes, modern Confirmation echoes the symbolism of the ancient observance of Shavout: "Today…young people are the first fruits of each year's harvest. They represent the hope and promise of tomorrow. During the service [they] reaffirm their commitment to the covenant."