The Jewish Confirmation ritual is one whose popularity has waxed and waned since its inception in the 19th century.
Though it is today overshadowed for most Jews by the bar or bat mitzvah at age 12 or 13, many liberal communities value and emphasizes confirmation, which is most often associated with Shavuot celebrations.
The custom most commonly associated with Shavuot is the ceremony of Confirmation. The festival of Shavuot, because of its association with giving of Torah, has been linked with the study Torah. The ceremony of Confirmation was introduced by Reform Judaism in the early part of 19th century in Europe and was brought the United States about mid-century.
Confirmation originally took place at the end of the eighth year of Religious School, but it has since been moved to the end of the ninth or tenth year (and occasionally later). In this ceremony, the now-maturing student “confirms” a commitment to Judaism and to Jewish life. While boys and girls are considered to be spiritual adults by age 13, they are better prepared at age 16 or 17 to make the kind of emotional and intellectual commitment to Judaism that Confirmation implies.
The ceremony of Confirmation is almost universally practiced in Reform [and] Reconstructionist synagogues, and [in some] Conservative synagogues.
[The actual ceremony may vary. Often, the Confirmation students lead all or part of the service, including the Torah reading. In some congregations, the Confirmation group focuses on a theme — such as God, learning, social justice, or Israel — and will incorporate this into the service and sermon. Some congregations require the students to participate in community service projects in addition to study in order to be confirmed.
Though originally a ceremony created for Shavuot, in recent years a few congregations have changed the date of Confirmation from Shavuot to Shabbat. The reason behind this is to avoid having the Shavuot service focus completely on the Confirmation ceremony.]
Reproduced with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities, by Robert Goodman. © A.R.E. Publishing, Inc. 1997, ISBN #0-86705-042-X. Available from A.R.E. Publishing, Inc., 700 N. Colorado Blvd. #356, Denver, CO 80206 (800) 346-7779. http://www.arepublish.com/
Rabbi Robert Goodman is a former consultant to the Boards of Jewish Education in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee. He is the former rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon, Florida.