What Are Confirmation Ceremonies? A Reform Tradition Explained


Around Shavuot, which occurs later this month, some younger members of the Jewish community will be undergoing the meaningful ritual of a confirmation ceremony.

Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation’s previous confirmation class from 1955 (Courtesy)

Compared to longer-lived Jewish traditions like bar and bat mitzvahs, the idea of confirmation is a relatively recent one that originates in the Reform community.

Reformjudaism.org associates their conception with Israel Jacobson, a businessman considered to be the founder of the Reform movement. Jacobson felt that bar and bat mitzvahs were an antiquated ceremony, with 13 being too young an age for a person to truly come of age, and that there should be a similar tradition to honor the culmination of a Jewish youth’s Torah learning.

Thus, confirmations emerged as a sort of graduation from Hebrew school that occurs when a student is 16 to 18 years old. In an article for My Jewish Learning, Rabbi Robert Goodman notes, “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.”

In Reform synagogues, and the few Conservative synagogues that hold confirmation ceremonies, the accumulation of Torah knowledge is held parallel to Shavuot’s celebration of the Jewish people receiving the Torah.

“The best place to celebrate a full spectrum of learning is on Shavuot,” said Rabbi Ariel Platt, director of J Life at the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “So a confirmation ceremony is like a full culmination of the Torah.”

When she was a child, Platt’s family belonged to Beth El Congregation in Baltimore. She participated in a confirmation ceremony of her own when she finished her Torah studies.

The actual contents of a confirmation ceremony vary depending on the synagogues that hold them. Jewish Encyclopedia notes that they are usually characterized by prayer and song, along with an address aimed at the students being confirmed.

“It isn’t a set ceremony, but it shows off what the students have learned. It’s meant to celebrate the Torah, and to celebrate them,” Platt added.

Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation’s previous confirmation class from 2021 (Courtesy)

At Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation, the Shavuot service and the confirmation ceremony for their class of 10th graders are one and the same. Confirmands assist the rabbi and cantor with leading the service, chanting from the Torah, sharing their thoughts on the service’s Torah portion and helping to lead prayers.

Cantor Alexandra S. Fox, along with Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, helps teach HSOS’s confirmation classes.

“Theoretically, you can choose or not choose to continue your Jewish education. Every household is different, and some teens have taken the step on their own,” Fox explained. “Jewish education doesn’t end at 10th grade. Even now, as a clergy member, I’m still learning new things. We hope their confirmations will be a moment to stop and celebrate on their Jewish journey.”

In an article written for the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Washington, Noam Pianko notes that there is some controversy surrounding the origins of Jewish confirmations. The ceremony has roots in Protestant traditions, which has caused some Orthodox scholars to contest its status as a Jewish experience.

But Fox said that Jewish confirmation ceremonies are special due to the parallel they draw between the Jewish people first receiving the Torah and Jewish students who engage in Torah study. For them, it is an opportunity to engage with Jewish learning on a more personal level after their bar or bat mitzvah.

“We get to hear these teenagers continue to discover and express their Jewish identities, which is really a process that starts when they’re little kids joining our religious school,” she said. “Three years ago, they had their bar or bat mitzvah. We hope that they’ll continue to learn and grow, but it’s a chance to let their voices be heard in the Jewish community.”

Fox added that HSOS typically sees fewer confirmation students than bar or bat mitzvah students, but the clergy is hoping to encourage more young congregants to continue their education beyond their coming-of-age ceremony.

“When students choose to take on the step of confirmation, of a year of intensive learning and study, it’s one step closer to them taking the Torah in their own hands and figuring out where they fit in the Jewish community,” Fox said.

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