by Rabbi Arnold Saltzman
The Three Festivals of Pilgrimage, known as the Shalosh Regalim, include Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot. Of these three, Shavuot is the least known and observed. It is cited in the Talmud that even in ancient times it was not observed as much as Passover and the Thanksgiving-Festival of the Booths. Shavuot, also known as Pentecost, involves the counting from the second Seder night until the fiftieth day when tradition says we received the Torah, Revelation, at Mt. Sinai. God had a purpose for us, in bringing us out of Egypt, namely, to give us the Torah, a Jewish Constitution. The Torah made us a people with laws and defined us even as we evolved into Modern Reform, Conservative or Orthodox Jews.
The customs associated with Shavuot include eating dairy (Blintzes!), bringing flowers, and bringing grain offerings to the Temple as a thanksgiving for the harvest. The custom of Confirmation mirrors this in an educational harvest – our students committed to continued growth and learning, Tzedakah, and including themselves as part of the community.
In the 19th Century, the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, the oldest Reform Congregation in Maryland created Confirmation as way of including young women in the process of Jewish education and to balance the fact that they were not permitted to celebrate Bat Mitzvah. Confirmation addressed this issue and became the standard at Washington Hebrew as well as all Reform Congregations, later spreading to Conservative Congrega-tions, such as Adas Israel.
The Reconstructionist Rabbi, Mordechai Kaplan, who founded Reconstructionist Judaism at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ), also began the custom of Bat Mitzvah prior to the Reform Movement or the Con-servative movement. The first Confirmation Cantata was called ‘What Is Torah’ which reflected the idea of innovat-ing a service in such a way as to find a place for young men and women to participate in a service, especially when they might want to participate, yet in most cases they were not trained cantors or lay leaders.
Confirmation is part of a mature commitment to study. Being Jewish requires knowledge, questioning, practicing our beliefs. Most importantly, it requires you to be there without worrying about what you know or who you know. Presence is our prayer and statement of faith. If this is done with study, it is even better.
Some Congregations have the custom of staying up all night to study, as the tradition says that the Israelites pre-pared all night to receive the Torah. This custom is referred to as L’eyl Shimurim – A Night of Watching. The custom is to read the Ten Commandments, received on this day, which we will read in English.
The overlap of Confirmation and Shavuot is intentional, drawing attention to the Festival of Weeks and the barley harvest, and reading the book of Ruth (Friday evening at Sha’are Shalom). Ruth, one of the great figures in Jewish tradition, reaches out to embrace our tradition and religion, a confirmation of belief. Please join us as our students and their families celebrate this milestone in their lives and in the life of our congregation.