For American Jews of a Bygone Era, May and June Were Confirmation Season

June 14 2019

During the early years of Reform Judaism, some rabbis introduced a confirmation ritual for mid-teen boys and girls to celebrate their coming of age—either in addition to or instead of the bar mitzvah, which, it seemed, occurred when boys were still too young to appreciate the gravity of their religious obligations. (The bat mitzvah was not introduced until the 1920s.) Late spring became the standard time for the ceremony, around the time of the holiday of Shavuot. Jenna Weissman Joselit explains its appeal:

Though its origins date to early 19th-century Germany, confirmation came of age and blossomed in the United States, where it took hold of and caught on fast within Reform Jewish circles. It betokened a new kind of ceremonial, one that was no holdover from an increasingly distant past, but a resolutely modern creation. . . . Students were expected to familiarize themselves with and confidently to declaim the Decalogue and other tenets of Judaism.

Pomp and circumstance rather than creed endeared confirmation to growing numbers of American Jewish parents and their offspring. Its pages overflowing with detail, the American Israelite noted how, with great relish, they took to the ceremony with its multiple “affirmations and declarations and bows,” elaborate musical arrangements, “pretty” speeches, and heaps of flowers everywhere, from the confirmands themselves, bedecked with boutonnieres and bouquets, to the sanctuary, which was transformed into a botanical garden of delights. . . .

American Jews may have stopped short of fashioning a floral cross, but in their extravagant embrace of the sight and scent of flowers, they took their cue from their Christian neighbors. American Protestants and Catholics [at the time] increasingly garlanded their churches with “as many flowers as possible” in celebration of Easter. . . . Decorating the sanctuary heralded their aesthetic sensibility, furnishing proof that the Jews, long derided for being a “nonvisual people,” could more than hold their own when it came to beautifying their houses of worship. . . .

Extolling the virtue of novelty, one contemporary observer of the 1880s, put it this way in the American Israelite: “No shofar, no fasting, no sukkah, lulav, or esrog, no matzah, maror, or ḥaroset—but flowers, lovely flowers, sweet flowers.” He was on to something. Where so much of Jewish ritual activity spoke of tradition, the weight of the past, and the demands of responsibility, confirmation was as fresh as a daisy.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, American Judaism, Reform Judaism, Shavuot

Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy