After working through a series of scriptural passages on the dangers of intermarriage, I asked my grade eleven students if they understood the text. One particularly bright girl - and high performer - said she understood the text completely but the text was irrelevant. She would marry (or not) on the basis of love, not religion. The future of the Jewish people as a people was important to her, but not at the expense of personal happiness. Following a unit on Shabbat, another student voiced the opinion that each person should be entitled to personally determine what leisure activities should characterize the day. It is simply unfair for the rabbis to impose their views on others. Both students tested well. Each could identify, describe, and explain the mitzvot related to intermarriage and Shabbat respectively. But this did not particularly cheer me. My students knew well what the pertinent mitzvot were and how they were supposed to be observed. They were simply unprepared to observe them.
This phenomenon is not restricted to day school students. University students and adults are just as likely to share the same view. Accordingly, I have come to what I call “Allen’s Observation.” Among the lessons I have learned in my extensive teaching career is that unless you can convince Jews of the value of mitzvot you cannot expect Jews to observe mitzvot. Making the case for mitzvot must become the single-most important educational strategy for rabbis, teachers, and parents if we are going to preserve Judaism as way of life based on common practice and shared obligations.