Dear Rabbi Shmuley,
I have been corresponding with a woman in Israel for close to two months now. I enjoy our e-mails, and she has taught me a lot about herself and her country. Over the past weeks I have begun to realize that she is everything I have been looking for. She is funny, intelligent, compassionate, attractive, talented, athletic, and morally grounded. We are both college educated professionals and share common interests and outlooks on life. I think about her from the time I get up until in the morning until I fall asleep in the evening. I would like to tell her how I feel, but am not sure what the cultural protocols are. I am American, Episcopalian, and a good "Southern boy". What are some things I need to know with regards to approaching her?

(By the way, I already am aware of the pitfalls of interfaith relationships, as my sister's husband is Jewish.)

Dear Tentative,
Here's the deal. Jews tend to be very attached to their Jewishness, even if they are not religious. Israelis typically are not the most religious bunch, but they are fiercely proud Jews. You need to think about that, especially when you say that you understand the pitfalls of an interfaith relationship.

As a Rabbi, I would advise you to look seriously at the Jewish faith as a possible way of life before you embark upon this relationship adventure, especially given the fact that you have not yet met this woman face-to-face. I would begin with books like the one I wrote, "Judaism for Everyone"; which provides a good overview of the Jewish faith. If Judaism is something that interests you, then you should pursue the relationship and start taking classes on Judaism.

If the faith is not appealing, though, then I would not invest a lot more time and energy into a relationship that is now only virtual, because once it becomes something actual the religious differences are going to become much more pronounced.

The fact is that relationships and marriage are pretty challenging these days, with the majority of people not making it work the way they want. The last thing you need is further complications. Being of different faiths is a pretty serious complication. It becomes especially challenging when you have kids. People want to give their children their traditions, even if their own practice of those traditions is not particularly strong.

I would begin to discuss this issue with your girlfriend. I would tell her that as a Christian you respect the Jewish faith (Jesus was, after all, a Jew) and you want to proceed with this relationship only after having investigated on your own whether Judaism is something that sparks your interest. Taking this step would show a lot of integrity and is something I would strongly advise.

I would also read up on the history of the State of Israel, its many challenges and its many enemies. Israelis are fiercely proud of their country, and for good reason. It has stood up to aggression since its inception and survives only through the constant sacrifice of its brave citizens. She will be very impressed that you take an interest in a country that is so often misunderstood and misrepresented.

G-d bless you,
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
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