"Jews Demand Signs" | An Interview with Roy Schoeman, editor of Honey From the Rock: Sixteen Jews Find the Sweetness of Christ | Carl E. Olson
Roy H. Schoeman, was born in a suburb of New York City of Conservative" Jewish parents who had fled Nazi Germany. His Jewish education and formation was received under some of the most prominent Rabbis in contemporary American Jewry, including Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, probably the foremost Conservative Rabbi in the U.S. and his hometown Rabbi growing up; Rabbi Arthur Green, later the head of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College who was his religion teacher and mentor during high school and early college; and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, a prominent Hasidic Rabbi with whom he lived in Israel for several months.
His secular education included a B.Sc. from M.I.T. and an M.B.A. magna cum laude from Harvard Business School. Midway through a career of teaching and consulting (he had been appointed to the faculty of the Harvard Business School) he experienced an unexpected and instantaneous conversion to Christianity which led to a dramatic refocus of his activities. Since then he has pursued theological studies at several seminaries, written the acclaimed book Salvation Is From the Jews, helped produce and host a Catholic Television talk show, and edited and written for several Catholic books and reviews. His website is www.SalvationIsFromTheJews.com.
Schoeman was recently interviewed by Carl E. Olson, editor of Ignatius Insight, about the book, Honey From the Rock: Sixteen Jews Find the Sweetness of Christ, which Schoeman compiled and edited.
Ignatius Insight: The sixteen stories of conversion in Honey from the Rock come from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures, and historical eras. How and why did you go about compiling them?
Roy Schoeman: After I wrote Salvation is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming, I found myself being invited to speak about the book, and to give my witness testimony, in more and more places. When I recounted the, frankly, miraculous events – a direct encounter with Christ, and later an extremely vivid and awake-feeling dream of the Blessed Virgin Mary (my witness testimony appears, in various forms, in both of my books as well as on my website) – people were surprised that such extraordinary graces had been granted me in order to bring me, an anti-Catholic Jew, to the truth of post-Messianic Judaism: that is, the Catholic Church.
Yet I knew from both my reading and my encounters with other Jewish Catholics that such experiences were more the norm than the exception for Jews who come to faith in Christ; after all, St. Paul himself said, "Jews demand signs" (1 Cor 1:22). I thought it would be useful to collect a group of such stories – first person witness testimonies whenever possible – that showed the lengths that Jesus was prepared to go to to bring home those who were first His people – the Jews. This is particularly important today, since we are living in a time when the pernicious falsehood is being spread, even by some Catholic theologians, that there is no need to evangelize the Jews because they are already in their own saving covenant with God. Nothing could be further from the truth – after all, it was to Jews that Jesus said "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God"(Jn 3:5) and "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (Jn 6:53); it was Jews, and only to Jews, that Jesus evangelized during His time on earth ("Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" -- Mt. 10:5-6); and it was for evangelizing Jews that He was crucified.
I thought that a good way to dispute the claim that Jews do not need Jesus was to show the lengths that Jesus Himself--and His Jewish Mother!--were prepared to go to bring home the "lost sheep of the House of Israel".
Ignatius Insight: In recent years there have been several compilations, some of them quite successful, of stories by Protestants who became Catholic. In what ways are these testimonies from Jews similar and different from the experiences of Protestant converts? In general, what differences are there between such conversions?
Schoeman: The greatest difference that I see is that Protestants are often able to "read themselves" into the Catholic Church. They discover evidence of the truth of the Catholic Church in the Scriptures, the Church fathers, and the early Church history. For it does not take a very deep exploration into the history and writings of the early Church to see that the first generation of Christians after Jesus were already "Catholic" – they certainly believed in the Real Presence in the Eucharist and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was their central act of worship. Rod Bennet's recent book Four Witnesses, also put out by Ignatius Press, is an excellent source on this.
Such evidence is of no value to Jews, who reject, of course, the authority of both the New Testament and the early Church. Therefore it is rare – although not unheard of – for a Jew to "read" himself into the Church. More frequently it requires extraordinary interventions on the part of Heaven, in the form of miracles, apparitions, or theophanies, to convince them. As St. Paul said, "For Jews demand signs and Greeks [i.e. Gentiles] seek wisdom" (1 Cor 22).
Ignatius Insight: The Mother of our Savior plays a significant role in several of the conversions described in the book. Obviously she desires the salvation of all men, but is there a specific or unique relationship between Mary and the conversion of Jews to the Catholic Church?
Schoeman: I can only speculate, and I hesitate to do so. For of course she is the mother of all mankind, and every soul is infinitely precious in the eyes of God, and therefore in the eyes of Mary. Nevertheless, it is incontrovertible that Mary was born a Jew, spent her life entirely among her own Jewish people, and remained ever faithful to the Jewish covenant, worshipping God as a Jew. The Jews were her one people, in fact the only people she ever knew, and the particular "flavor" of the Jewish spirituality and love of God were her own. Might she not still have a particular "soft spot" for her own Jewish people? It seems logical to me.
Ignatius Insight: You mentioned how touched you were by the story of Hermann Cohen (1821-71), who went from being a wealthy and intellectually brilliant playboy to a Carmelite monk and priest with a great devotion to the Eucharist. What was so striking about his story?
Schoeman: I cannot help feeling that his story is the "centerpiece" of Honey from the Rock. I would love to write a full-length biography of him some day. Three aspects of his story strike me in particular – the depths of his depravity and distance from God; the Olympian heights of his success and glamour in the eyes of the world, and the intensity and passion of his conversion and subsequent extreme mortification of his life, after he came to the truth.
In Hermann Cohen you have a "superstar", the Mick Jagger of his day. Already as a young teen Cohen was the protégé and constant companion of the most celebrated pianist of his century, Franz Liszt, and an internationally celebrated star in his own right. He was drowning in gold, the adulation of the highest aristocracy, and all of the temptations of "the world, the flesh, and the devil". (I was a bit shocked to find out that "groupies" are by no means a modern phenomenon!) Yet at the core of all of this luxury, sensuality, and depravity, Cohen found nothing but emptiness. Jesus was able, in an instant in the presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament, to cut through that miasma of false glamour and depravity and show Cohen where true happiness and true love are to be found – in the sacraments, in the Eucharist, in the Catholic Church.
Almost immediately the young Cohen turned his back on all that the world had to offer to embrace the most austere life imaginable as an itinerant Carmelite monk, traveling throughout Europe preaching and bringing others, including many other Jews, to the light, truth, and joy that he had found. When he became a priest he took a vow to never preach without extolling the Blessed Sacrament. He ended his life as he lived it, a martyr to the sacraments, when he chose anoint a prisoner dying of typhoid using his unprotected finger, accepting the likelihood of contracting the deadly fever as a result. He died a few days later. What a Catholic! What a Jew!
Ignatius Insight: How difficult is today for Jews, in America, to consider becoming Catholic? What are some of the obstacles? What can Catholics—both clergy and laity—do to help remove some of those obstacles?
Schoeman: As I have been saying, in my experience the conversion of a Jew requires a sovereign act of grace. Yet there are a few things we as individual Catholics, and the Church as an institution, can do to aid the process. I strongly urge all Catholics to share their faith, share their joy in the Eucharist, in their prayer life, in their relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with Jewish friends and coworkers. Don't keep your light hidden under a bushel! Let others know what your prayer life means to you, how close you feel to God, why you are happy when you show up at work (for instance) having just come from Mass where you received the body, blood, soul, and divinity of the God-Man into yourself in the Eucharist. As Hermann Cohen stressed, everyone wants to be happy, but most do not know where true happiness is to be found. Let others know that you do!
Other than that, my fondest wish is that the Church as an institution would have a welcome mat out to receive, and give information to, Jews who are considering the Catholic Faith. All it would take is a phone number the Chancery could give out when a Jew calls and wants to find out more, or wants to make contact with a fellow Jew who has already entered the Church. It took me several years after I had entered the Church before I was able to find a single other Jewish Catholic! There is no need for that. The Church has ministries set up to reach out to different racial, ethnic, and national groups – why not Jews? "After all, the Jews brought Jesus to the rest of the world -- isn't it time to return the favor?"
Ignatius Insight: What has been the response among your family and friends to your decision to become Catholic?
Schoeman: It is always difficult for a Jewish family to deal with such a situation. Of course, without the grace of conversion for themselves, enabling them to recognize that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and therefore the Catholic Church is "post-Messianic Judaism", they see it such a conversion as apostasy, a turning away from the true worship of God. All I can do is pray – and invite readers' prayers – that the veil may be lifted from their eyes, too (Rom. 11:8) and that they too may come to the joy of the truth.
Ignatius Insight: What are some of the responses to your books?
Schoeman: I have received many hundreds of letters and emails thanking me for my books. Most are from Catholics, telling me how their faith has been rekindled or strengthened as a result. Several were from fallen-away Catholics who came back to the Church after reading one of my books. Perhaps most gratifying were those letters that were from Jews who came to Faith as a result of reading one of my books. Several asked me to be their godfather, a request with which I joyfully complied. A selection of letters is actually up on my website, www.salvationisfromthejews.com, on the "Letters from Readers" page.
Ignatius Insight: When Benedict XVI was elected, the mainstream media often made it sound as though he would have no interest in dialoguing with Jews. Yet Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has been praised by many Jewish leaders for his openness to frank and charitable dialogue. What is your impression of his understanding of Judaism? Of his communications with Jewish leaders?
Schoeman: John Paul II was certainly a "hard act to follow" in that regard, but Benedict XVI has hit the ball out of the park! Shortly after becoming Pope, he not only met with Jewish leaders, but also made a deeply moving visit to Auschwitz where he spoke very, very beautifully and deeply. His love of the Jewish people, and his depth of feeling about them and about the special relationship Judaism has to God is infinitely apparent, and yet it is always wrapped in true love and charity, which means enveloped by a heart that aches for them to fully know the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, in the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
Ignatius Insight: Speaking of the Holy Father, his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, not only emphasizes the Jewish roots and context of Jesus' times and life, but interacts with Jewish books about Jesus. What was your impression of the book?
Schoeman: On the back cover of the book, Benedict XVI calls the book his "personal search 'for the face of the Lord.'" What delight it gave me to find that the face of the Lord that the Holy Father found was a very Jewish one! I know of no other Catholic work that places Jesus so squarely within his Jewish context – as a Jewish teacher among Jews, and as the Jewish Messiah foretold and foreshadowed in the Jewish Old Testament. From the Introduction, which contrasts Jesus with Jewish prophets who preceded him, to the last chapter, which examines Jesus' self-identification as Son of God and Son of Man in the light of the names used by the Jews for God, topic after topic is illumined by the Holy Father's deep knowledge of Jewish scriptures, history, culture, and even of Rabbinic scriptural commentary. I was continuously surprised and delighted by how often the illumination that the Holy Father casts on the person, the words, or the actions of Jesus draws its light from Judaism, and continually impressed by the Holy Father's recurrent recourse to Jewish sources. The book breathes with an effortless fluidity -- the fruit of a lifetime of thought and prayer, of study and research, and of dwelling on the person of Jesus – who was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew, and "is the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Heb 13:8).
I am grateful for this opportunity to share some thought with your readers. If they would like to know more about me, my books, my own witness testimony, other Jewish Catholics, or whatever, I invite them to visit my website www.salvationisfromthejews.com . Thank you, and Ignatius Press, for all that you do to "Go out and make disciples of all nations!" (Mt. 28:19).
Honey from the Rock: Sixteen Jews Find the Sweetness of Christ
Compiled by Roy Schoeman
Roy Schoeman, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, and best-selling author of Salvation Is From The Jews, once again shows the clear links between Judaism and Catholicism in these inspiring stories of sixteen Jews who became "fulfilled Jews", as Schoeman says, through their spiritual journeys to the Catholic Church.
The sixteen people whose stories are told here are a variety of Jews, including some who came from secularized, liberal or even atheistic backgrounds, while others came from Orthodox Judaism. Some were well trained Jews, others unschooled in Judaism; some rich and wildly successful, others down and out. But their common link was they all had a profound longing for God that gave them no peace until they found God Himself in the Catholic Church.
Some of these converts are famous people like Edith Stein, Alphonse Ratisbonne, Karl Stern, and Rabbi Zolli, while others are less well known, but all have powerful stories of life-changing spiritual transformations.
"Roy Schoeman's work, Honey from the Rock illuminates the essential link between the Jewish faith and Catholicism through the lives of those who were born into the Jewish faith and have come to know the fulfillment of their faith in Christ and His Catholic Church. I recommend Honey from the Rock to anyone who desires to understand the revealed faith of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and His Mystical Body, the Church. Honey from the Rock illustrates in a most concrete way the truth expounded so well by Roy Schoeman in his earlier work, Salvation is from the Jews, which I also wholeheartedly recommend." -- Raymond L. Burke, Archbishop of Saint Louis
"This is a gripping book sketching powerfully the Jewish metaphysical restlessness that nothing can satisfy until they taste Honey from the Divine Rock and recognize in Christ the King of the Jews and the Roman Catholic church as fulfillment of Judaism. This book is a constellation made up of sixteen sons and daughters of Israel for whom overwhelming talents, wordly success, money, pleasure brought nothing but despair. Each one of them had its own path; but what is striking is the role played by the Holy Virgin and the holy hunger for the Eucharist in some of the most amazing conversions. This book will bring joy to its readers and rekindle their hope in the power of God's grace at a time when the ship of Holy Church is battered by the waves of secularism, relativism, infidelity and betrayal." -- Alice von Hildebrand
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links/Articles:
Jews Find the Sweetness of Christ | Preface to Honey From the Rock | Roy Schoeman
Judaism Fulfilled | An Interview with Roy H. Schoeman
The Jews and the Second Coming | Roy H. Schoeman
Eugenio Zolli's Path to Rome | Stephen Sparrow
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