Rethinking Heine

Rethinking Heine

In “From Rasha, with love” (March 28), Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser quotes the poet Heinrich Heine and calls him, in passing, a “Jewish apostate.”

But Heine was more complicated than that. He called himself “merely baptized, not converted,” and wrote to a friend: “From my way of thinking you can well imagine that baptism is an indifferent affair. I do not regard it as important even symbolically, and I shall devote myself all the more to the emancipation of the unhappy members of our race. Still I hold it as a disgrace and a stain upon my honor that in order to obtain an office in Prussia – in beloved Prussia – I should allow myself to be baptized.”

Later, he wrote, “I regret very deeply that I had myself baptized.”

And still later: “[I]f every kind of pride of birth were not a foolish contradiction in a champion of revolution and democratic principles, the writer of these pages might be proud that his ancestors belonged to the noble House of Israel, that he is a descendant of those martyrs who have given to the world one God and a moral law, and have fought and suffered in all the battle-fields of thought.”

This long-neglected “Jewish apostate” poet is worthy of contemporary study.