from Jewish Stories and Hebrew Melodies, pages 4-5

Heine’s most consistently controversial family relationship was with his uncle, Salomon Heine, a banker in Hamburg who helped him out with money again and again, finally settling a pension on him and later on Heine’s widow. Understandably, Heine’s dependence on his Uncle Salomon did not sit well with him. His letters to his uncle reel from requests for funds to defiant accusations and asseverations of loyalty. They make painful reading and bring home the realization that an “independent” poet pays a high price in pride. But when Heine opted for such an existence, moreover as a Jew, he already had an inkling of alternatives.

Seemingly peripheral, but fundamental for Heine, was a certain schoolroom. To supplement his general education in Düsseldorf, Heine, as a young child, attended a “religion school” run by a distant relative from Hamburg. Here, Heine was taught some rudiments of Hebrew and, more significant for him, he was treated to biblical and rabbinic lore according well with his own propensities for fantasy. Heine – we may ask incredulously –, sat in a cheder? Did not a generation of Jews flee from all religion at the very thought of its narrowness? Heine’s self-acceptance as a Jew was shaped here.