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July 21: Sherwin Wine and Humanistic Judaism

July 21, 2013

07-04-20-17Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism and the key builder of its institutions, died at 79 in an automobile accident in Morocco on this date in 2007. Ordained by the Reform movement, Wine founded the Birmingham Temple, the first humanistic synagogue, outside Detroit in 1963. He was also the founder of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, today a network of more than thirty humanistic Jewish congregations, of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, which trained humanistic rabbis and leaders, and of several humanistic organizations that are not specifically Jewish. Wine pioneered the elimination of “God” and other words referring to the deity in Jewish prayer services; he viewed Jewish identity as largely voluntary and intermarriage in America as inevitable; he sagely adopted the tripartite structure of congregation-rabbis-seminary as most effective and enduring for secular Jews, whose organizations had previously been chiefly schools and political clubs; he wrote several important books about Judaism without theism, including Humanistic Judaism (1978) and Judaism Beyond God (1996). Wine was a gay man with a committed partner (who was seriously injured in the car crash that took Wine’s life), but he generally kept a low profile about his sexual identity in public. A funny, highly articulate man, he was named Humanist of the Year in 2003 by the American Humanist Association. To see him speaking about fundamental principles of Humanistic Judaism, look below.

“Historic secularism was so anti-religious that they refused to accept any of the structures that traditional religion provided. I think there’s an increasing recognition in the more traditional secular circles -– if I can use such a phrase -– that this community structure is needed and there’s a need for a trained leadership.” --Sherwin Wine