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Sherwin Wine, Founder of Humanistic Judaism

Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, a writer, scholar and community leader who founded the first congregation of Humanistic Judaism, died Saturday. He was 79.

Wine was killed in an automobile accident while on vacation in Essaouira, Morocco. He and his partner, Richard McMains, were traveling back to their hotel when a car hit their taxi. The taxi driver was also killed. McMains was hospitalized and is in stable condition.

Born in Detroit on January 25, 1928, Wine earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy at the University of Michigan. He spent five years at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati and was ordained a rabbi by the movement.

In 1963, Wine confirmed his break with the Reform movement when he founded the Birmingham Temple in suburban Detroit, the first congregation of Humanistic Judaism. Wine helped define the rituals and intellectual foundations of Humanistic Judaism, which is firmly atheistic and centers on Jewish culture and history rather than on theology.

Wine’s controversial new movement was brought to the limelight after a 1965 Time magazine profile, and it attracted many new members over the next few decades. Wine went on to found the Society for Humanistic Judaism in 1969, as well as the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews and a Humanistic rabbinical school.

Wine was also active in the broader secular humanism movement, and in 2003 the American Humanist Association named him Humanist of the Year. He wrote several books, including “Humanistic Judaism,” “Judaism Beyond God” “Celebration” and “Staying Sane in a Crazy World.”

Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, leader of New York City’s Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, told the Forward, “He was a visionary; he brought about a major change for modern Jews so we could celebrate our identity as Jews with joy and integrity.”

“He didn’t have children of his own, but he raised thousands of people; he molded us, and he shaped us,” Schweitzer added.


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