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by Adelle M. Banks
Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of the humanistic stream of
Judaism, died Saturday (July 21) in an automobile accident.
Wine, 79, was vacationing in Morocco at the time.
Described by the Humanist chaplain of Harvard University as “the
greatest American religious leader you never heard of,” Wine founded the
movement of Humanistic Judaism in 1963 and the Society for Humanistic
Judaism in 1969. The society has more than 30 congregations and
communities led by rabbis or lay leaders in the U.S. and Israel.
Wine gained national attention when Time magazine featured his
fledgling congregation in 1965. More traditional Jewish leaders thought
he was leading a 1960s craze but the movement went on to have an
international federation and an institute that trains Humanist rabbis.
“He had a creative, new vision for what role religion and humanism
could play in American life,” said Greg Epstein, the Harvard chaplain,
who was trained by Wine.
A Detroit native, Wine was the founding rabbi of the Birmingham
Temple in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, Mich. Like the
movement Wine led, the congregation celebrates Jewish culture but does
not link it to a belief in God.
“He created the idea of a congregation of proud atheists and
agnostics,” Epstein said. “He did that without acknowledging the moral
authority of any god. He did that with a nervy assertion that only human
beings can determine what the moral basis for an ethical community ought
to be.”
Epstein said Wine was an atheist who did not dwell on that
description.
“His focus was on being positive and talking about what he did
believe in,” Epstein said.
Wine was the author of several books, including “Humanistic
Judaism,” “Judaism Beyond God,” and “Staying Sane in a Crazy World.”
“Rabbi Wine was a visionary who created a Jewish home for so many of
us who would have been lost to Judaism,” said Rabbi Miriam S. Jerris,
president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis.

Copyright 2007 Religion News Service

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