Sherwin Wine

On this date in 1928, Sherwin Wine was born in Detroit, Mich. He received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Michigan, and returned for his master’s degree in philosophy in 1951. Wine attended Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and was ordained as a rabbi in 1956. He worked as a U.S. Army chaplain in Korea (1957–1958) and an assistant rabbi at Temple Beth El in Detroit (1958–1960). Wine wrote many books, including Judaism Beyond God (1985) and Staying Sane in a Crazy World (1995). He lived with his partner, Richard McCains, until Wine’s death in 2007 from a car accident.

Born to Conservative Jewish parents, Wine began questioning the idea of a god at Hebrew Union College and gradually lost his faith. He told Time Magazine in 1965: “I find no adequate reason to accept the existence of a supreme person” (quoted in The New York Times, July 25, 2007). Wine’s lack of belief led him to found Humanistic Judaism, which rejects belief in god while maintaining secular Jewish traditions, culture and ethics. “Theological beliefs have nothing to do with Jewish identity. The Jewish people encompass theists and atheists,” Wine explained in his book Celebration (2003). He elaborated on the beliefs of Humanistic Judaism: “Humanists know that they have the right and the power to be the masters of their own lives, that they have the strength to confront the world as it is and not as fantasy makes it appear, and that they have the opportunity to serve the future and not the past.” Humanistic Judaism was founded in 1963, when Wine established the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills, a suburb of Detroit. At the Birmingham Temple, which he worked at until his retirement in 2003, Wine performed services with no mentions of god, replacing prayers with poetry and Torah readings with speeches on history. He was a co-founder of the Society for Humanistic Judaism in 1969, and was Dean of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, which he founded in 1985. Humanistic Judaism is now practiced worldwide. D. 2007

“If I were a CEO of a company and ran it like God runs the universe, I’d be fired.”

—Sherwin Wine, The Guardian, Sept. 18, 2007.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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