Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine (1928-2007) was the intellectual framer of Humanistic Judaism, founding rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and founder of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, as well as a prolific writer, speaker, and public figure. He founded The Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and served as its rabbi for more than forty years. To view Rabbi Sherwin Wine’s legacy website, click here.
Wine was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1928. He was a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion, the rabbinic seminary of the Reform movement.
In 1957 and 1958, Rabbi Wine served as a chaplain in Korea, bringing the comforts of home to the Jewish soldiers he met. His work had more to do with Jewish culture than Jewish religion. Reflecting on his time in Korea, Wine said, “The boys came not to pray but to talk — and for the chicken soup and salami.” He continued, “I didn’t do the traditional thing, as you might expect. I did a kind of intellectually-based series of lectures on subjects of interest and concern to the troops. I think some of them became pretty interested in a chaplain who was caring about some of the not-necessarily-religious matters they were caring about.”
In 1963, Rabbi Wine left the Reform temple he was serving in Windsor, Ontario, to found the Birmingham Temple in suburban Detroit, the first congregation of Humanistic Judaism. In 1965, Time Magazine quoted Wine as declaring, “I am an atheist.” With Rabbi Wine as its leader, the congregation eliminated the name of God from services, creating humanistic rituals focused on humanistic values and people’s responsibility for their actions and their world. The article attracted significant attention, leading to the birth of a new denomination within Judaism. The Humanistic Jewish movement has grown from these early beginnings, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013.
In 1969, Wine helped establish the Society for Humanistic Judaism to serve as the North American outreach vehicle for the Humanistic Jewish movement. In 1986, he helped to create the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, a worldwide association of national organizations in North America, Israel, Belgium, England, France, Italy, Australia, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Rabbi Wine was Dean and Provost of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, the movement’s seminary.
Wine was instrumental in organizing the Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews, the Center for New Thinking, the North American Committee for Humanism, the Humanist Institute, and the Conference of Liberal Religion.
The American Humanist Association selected him Humanist of the Year for 2003. The Humanist of the Year award was established in 1953 to recognize a person of national or international reputation who, through the application of humanist values, has made a significant contribution to the improvement of the human condition. As Humanist of the Year, Rabbi Wine joined such notables as Stephen Jay Gould, Betty Friedan, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Margaret Sanger, among others.
Rabbi Wine is the author of Humanistic Judaism, Judaism Beyond God, Celebration, Staying Sane in a Crazy World and A Provocative People, which was published after his death. In addition, he was a principal contributor to Judaism in a Secular Age: An Anthology of Secular Humanistic Jewish Thought.
Rabbi Wine was killed in an automobile accident in Morocco on July 21, 2007.