Friday, August 3, 2007

RIP: Rabbi Sherwin Wine

Cleveland Jewish
"The memory of a good person is a blessing.”

So reads the home page of The Society of Humanistic Judaism (SHJ)‘s website. The site is now dedicated to Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, founder of the movement, who was killed in an auto accident July 21 while vacationing in Morocco.

Wine devoted his life’s work to the principles of Humanistic Judaism, says Roberta Feinstein, executive director of the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations (CSJO), a Cleveland based organization that emphasizes Jewish culture and ethics. ...Humanistic Judaism celebrates Jewish history and culture without invoking God. One of its tenets, according to the SHJ website, purports that humans “possess the power and responsibility to shape their lives independent of supernatural authority.”

Wine was raised in a traditional home and ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1956. But according to a JTA article, the self-professed atheist felt ill-suited reciting prayers to a God in whom he did not believe.

In 1963, Wine took what Feinstein believes was a “courageous step” when he established the world’s first Humanistic synagogue, The Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills, Mich. Wine went on to help found the Society for Humanistic Judaism in 1969; the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, which trains Humanistic rabbis, in 1985; and the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, the movement’s international umbrella. ...

The rabbi was vilified by his contemporaries after it was discovered that his congregation had eliminated the word “God” from its services. (For example, “You shall love the Lord your God” became, “We revere the best in man.”)

Other rabbis also didn’t take kindly to Wine’s refusal to recite the Shema, the basic Jewish proclamation of faith in the oneness of God. “He (Wine) stepped right out and said, ‘I don’t believe in these words,’” says Feinstein. “That was amazingly brave.”

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