Rabbi Sherwin Wine taught Jews that they could celebrate Judaism without God, an enlightening and controversial philosophy that made him a nationally recognized member of the Jewish community.
Wine, who founded the Birmingham Temple in Southfield, Mich., in 1963 as the first congregation of Humanistic Judaism, died in a car accident this weekend while in Morocco. He was 79.
Wine was a controversial figure who started his career as an orthodox rabbi before founding the godless movement that earned him nicknames such as “the Rebel Rabbi” and “the Atheist Rabbi.” He taught his followers a philosophy that focused on the power of people to shape their own destiny.
“What he’s left us is a philosophy for living our lives as Jews without being dependent on a divine spirit,” said Birmingham Temple member Jim Grossman, 63, of Farmington Hills, Mich., who was studying for his Bar Mitzvah in 1959 when he met Wine. “We look to people … to do what needs to be done rather than leaving everything in the hands of a divine being. The philosophy allows us to celebrate the history and culture and holidays we cherish, but look at them a different way.”
Wine taught his followers, for example, that Moses – and not God – led the Jews out of Egypt.
In the past four decades, the Humanistic Judaism movement grew from a congregation of eight metro Detroit families to thousands worldwide.
“The founding father has passed, but the movement is stronger than ever,” said Rabbi Tamara Kolton of the Birmingham Temple. “It has to transcend his life.”
Kolton said details of Wine’s death were unclear. The accident also killed the driver of the taxi that Wine and his life partner, Richard McMains, were riding in. McMains was injured.
Rabbi Who Taught Atheistic Judaism Dies