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July 04, 2003 - Image 134

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-07-04

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Cover Story

THE POWER OF MAN from page 37


Rabbi Wine, 1963

Rabbi Wine at the 1971 dedication of the Birmingham Temple building.

receiving bachelor's and master's degrees in Hebrew
Following ordination, he served as a U.S. Army
chaplain in Korea, was assistant rabbi at Temple Beth
El in Detroit, then was founding rabbi of the Reform
Congregation Beth El in Windsor.
"While I very much enjoyed being a rabbi, I was
not comfortable with the ideology of Reform
Judaism," he said. "I didn't enjoy redefining the word
of God to fit my beliefs and didn't enjoy the endless
That year, in 1963, he received an invitation to
meet with a group looking to form their own Reform
congregation in the Detroit suburbs.
'After the meeting, eight of the families signed
up," he said.
Amidst regular discussions, he said, "We realized
we weren't actually Reform. We all knew we were
Jewish and we loved being Jewish, but we realized we
didn't want to be told what to believe. And, for most
of us, we felt we could solve problems from the
strength within ourselves and from other people —
and not from God."
As the new movement of Judaism was formed, it
needed to be named.
"We discussed calling it Rational Judaism or
Naturalistic Judaism — as opposed to supernaturalis-
tic," Rabbi Wine said. "But we needed to have the
word "human" in it — since that is where we find
our strength — so the movement became Humanistic

Humanistic Philosophy

Humanistic Judaism is based on human-centered his-
tory, culture, civilization, ethical values and a shared
experience of the Jewish people.
The message found in the history of the Jewish
people is that people have the power and responsibili-
ty to take control of their own lives, to rely on their
own strengths, efforts, dignity and courage, and to be
responsible for their own fate. The power to deal with
life's problems comes from within and from other
people — and not from a supernatural being.

7/ 4


The Torah is not viewed as authoritative or God-
created, but is rather, an account of human Jewish
cultural history.
The focus is on the world in which people live,
with no heaven, no hell, no Messiah, no resurrection,
no Godly judgment. The focus is not to deny God,
but to affirm people.
Ethics are at the forefront of Humanistic Judaism
— in the way people treat themselves and one
Judaism, in Humanistic Judaism philosophy, is the
evolving culture and civilization of the Jewish people.
It is defined by its people rather than as a religion or
set of beliefs.

Controversy Emerges

After relocating several times, the expanding congre-
gation was thriving with 160 family members, when
the Detroit Free Press ran a story in 1964 that trig-
gered national exposure.
"The headline was, 'Suburban Rabbi: I Am an
Atheist,"' Rabbi Wine remembered clearly "The story
was picked up by a national news service and sudden-
ly we were everywhere — in Time magazine and all
over the Jewish and general press."
Because of the uproar, the Michigan Masons
denied use of their Birmingham Masonic Temple
building in Bloomfield Hills; the Southfield Board of
Education made attempts at blocking use of one of its
schools by the group for Sunday school.
"There was even an attempt [to get] the HUC-JIR
to take away my Reform rabbinic ordination," Rabbi
Wine said. "It never happened because the school's
president at the time wouldn't do it."
Rabbi Wine said "a few members left during the
four-year public controversy and intensity — not
wanting to be the center of attention, but most found
it was worth the struggle."
When the controversy subsided, membership had
reached 225 families.
"People didn't stay because it was convenient and


• Holidays: Holidays were not created by God,
but arose out of Jewish folk culture and are a
response to Jewish events. While some traditional
holidays are not celebrated, others are followed
with variances.
For example, some Humanistic Jews fast on
Yom Kippur — not to atone for sins before judg-
ment is sealed, but rather as a form of discipline.
The words of Kol Nidre (All Vows) were
changed from those that cancel promises to a
more positive hope for strength from within, to
keep resolutions that are made.
• B'nai mitzvah: Bar and bat mitzvah celebra-
tions are held at age 13. In place of the tradition-
al Torah reading, a presentation is made to the
congregation on a figure in Jewish history —
Jewish or not Jewish.
• Liturgy: Passages from the Bible that are
Humanistic are read, such as Hinei Matov, which
includes the words: "Behold how good and pleas-
ant it is that all people should live in unity."
Prayer is replaced with liturgy that reflects the
Humanistic Judaism philosophy, including both
ancient and modern sources.
• Shabbat: Shabbat is not a day of rest, but
rather a time to celebrate Jewish heritage and its
importance. Many Humanistic Jews light Shabbat
candles without the traditional reasons or bless-
ings, with the light of the candles a symbol of the
power of people to realize ideals. The wine of
Shabbat is held as a symbol of joy and celebra-
• Brit milah: Although most Humanistic
Jewish males are circumcised, the circumcision is
most often performed in a hospital, does not have
a ceremony to accompany it and is not confined
to being carried out on the eighth day. Because of
the movement's strong egalitarian beliefs, cere-
monies that are not held for girls are also not
held for boys.
• Birth celebration: The birth celebration is
the same for girls and boys and is highlighted by
the conferring of a Hebrew name.
• Marriage: With the belief in the importance
of Jewish survival, the marriage of Jews to Jews is
applauded, but those who choose non-Jewish
partners are not denounced and attempts are
made to involve the partner in the movement's
• Interfaith and inter-ctilture: A distinction is
made between interfaith and inter-culture, with
interfaith being those from different belief sys-
tems and inter-culture being those who come
from different cultural or historical backgrounds
but share the same philosophy of life. Humanistic
Judaism welcomes and officiates at inter-cultural
marriage ceremonies.
• Becoming A Humanistic Jew: Both Jews and
non-Jews wishing to become Humanistic Jews
participate in a two-year study program in Jewish
history. It is followed by an adult confirmation
for those born Jewish and an "adoption" ceremo-
ny for those born as non-Jews to be adopted into
the Jewish people. L

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