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A Thriving Movement
Rabbi Wine founded and led
a new branch of Judaism.
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July 26 • 2007
ounded by Rabbi Sherwin
Wine, Humanistic Judaism is
a movement of Judaism based
on human-centered history, culture,
civilization, ethical values and a shared
experience of the Jewish people.
The movement's formation began
during a meeting with a group —
including Rabbi Wine, who was raised
in a Conservative home and ordained
as a Reform rabbi — who sought to
establish their own Reform congrega-
tion in the Detroit suburbs.
The rabbi once said it was dur-
ing that meeting that "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.
"While I very much enjoyed being a
rabbi, I was not comfortable with the
ideology of Reform Judaism',' Rabbi
Wine said. "I didn't enjoy redefining the
word of God to fit my beliefs and didn't
enjoy the endless praying."
In Humanistic Judaism, the Torah
is not viewed as authoritative or God-
created, but is rather, an account of
human, Jewish, cultural history.
With a strong connection to Judaism
and his Jewish identity, he created
Humanistic Judaism, a name he said
included the word "human" because
"that is where we find our strength."
In 1963, Rabbi Wine founded the
Birmingham Temple, the first congrega-
tion of the movement.
Members of the movement follow
the philosophy that people have the
power and responsibility 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.
Members find the power to deal with
life's problems from within and from
other people —and not from a super-
natural being. 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 anoth-
A 2004 book about Rabbi Wine
published by International Institute
for Secular Humanistic Judaism and
er. 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.
The movement took some fierce
criticism after a 1964 Detroit Free
Press story referring to the rabbi as an
atheist was picked up by a national
news service. Along with the loss of
a few member families, the Michigan
Masons denied the group use of their
Birmingham Masonic Temple building
in Bloomfield Hills and the Southfield
Board of Education made attempts
at blocking use of one of its schools
for Sunday school. There was also an
unsuccessful attempt by some to have
the Hebrew Union College–Jewish
Institute of Religion take away Rabbi
Wine's rabbinic ordination.
At the end of the four-year public
controversy, the movement still had 225
Today, 450 unit members belong to
the Birmingham Temple in Farmington
Hills, whose campus houses the
Ben and Lorraine Pivnick Center for
Humanistic Judaism. In 1969, Rabbi
Wine established the Society for
Humanistic Judaism, the national out-
reach voice for Humanistic Judaism.
In the next two decades, he helped
found related organizations including
a graduate school, a leadership confer-
ence, an academic arm and the Center
for New Thinking, a community forum
for new ideas in the arts, sciences and
philosophy. A rabbinic program ordains