Humanistic Judaism founder dies in car crash - East Valley Tribune: Spirituallife

Humanistic Judaism founder dies in car crash

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Posted: Friday, July 27, 2007 2:20 pm | Updated: 7:10 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism, visited the Valley often to connect with the Jewish movement’s only congregation in the area, Or Adam Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Scottsdale.

Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism, visited the Valley often to connect with the Jewish movement’s only congregation in the area, Or Adam Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Scottsdale.

Wine, 79, died in an auto accident July 21 while vacationing in Morocco. He and the driver of a taxi he was riding in were killed when the cab collided with another car. Wine’s longtime partner, Richard McMains, survived and was hospitalized.

Humanistic Judaism ( emphasizes Jewish culture and history instead of a belief in God as the source of Jewish identity. Rituals do not include prayer or invoking a deity, and it finds common ground with humanism, which asserts that individuals possess the power and responsibility to shape their lives independent of supernatural authority. Wine called it a fifth tradition for Jews, along with Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.

The president of the Or Adam congregation, Al Stein, informed his board about the tragedy when it met on Sunday. Congregations had been alerted by e-mail from the headquarters of the Society for Humanistic Judaism in Farmington Hills, Mich.

“Our response was shock, silence and sadness,” said Jack Silver, the madrikh and rabbi in training for Or Adam, which has about 200 members in nearly 80 households. Just a month ago, Silver took part in a two-week class that Wine led.

“He was the most knowledgeable educator I have ever had,” Silver said. “He had a love for what he taught and created a love in his students.”

In a Tribune interview in March 2000, Wine told how he had gone to rabbinical school and spent seven years serving as a Reform rabbi when “it was clear to me that I could not comfortably, and in good conscience, continue as a Reform rabbi, so I had three choices: stay and pretend to believe; I could leave and do something else; or I could go out and create something for whatever it was that I believed.” He chose to establish the Humanistic Judaism movement, starting in 1963 with the Birmingham temple in suburban Detroit.

In 1965, when he became the topic of a Time magazine article, Wine was dubbed the “Rebel Rabbi” and described as a “young maverick atheist rabbi” for forging an alternative Jewish group based on intellect and on cultural and historical Judaism.

“Humanistic refers to the basic source of power in solving human problems that lies within human beings,” Wine said in the interview. “Secular means that our focus is on this life and not the next.” Members say they believe in the “hereafter” through the generations that will follow them.

Wine emphasized that Jews had great latitude to accept and embrace as much of their heritage as they wished. “There are some Jews who are attracted to the beauty of Jewish music and Jewish art and Jewish dance. Some Jews are attracted to Jewish philosophy and Jewish theology. There are Jews who are attracted to Judaism because of the richness of texts and the history of 2000 years of commentaries and analysis. Some are attracted to the feeling of family that exists within Judaism.”

Dana Naimark of Phoenix was in the third grade in 1970 when her Michigan family joined the Birmingham temple. “He has been my teacher, my rabbi, my mentor, my inspiration,” Naimark said. “He officiated at my bat mitzvah, my confirmation and my wedding. Obviously, it is quite a loss, quite a shock.”

Shortly after she and husband, Rick, were married in 1986, they moved to the Valley and were one of three couples that co-founded Or Adam Congregation in 1987.

Dana Naimark called Wine “brilliant,” “very down to earth,” “a gifted teacher who made history come alive” and someone who had “a real sense of people’s lives.” She attended many of his seminars. “The man could give a two-day lecture with one file card of notes,” she said.

“He really loved showing us what was special in life and helping people to experience that,” Naimark said. “It could be something very normal, routine and mundane. He really had gifts of insight, communication and just relating to people.”

The president of the American Association of Humanistic Rabbis, Rabbi Miriam Jerris, called Wine a visionary “who created a Jewish home for so many of us who would have been lost to Judaism. He taught us that human dignity is the highest moral value.”

Silver, who leads Or Adam at its services at Scottsdale Community College, said Wine had been coming annually to Or Adam and had led High Holy Day services. “He would come out to lead a seminar or to be with our congregation” as part of his pattern of going to all 30 of the Humanistic Judaism congregations in North America. Wine’s vita listed him as the “founder” of 12 organizations, starting with Humanistic Judaism. Among others were Americans for Religious Liberty, Conference on Liberal Religion, the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews and Clergy and Citizens United. He had even established an institute on Secular Humanistic Judaism in Israel.

“He was a man who was concerned about the state of the world,” Silver said. On each visit, he came with issues to be raised “that we needed to be committed to, that we need to take action against.”

“He was a very principled individual, a very well-read and rounded individual,” he said.

Naimark, who serves on Or Adam’s board and is membership coordinator and Sunday school teacher, said her congregation has not determined how it will pay tribute to Wine.

“He surely lived his beliefs and stood up for who he was,” she said. His beliefs were outside of mainstream Judaism, but he was willing to defend them, she said. “He had a theme in the last 10 years about living the life of courage.”

“It meant living your beliefs and being who you are and giving back to the world.”

Memorial service

Or Adam Congregation for Humanistic Judaism will hold a memorial service for the founder of its movement, Rabbi Sherwin Wine, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, at Hotel Scottsdale, 5101 N. Scottsdale Road. It will be led by Jack Silver, the congregation’s certified ceremonial leader. For more information, call (480) 663-7788 or visit

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