Rabbi Sherwin Wine embraced a secular form of Judaism that sought to connect cultural Jews and inspire a moral life outside of faith.
Now the tens of thousands of followers of Humanistic Judaism %u2014 which the Birmingham resident founded are mourning his death in a car crash Saturday while on vacation in Morocco in northern Africa that seriously injured his partner, Richard McMains, and killed their driver.
Wine has also founded several organizations that are not specifically Jewish. In 1981, he and others created the Voice of Reason for the purpose of responding to the upsurge of right-wing political activism by religious leaders such as Rev. Jerry Falwell. In 1982, The Voice of Reason merged with the Center for Moral Democracy, which had been started by Ethical Culture leader Edward L. Ericson and others, to form a new organization, Americans for Religious Liberty, which continues as an advocacy group for the separation of church and state.
While secular Jewish culture thrived in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, its principal manifestations, Yiddish-based schools and Zionism, were in decline by the beginning of the 1960's. Many nonreligious Jews were becoming unaffiliated with either religious or secular Jewish organizations. Recognizing that most Americans are members of thriving religious congregations, Wine concluded that a congregational format, emphasizing Jewish culture and history rather than a theistic outlook, could attract nonreligious Jews who were not served by other Jewish organizations. The goal was to provide members with a sense of community and all of the services that are provided by congregational life, but in a manner consistent with the nontheistic outlook of Wine and the others in his movement.
Wine emphasized intellectual integrity %u2013 keeping words consistent with beliefs. For him and his congregants, this meant that references to a deity had to be excluded from the liturgy. As a result, Wine discarded virtually all previous Jewish liturgical writings.