The God Delusion: Richard Dawkins and Militant Atheism

Recorded 2006 by the Center for New Thinking.

A preeminent scientist – and the world’s most prominent atheist – asserts that a belief in God is irrational and that religion is harmful. Richard Dawkins eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He maintains that religion fuels war, ferments bigotry and abuses children. He also asserts that atheism is superior to religion, providing a clearer truer appreciation of the universe’s wonders than any faith could ever muster.

Click HERE to download and listen to this audio lecture.

Wine’s Rabbinic Thesis (1956)



Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Hebrew Letters Degree and Ordination. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cinctnnati, Ohio. February, 1956

Referee: Dr. Sheldon H. Blank



The purpose of the following investigation is to discover those traditions concerning the relationship of Jahweh and Israel in the days preceding the initial Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan, which are reflected in the writings of the prophets, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Deutero-lsaiah.

There are three aspects to the early relationship of Jahweh and Israel under which these traditions are arranged: (1) divine election; (2) divine providence; and (3) divine legislation. To each of these aspects a chapter was devoted.

In the first chapter concerning divine election the following three questions are answered, wherever possible: (1) Did each of the prophets under consideration believe that at some time in the past Jahweh adopted Israel as his people, as the special object of his providence? (2) If so, did he believe that Israel, in turn, had adopted Jahweh as its God, as the exclusive object of its devotion and obedience? (3) If he acknowledged the divine election of Israel, at what time and place did he believe that event to have occurred?

In the second chapter concerning divine providence the following two questions are answered, wherever possible: (1) What pledges or promises did each of the prophets under consideration believe that Jahweh made during the period of Israel’s early history, to provide and care for the nation? (2) What providential acts did he believe that Jahweh performed in fulfillment of these promises?

In the third chapter concerning divine legislation, the following two questions are answered, wherever possible: (1) What demands, if any, did each of the prophets under consideration believe that Jahweh made upon the people of Israel in pre-Conquest days? (2) When and where did he believe that such demands, if any, had been delivered?

In all three chapters, not only the traditions which each of the prophets accepted, but also those traditions possessed by his contemporaries, which he may have rejected, are noted.

In the final conclusion, all of the relevant traditions or beliefs discovered are arranged chronologically in order to indicate the temporal terminus ad quem for the emergence of each of them.



The history of the relationship of Jahweh to the children of Israel in the days prior to the final conquest of the land of Canaan is described in detail in the various narratives of the Hexateuch, These accounts, whether J,E,D, or P, are characterized by both a prose style and a chronologically ordered presentation. Although they are not always mutually consistent, since many of the historical assertions of each narrative contradict, either explicitly or implicitly, those or another, they concern themselves, generally, with the same major personalities and events. Unfortunately, however, their respective authors are presently anonymous, with the consequence that the date and setting of their composition are often difficult to ascertain.

Another source of historical opinion concerning God’s early relationship with Israel is the statements of the literary prophets, whether oracular or otherwise, which are recorded in the four books of the Latter Prophets. Although these prophetic writings are neither historical narratives nor generally prosaic, they do contain references, however rare and haphazardly dispersed, to the association of certain personalities, events, and laws with the pre-Conquest encounters of Jahweh with Israel. Moreover, these scattered references, unlike the Hexateuchal accounts, are usually not anonymous. Since most of their authors are both known by name and dateable, the time and setting of their utterances can be approximately determined, with the happy result that certain historical opinions can be associated with certain specific periods of time in Israel’s history. Thus, where the evidence permits, a development of historical opinions and beliefs can be noted.

In view of this advantage, we, therefore, propose to study in the succeeding chapters the beliefs and opinions concerning the early relationship of Jahweh to Israel which are reflected in the writings of those literary prophets who are clearly dateable and whose extant oracles are sufficiently ample to provide fruitful investigation. The prophets whose statements will be considered are the following (n the order of their appearance in history): Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Deutero-Isaiah.1 Any assertion made by these individuals which is recorded in the books of the Latter Prophets and which concerns the relationship of God to Israel in the period of historical time covered by the Hexateuchal narratives, will be regarded as relevant to our study.

The purpose of or investigation is twofold. First, it is our intention to ascertain, to the degree that the evidence allows, the beliefs concerning Jahweh’s early association with Israel to whose contemporary existence each of the prophets under consideration alluded, either by acceptance or rejection. And second, it is our intention to contrast these beliefs of each prophet with the relevant allusions of the other five prophets under study in order to discover similarities and differences. The discovery of these similarities and differences may enable us to trace the development of certain historical traditions concerning God and Israel, which occurred during the eighth, seventh and sixth centuries.

Our procedure in the following Investigation will be to study the appropriate historical references of our six prophets under three categories. These categories are suggested by the three major functions ascribed to Jahweh in his relationship to Israel by all the Hexateuchal writers. They may be designated as divine election, divine providence, and divine law-giving. One chapter will be devoted to each of these aspects of Jahweh’s relationship to Israel in the period preceding the final Conquest of Canaan. Moreover, each chapter will contain an Introduction of appropriate Hexateuchal illustrations in order that we may more readily notice relevant statements in the prophetic writings under Investigation.



In concluding our investigation, we shall attempt to provide a comprehensive view of all the development in the traditions concerning the early relationship of Jawheh and Israel, which have been indicated in the conclusions of the three preceding chapters.

The following the traditions arose no later than the middle of the eighth century.

  • The tradition that at some time before the Conquest Jahweh chose Israel to be his people, and Israel in turn chose Jawheh to be its God.
  • The tradition that God had brought Israel out of the land of Egypt.
  • The tradition that Jahweh first established intimate relations with Israel at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.
  • The tradition that Jahweh had provided for Israel during a pre-Conquest wilderness sojourn.
  • The tradition that sacrificial worship in the form of animal and cereal offerings had been ordained by Jahweh in pre-Conquest days.

The following tradition possibly arose no later than the middle of the eighth century.

  • The tradition that certain official holy days, including, perhaps, the pilgrim festivals, the Sabbath, and the new moons, had been ordained by Jahweh in pre-Conquest days.

The following possibly arose at some time between the end of the eighth and the end of the seventh centuries.

  • The tradition that the Exodus from Egypt had been a redemption from bondage.

The following tradition possibly arose at some time between the end of the eighth and the beginning or middle of the sixth centuries.

  • The tradition that Jahweh had first established intimate relations with Israel, not at the time of the Exodus, but at the time of Abraham.
  • The tradition that Jahweh had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and Jacob.

The following traditions arose no later than the beginning of the sixth century.

  • The tradition that Jahweh had promulgated at the time of the Exodus covenant a specific legal code, containing, at the least, a provision for the manumission of both male and female Hebrew slaves after six years of bondage, and, perhaps including, prohibitions against the worship of other gods, adultery, murder, stealing, false swearing, and the return of a twice divorced woman to her first husband.
  • The tradition that Jahweh had promulgated in the wilderness at the time of the Exodus a specific legal code of statutes and ordinances perhaps written, which included as one of its most important provisions the ordaining of the Sabbath, and which, perhaps contained laws banning incest and the oppression of the underprivileged.

The following tradition possibly arose between the beginning and the end Exilic period.

  • The tradition that Jahweh, at the time of Abraham, had commissioned, perhaps only implicitly, the Patriarch and his descendants-to-be for a mission of salvation to all the peoples of the world.

The following tradition arose no later than the late Exilic period.

  • The tradition that Jahweh had performed in the wilderness such “miracles” as dividing the waters of the Red Sea and cleaving a rock to bring forth water.

It is our sincere hope that some of the conclusions which we have listed may be employed to advantage in the dating of anonymous passages in Scripture.



Cincinnati. March 7, 1956
Report on Thesis by Sherwin T. Wine entitled “Traditions Concerning the Early Relationship of Jahweh and Israel in Dateable Prophetic Writings”

In a lucid “Introduction” the author further defines the terms which he employs in the title, “Early” means the period covered by the Hexateuch, i.e., until the final conquest of Canaan. The “traditions concerning the … relationship of Jahweh and Israel” are the traditions which might be designated “divine election, divine providence, and divine lawgiving.” “Dateable prophetic writings” include “the writings of those literary prophets who are clearly dateable and whose extant oracles are sufficiently ample to provide fruitful investigation,” specifically the writings of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Deutero-Isaiah. Excluded are the anonymous and therefore mostly undateable verses and chapters within the writings of these five prophets. (The author usually adopts the referee’s opinion as to the extent of the anonymous material.) He includes Deutero-Isaiah because, although anonymous, the author of Isaiah 40 to 55 appears to be a single dateable personality.

The author lists and examines, within these limits, the allusions, direct or indirect, to the traditions concerning the relationship of Jahweh and Israel the traditions concerning promises to the Patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt, the law-giving at Sinai, Jahweh’s care for Israel in the wilderness, his giving of the land – whatever relevant Hexateuchal traditions the dateable prophets know or seem to know. With meticulous logic the author carefully distinguishes between explicit and implicit allusions to the traditions and admits no references to the list without sufficient evidence.

In his final chapter he lists his findings as to the earliest appearance in this prophetic literature of the various themes and the form in which they first appear. According to his findings, if the argument from silence is admissible, some of these themes are not older than the seventh or sixth centuries, despite their common occurrence in the undated documents which make up the Hexateuch.

The interpretation of the Exodus from Egypt as a redemption from, bondage may not be older than the seventh century, and the tradition that Jahweh first established intimate relations with Israel at the time of Abraham could be as late as the sixth century as against an eighth century tradition that this occurred first at the time of the Exodus, to cite only two of a number of examples. The author hopes that his conclusions “may be employed to advantage in the dating of anonymous passages in Scripture.”

This compact (98 page) study is excellently done. It is very well organized, thought through, and it is presented with admirable clarity. No word is wasted. Its single defect is its almost total disregard of current literature on the subject. But better an original study of the sources, even exclusively, than too much reliance upon secondary literature. Nevertheless, before he publishes the thesis, and the thesis is worthy of publication, the author should take cognizance of the current literature.

I heartily recommend the acceptance of this thesis.

Sheldon H. Blank, Referee

The Fatwa Against Rushdie

The Jewish Humanist, March 1989

A brilliant and creative writer, by the name of Salman Rushdie, has been condemned to death for writing a book that his accusers have not even read.

Ayatollah Khomeini has re-entered the political spotlight by ordering the execution of a secular intellectual of Muslim origin. Rushdie, an award-winning novelist of international fame, has been declared guilty of blasphemy, a crime worthy of death in fundamentalist circles. His book, Satanic Verses, innocently plays with Muslim myths, including the stories of Mohammed and his wives, in order to demonstrate the ambiguity of good and evil. To the secular reader the presentation is subtle, creative and brilliant. To the pious Muslim reader it is nothing short of an assault on God.

In the post-Enlightenment secularized world of the West such a book has a right to exist, even though it causes pain and discomfort to pious believers. Free speech is a fundamental liberty which even traditional religious people have come to accept. After all, it simply evens the score. For countless centuries religious leaders have had complete freedom to speak and write scurrilously about atheism and secularism, defaming its teachers and philosophers in the most outrageous way. “Blasphemy” can go both ways.

But in the Muslim world, which never experienced a true Enlightenment and where religion has never had the opportunity to adapt to a secular democratic world, free speech is difficult to comprehend. Insulting God, by denying the infallibility of his prophets and scripture, endangers not only the individuals who are guilty of blasphemy but also the society that tolerates it without adequate punishment. If the guilty are not removed all will suffer the wrath of Allah.

The crafty Khomeini is using the opportunity of this scandal to re-assert his pre-eminence in the Muslim world, especially after the debacle with Iraq. However it is a diversionary tactic, which runs counter to the recent attempts of some of his lieutenants to cozy up to the Western powers in the hope that Western financial help will now be available to rebuild the economy of Iran. Khomeini cannot have it both ways. He cannot threaten the West and seduce them into assisting him at the same time. Right now, being the angry voice of a militant Islam is more appealing.

Interestingly, his new terrorism is working. Booksellers, like Waldenbooks and Dalton, are refusing to sell Rushdie’s book. Governments, like Canada, are forbidding its import. Religious leaders with a few exceptions are choosing silence. The author has offered an abject apology (which has humiliatingly been rejected). Even the American president, who is hardly a favorite in Teheran where he enjoys the status of a condemned Satan, has chosen to speak softly. Only the European community has responded with some courage, although it still continues to import Persian oil.

At stake in this encounter is the future of free speech as well as the future of art and science. If intellectual and literary figures, whose creativity deviates from the norm of religious prosperity, can be placed on death lists by fundamentalist governments and the Western public – then free speech will be an ultimate victim of international terrorism.

The attitude that assumes that Khomeini is a passing crazy and does not deserve our courageous defiance is dangerous. When Khomeini dies, others equally crazy and fanatic, will follow. But once the posture of surrender is begun, once the defiance is mild rather than bold, the battle will be lost. It will just be easier to comply then resist. Dignity will seem less important than physical security.

It is, therefore, very important that we, as secularists and humanists, who will suffer most from fundamentalist intimidation, should not yield to these threats. It is important that we encourage publishers and booksellers not to yield and that we denounce and embarrass those who do. It is also important that we encourage the American government to speak out boldly against this intimidation and to institute sanctions. America’s caution will neither protect American hostages nor encourage pro-Western elements in the Iranian government.

Whether you approve or disapprove of Salman Rushdie is not the issue. Free speech is. And now is the time to defend it.

Jewish Book Month 1987

The Jewish Humanist,  November 1987

November is Jewish Book Month, a time to honor the literary creativity of contemporary Jewish writers – or to honor the writing of talented non-Jews who choose to write about Jews.

The best way to celebrate this special month is to read Jewish books – not just any old Jewish books, but good ones. In a country like America, where the Jewish literary establishment is very powerful, where Jewish culture and Jewish identity arouse widespread positive interest, and where successful writers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, vie for the attention of the large Jewish reading public, there is no shortage of appropriate books.

During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I chose readings from five new books to illustrate my presentations on ethics. Each of them is a book worth reading and discussing.

Here they are.

Power and Powerless by David Biale. Biale is a professor of Jewish history at the University of California in Berkeley. He proposes a provocative thesis that many modern Jews are not comfortable with, because it does not conform to the image of the Jew which they wish to present to the Gentile public. Jews usually see their historic experience as one of weakness and powerlessness, a continuous story of suffering and humiliation. This perception feeds into the need to appear as victims of powerful enemies and to solicit sympathy and pity. But Biale disowns this perception. He maintains that for most of Jewish history Jews were indeed powerful in the environments where they chose to live or found themselves. The power was usually not military. However, it might be economic. The history of the Jews, according to Biale, is not one long tale of woe. It is a story of the effective use of -talent and connections to make useful changes and to provide strong defenses. Although we Jews are often more comfortable with losing than with winning, we cannot understand our roots if we insist on projecting our present anxiety onto our past experience.

Out of Step by Sidney Hook. This book is the autobiography Sidney Hook, one of America most prominent humanist philosophers – and one of America’s mc controversial intellectuals. A child of Jewish New York, Hook became a Marxist radical during his student days at CCNY (the training ground of so much of the Jewish intellectual elite). In the decades that followed, as established his -credentials as philosopher and an academician, he repudiated his Marxist ideology and embraced a more moderate social democratic liberal posture. Throughout his career, given his strong Jewish attachments, he fought for the legitimacy of his Jewish atheistic position. Controversy entered his life during the Vietnam era and the radicals and championed the old liberal notion that a school of higher learning should be open to hearing all opinions, right and left – and should not become a political instrument of political radicals. Hook’s autobiography reveals that he still retains his feisty and acerbic style in his 80’s

Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies. This memoir is the story of the woman who befriended the Frank family in Amsterdam and supported them in their hiding place. An employee of Otto Frank, Miep was confronted with a terrifying moral choice. Should she risk her life and the life of her family to rescue Jewish friends? Her response was without hesitation. Even when her friends were arrested, she recklessly ran to Gestapo headquarters to appeal for their release. Her story dramatizes the moral courage of many Gentiles, who, to no personal advantage for themselves, chose to save Jews. What makes her memoir so powerful is that it is told with no self-conscious heroism.

The History of the Jews by Philip Johnson. Johnson has become a well-known popular historian, whose conservative opinions on the malaise of modern society have been enshrined in a series of successful books. Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions his style and the force of his opinions are of compelling interest. Given his ethnic background, it was surprising that he chose to devote such extensive research to the history of the Jews. But he is obviously fascinated by us and by our achievements. While his presentation of the early history of the Jews is dominated by a naive reliance on the truth of the Biblical myths, his analysis of the evolution of the Jews in the Diaspora is nothing less than brilliant. He is not troubled by the economic role of the Jew in both the Middle Ages and in the contemporary capitalist world. He finds it fascinating and deals with it realistically. This history is written by an admirer of the Jews – but not one overly sentimental or fawning.

To the Land of the Cattails by Aharon Appelfeld. Appelfeld is an Israeli who spent his youth in Bukovina in Eastern Europe. He is intimately familiar with the Holocaust and has devoted his writing career to dramatizing the devastation of his people through short somewhat surrealistic novels. Badenheim 1939 made him famous. And this novel follows in the same tradition. A Jewish woman is accompanied on her ill-omened trip to death by her adolescent son. Neither she, nor the people with her, are willing to acknowledge what is happening to them. All is denial. And this denial, in the midst of the most ominous warnings, is Appelfeld’s commentary on the Jewish response to the inconceivable horror of the Holocaust.

If you are looking for good Jewish reading, any one of the five will do.

Shulamit Aloni

The Jewish Humanist, May/June 1993


Aloni is the leader of the Meretz coalition in the Israeli Knesset She is the controversial Minister of Education and Culture, whose defense of a secular state has aroused the passionate hostility of the ultra-Orthodox. Over the past few months a public battle has been waged between liberals and religious conservatives over her membership in the Israeli government. The Orthodox want her head. The moderates see her as the one guarantee that the present regime will defend civil liberties and begin to dismantle the state support of traditional religion. This controversy has been featured on the front pages of most newspapers and given Aloni international fame.

Shula is a native Israeli who grew up in Jerusalem. Her early years were the formative years of the Jewish state. Reared in the secular Zionism of the Zionist pioneers, she hoped that the state of Israel would fulfill the humanistic dreams of the founders. To her dismay the Labor government of David Ben-Gurion compromised these ideals for political expediency and turned over the regulation of family life to the Orthodox. Her response to this betrayal was not the cynical resignation of most Labor politicians, but open defiance. She committed her life to politics, to feminism, to personal freedom and to the defense of the liberal democratic tradition of the modern Enlightenment.

This defiance was not easy. Given her talents and charisma, she could have, with little effort, achieved political power If had been willing to compromise the Integrity of her ideals. Her punishment was that she was banished by the leaders of the Labor Party to the periphery of Israeli political Golda Meir, in particular, was incensed her disobedience and by her embarrassing persistence. Golda, as Aloni points out, saw herself as the ultimate Jewish mother of the Jewish nation, whose children were not as wise as she was. When she encountered political resistance, especially within her own camp, her response could be ruthless. Golda believed that pursuing the cause of either feminism or civil liberties was a harmful division from the main task of Unifying the Israeli people in defense of the Jewish state against the Arab aggressors.

Shula expressed her defiance in many ways. She wrote books and newspaper articles and hosted a provocative radio show. She counseled the marriage and divorce victims of Orthodox law, finding creative ways for secular Jews to avoid Orthodox jurisdiction. She became a consumer advocate, mobilizing thousands of followers to press for domestic reform. She was elected to Knesset where she remained, for a long time, a sole advocate for women’s rights and Separation of religion and government. She organized a new political party, the Citizens Rights Movement (Ratz), which provided a clear public voice for the elementary personal freedom which we in America take for granted. For over a decade she was treated as a political pariah, a solo prophetic voice in a sea of cynics and chauvinists. But, in the last election, her party helped to create a coalition of the liberal left – Ratz and Mapam and Shinui – which named itself Merétz and went on to win ten seats in the Knesset. With Meretz, the Labor Party and Rabin were able to unseal the Likud and to achieve political supremacy. Aloni’s reward was the Ministry of Education and Culture, a crucial ministry which had been under Orthodox control in the previous government and which had wrought havoc with the secular curriculum of the state schools. The battle lines were now drawn, especially when she proclaimed that feministic values needed to re-enter the Israeli school system. She has now become the chief target of Orthodox hate. Even Rabin has wavered in support of her and has tried to censor her.’ Power has brought her no relief from continuous assault.

Now Shula is more to us than a brave Jewish defender of freedom and human dignity. She is the longtime friend of the Birmingham Temple and one of the founders of the Humanistic Jewish movement in Israel.

We first met her in 1979 when she consented to come from Israel to be our special guest at the annual meeting of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Her appearance was transforming. The rapport between her and her American audience was electric. We loved her from the start. And she loved us.

In 1981, enthusiastic about the prospects For Humanistic Judaism in Israel, she helped to organize a dialogue between secular Jews from America and secular Jews from Israel at Shefayim, a seaside kibbutz north of Tel Aviv. Many important Israeli intellectuals and writers attended. Within two years the Israeli Association for Secular Humanistic Judaism was born.

Shula’s coming is part of our celebration of our Temple’s thirtieth birthday anniversary. One of the best things that has happened to us in the past thirty years is that we made the Shula connection. Her participation in our celebration is testimony to the fact that Humanistic Judaism has an important part to play In the Jewish world.

Jewish Book Month 1986

The Jewish Humanist, November 1986

November is the month when we think about books we should be reading, especially books about Jewish history and Jewish culture, philosophy and ethics.

During the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services I either used or made reference to books which many people subsequently wanted to read. In response to their request I am presenting the following recommended reading list. Some of the books are easy to read. Others are painful. All are important.

Shcharansky by Martin Gilbert – This is a powerful biography of one of the genuine Jewish heroes of this century. As the son of a devoted communist, Shcharansky repudiated the life of comfortable conformity and became one of the Soviet Union’s most famous dissidents. Fearlessly challenging the Soviet government on human rights issues and demanding the right of emigration for himself and all Russian Jews who wanted to leave. Shcharansky was ultimately imprisoned and subjected to torture and humiliation. The story of his personal resistance – with its extraordinary courage and with its intensification of his Jewish identity is inspirational reading. Gilbert, the historian of the Holocaust, relied heavily for his information on the letters Shcharansky wrote to his wife Avital while in jail.

The Affair by Jean-Marie Brevin – Brevin is a successful French lawyer who is fascinated with the famous Dreyfus Affair and the political drama which surrounded it. When an obscure Jewish officer is convicted in 1894 of giving military secrets to the German enemy, France explodes into a mighty confrontation between those who think him innocent and those who think him guilty. The Anti -Dreyfusards want to use his conviction and the anti-Semitism which accompanies it to overthrow the fragile Third Republic and replace it with the elitist rule of monarchy, army and church. The Pro-Dreyfusards, like Emile Zola, want to use the case to promote a secular democratic state. The details of the story are so compelling that you cannot put the book down once you start reading it.

Shoah, a documentary with Claude Lanzman – No film has more devastatingly revealed the horror of the Holocaust than this production by this eccentric French Jewish director. Using none of the usual “body scenes” of most Holocaust presentations, Lanzmann relies only on the verbal testimony of victims and observers. The imagination of the viewer takes over from there. The most powerful scene – recorded in this book version of the movie script – is the interview with the barber from Czestochowa who is spared at Treblinka to cut the hair of other victims before gassing. The Jews were turned into the executioners of their own people.

Arab and Jew by David Shipler – Few books have revealed the di lemma of modern Israel more than this powerful commentary by the former New York Times reporter in Jerusalem. Two nations – Arab and Jew – live within the boundaries of the Jewish state. How do they see each other? How strong is their mutual fear and anger? What are the possibilities for mutual understanding and reconciliation? Shipler attempts to answer these questions through his assessment of dozens of Jews and Arabs from every walk of life and from every political and religious persuasion. The revelations are startling and frightening. The most pathetic story is the tale of love between a Palestinian radical woman and a Jewish right-wing Likudnik who discover that there is too much hate to allow for their love. No book has presented the problem of mutual intolerance more vividly and more dramatically.

Falling in Love by Francesco Alberoni – This Italian classic, recently translated into English, allows sociologist Alberoni to explore the meaning of love. He makes a very sharp distinction between falling in love with all its anguish and euphoria and love itself. Falling in love he regards as a disease. It happens to people who are experiencing strong senses of personal inadequacy and who project unrealistically on to the beloved what they themselves do not think they have but want for themselves. The result is that most romantic- love, like most revolutionary fervor, ends in disappointment. Or it may resolve itself into something healthier and realistic, which he calls love. Alberoni’s exploration is a unique assessment of an important emotion.

World’s Fair by E. L. Doctorow – A novel by Doctorow is always a treat, especially when it is a nostalgia trip. A Jewish boy in New York in 1939 (most likely Doctorow himself) is taken to that wondrous vision of the future called the World’s Fair. The naive excitement of an enthusiastic child allows the wonder and innocence of the reader himself to reawaken.

Happy reading!


In some ways, Sherwin Wine’s life experience demonstrated the need for and importance of his philosophy of life and Judaism. In A Life of Courage: Sherwin Wine and Humanistic Judaism, a celebratory volume published for Wine’s semi-retirement in 2003, two short biographies were written. This one, by his long-time collaborator, organizer and implementer Marilyn Rowens, sets the context for his life and work.

Biography – Marilyn Rowens from Life of Courage

Each of us tastes the bitter loneliness of the human condition. To be an individual is to stand apart and sense the separation that makes every person unique. In a soul where instinct has yielded to the challenge of free choice, decision is personal. Neither the tyranny of the species nor the oppression of society can dictate our will without our moment of consent. Birds and flowers conform to their race and offer no resistance. But human beings are plagued by the unpredictable freedom of our conscious mind. Each of us is distinct and different, defined by the path of our behavior. Within the limits of our possibility we can become what we will to become. Within the boundaries of our talents we can achieve what we choose to achieve. The open possibility of our future is a frightening excitement. We can withdraw in fear and seek to hide from its reality; or we can boldly assume its challenge and bravely confront destiny with the courage of free individuals. -Sherwin Wine, Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism

When Rabbi Sherwin Wine spoke those words during a Birmingham Temple service in 1976, he was already on a historic journey toward creating a new worldwide religion. Meditation Services was in its third printing in 1976 and the building of the Birmingham Temple, completed five years earlier in Farmington Hills, Michigan, was home to more than 400 families.

A people-centered Judaism—a Judaism that embraced Jewish culture, that was a beautiful marriage between Jewish historical literature and modern Jewish thinkers of the Enlightenment—had become a bold adventure for the young rabbi who had been born, in 1928, into a world of tradition in a vibrant Jewish neighborhood in Detroit.

Humanistic Judaism was created by Rabbi Sherwin Wine at the Birmingham Temple, and from that foundation, from that special place, grew and blossomed an awe-inspiring approach to Jewish life that embraced the reality of the human condition and valued and loved the umbilical connection to the Jewish people. In the forty years from 1963—when Rabbi Wine and several families established a new kind of Judaism in Detroit—to 2003, Secular Humanistic Judaism has become a worldwide movement.


What was it like for a young boy growing up in the late 1930s in the Detroit neighborhood near Clairmount and 12th Streets? That intersection represented the heart of Yiddish language and culture: the Jewish bakery, the Jewish butcher shop, the delicatessen, and other small-business storefronts were the centers for conversation. Customers and visitors could listen to political arguments, hear stories from the “old country,” and learn about socialism, communism, and Zionism, while at the same time absorbing how to become fully Americanized and assimilated into a secular urban world. One summer during that period, Sherwin spent a week at a fresh-air camp sponsored by the Jewish Community Center. His counselors would remember a handsome young boy with thick black hair and bright dark eyes, always curious, reading in his cabin. Already at nine he had memorized all the European monarchs and knew the population of every major city in the United States. At home he listened to the radio. He heard Hitler’s speeches; his hero was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Without question, Jewish culture, political history, and American society were major influences on his emerging worldview.

Sherwin was growing up in a world of Jewish religious orientation, but he was also surrounded by many other philosophical influences. Radical Reform Judaism, brought to the United States by German immigrants, was going through a transition. The Ethical Culture movement was burgeoning. The Eastern European neighbors who argued on the street corners came from backgrounds of socialism and Yiddish nationalism, and they took full advantage of the freedom of expression in America. World-famous rabbi and philosopher Mordecai Kaplan was constructing Reconstructionism and progressive American educator John Dewey was becoming the priest of public education, while the young Sherwin Wine sat in the synagogue.

Walking hand in hand with their father, Sherwin and his sister Lorraine went to Shaarey Zedek, a conservative congregation on Chicago Boulevard, every Saturday. Sitting in shul, Sherwin listened to the words of the Torah, sang the songs of his people, and internalized Judaism. He was mesmerized by the new young assistant rabbi, Morris Adler. With his tremendous oratorical presence, Rabbi Adler had the power and charisma to reach the heart of a young Jewish boy. But the questions emanating from that boy’s mind could not be contained. Why? Why? William Wine, Sherwin’s father, answered, Freg nit—don’t ask.

Sherwin’s parents came to the United States from Poland. They came to the goldene medina, the country where the streets were paved with gold. They came to escape the tyranny of the Russian army and the onset of World War I. They came to a new land to live a life of freedom not unlike the many thou-sands of immigrants that peopled the Jewish neighborhoods in cities across the United States. Growing up, Sherwin fervently absorbed the many flavors of American life—political thought, religious belief, modern culture—he was exposed to in his neighborhood. Detroit, home of the auto factories, also held for Sherwin the wonder and enlightenment of the public school system, as well as the pain of antisemitism as epitomized by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A curious nine-year-old started his life’s journey early: even at that young age, Sherwin was a keen observer of his neighborhood, his city, his world.

Each of us is the total of his yesterdays. Layers of experience rise in bold succession to build the personal present out of past performance. While the trauma of life shakes our soul and makes it quiver with each repetition, the heavy hands of strong events mold our minds to their conviction. For we can never escape our memories nor elude the imprints of daily experience. The power of our nostalgia always compromises the purity of our desire and the freedom of our decision. – Sherwin Wine, Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism

The American public school system was a gift to the first- and second-generation immigrant. The open doors of the public schools proclaimed, Come in to us and become an American. Sherwin Wine loved school. He learned civics, citizenship, and American history. He grew up with Jewish ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but he adopted with a passion Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. His Gentile spinster teachers became heroes to Sherwin, and they encouraged him to find intellectual challenges in debate, theater, and poetry. He was a brilliant student both at school and at home. At home he immersed himself in the written word: daily newspapers, library books, textbooks, and encyclopedias. The radio gave him current history. He was aware of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Churchill later became a role model in courage for him, at least in part because, through efforts to provide temporary refuge to Jewish children from Germany and Poland, England became one of the only countries helping the Jews. Even before his bar mitsva, Sherwin was advocating and debating the importance of the United States entering the war.


Sherwin’s ties to the Jewish people, his roots in that community, always informed his thinking. Although his parents were often silent on subjects he quizzed them about, they shared with him their experiences in the Polish shtetl and the worry of his grandfather that the “Jews would be wiped out.” He was fascinated by current events and by what preceded them, and it was only natural that in high school he excelled in history. Central High School, filled as it was in those years with second-generation Jewish immigrants, was a hotbed of ambition and intellectual striving. These children of immigrants were held to the expectation that they would succeed academically: they lived in the United States, the free world, and they had access to universities and career opportunities never even dreamed of by their parents. The adolescents in the old Jewish neighborhood who hung out at the Avalon Theater and Zukins Ice Cream Shop went on to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, scientists, and teachers.

Sherwin’s successful high school years were not without the pain of World War II. The death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was embedded in his memory. He was still very devoted to his religious connections, but even with his father’s continued admonishment, freg nit, he did ask, he did question, he did struggle with major philosophical issues, with ethical and moral choices, with who he was and who he wanted to be. It was later, at the University of Michigan, that he put a name to this questioning and discovered his great love for philosophy.

To live courageously is to live without guarantees, to make decisions without waiting for every fact, to take action without knowing all the consequences. Brave people do not need the illusions of absolute certainty. They will think before acting. But they will never think so much and so long that it is too late to act.

Courage is the refusal to wait for what will never come. It is the willingness to choose when it is time to choose. -Sherwin Wine, Celebration

Sherwin had excellent professors at the University of Michigan, and for a time he considered getting his doctorate in philosophy and staying in the academic world. But his interests went beyond philosophy; he had also discovered in himself a very strong quality of leadership, which he had exhibited in so many ways throughout his high school and college years: helping and advising friends, negotiating problems in the college dorm, discussing with sensitivity and insight people’s innermost problems. Sociology and psychology were favorite paths for many of his university peers who felt as he did a need to reach out to the world, to help make it better—the Jewish philosophy of tikkun olam, repairing the world. Sherwin’s early memories of Rabbi Morris Adler were never far from his consciousness. Adler’s charisma, power, and influence over a large congregation stirred Sherwin’s questioning mind. Could he also become a rabbi? He had already discovered that he was a humanist, that his connection to his ancestors was unyielding but cultural. He made a decision to attend Hebrew Union College, a seminary for Reform Judaism. Perhaps within the Reform movement he could blend his personal philosophy with a modern Judaism.


Jewish history is four thousand years of Jewish experience. It is the sum total of all the pleasure and pain, triumphs and defeats, fulfilled dreams and disappointments which have entered into our memories through centuries of struggle and striving.

The Jewish experience is the experience of change. – Sherwin Wine, Celebration

The decision to attend Hebrew Union College came only after serious deliberation. How could he become a rabbi if he did not believe in God? He considered many careers, thinking perhaps law would be a wise choice. After his father’s death in 1948, he reaffirmed his deep connection to his Jewish roots. His loyalty to his father’s Judaism, his own love of history, and the memorable impact of Rabbi Morris Adler as a community leader and a role model led him to a career in the Jewish rabbinate.

In 1951 Sherwin entered Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, leaving his familiar neighborhood in Detroit. By this time, the postwar building boom had begun. Families were moving farther from the core of the city. Folksinger Pete Seeger sang about “little boxes in the ticky tacky” suburbs. Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote about the phenomenon of the American nuclear family, predicting that it would be short-lived. The nuclear family, made up of a husband, wife, and 2.5 children, peopled all these grassy new neighborhoods. Attending temple or synagogue was socially encouraged, and all the moms and daughters wore their white gloves and hats. The times were definitely traditional and conformist, but Sherwin was a devout humanist studying at a Reform seminary.


Sherwin was at the seminary when another war, the Korean War, began. Hebrew Union encouraged its graduates to serve in the army as chaplains even after the war ended. Sherwin was inducted into the army six months after graduation. In January 1957, at the age of twenty-nine, Rabbi Wine became First Lieutenant Sherwin Wine. At that point, his world travels began, and they have never ceased.

If Jewish history has any message, it is the demand of human self-reliance. In an indifferent universe there is no help from des-tiny. Either we assume responsibility for our fate or no one will. A world without divine guarantees and divine justice is a little bit frightening. But it is also the source of human freedom and dignity. -Sherwin Wine, Celebration

When Sherwin joined the military, the Korean War had been over for several years, but numerous U.S. troops were still stationed there in the wake of the armistice. Young Jewish boys away from home welcomed the arrival of a chaplain from a background similar to their own. First Lieutenant Wine, himself new to a very different culture, became a popular Jewish chaplain.

Korea opened Sherwin’s mind and heart in so many ways. Serving as chaplain to the young Jewish soldiers reinforced his unique and changing approach to Judaism. Prayer and meditation were not high on the GIs’ list of needs. What they welcomed and appreciated in their young Jewish chap-lain was his ability to speak directly to their concerns, to listen to their voices, and to appreciate who they were as individuals. His meetings with them—he searched out many GIs in remote areas—were special times for sharing personal issues. He also set up lectures on topics of interest to them, providing intellectual stimulus and a time to share the comfort of their Jewish memories. Their Friday night services were more cultural than religious. Sherwin’s distinct leadership style and easy rapport with the troops reached out to the inner needs of these Jewish boys living in a strange land. He enjoyed representing Judaism and trying to make it relevant and meaningful to those soldiers overseas. He was able to provide the young soldiers with a connection to their deepest Jewish roots as well as helping them navigate the uncertainties of the human condition posed by the postwar world they were guarding. Most of all, he shared laughter with them. Sherwin’s exceptional sense of humor, expressed not by telling jokes or stories but by listening and laughing with the troops, gave those young men a sense of home and family.

Sherwin’s experience as a Jewish chaplain provided the seeds that would one day blossom into a humanistic rabbinate. For Sherwin, Korea was his initiation to the many worlds and cultures he had read about in books and to which he would travel continuously over the next forty years.

We will not run away from wisdom even though it comes from strange lands and strange people. Our bravery is our dignity. It feeds our strength. If old laws no longer fit, we will revise them. If old postures keep us from moving gracefully, we will find a new way to walk. A free world makes tradition only one of many options. There is more to life than imitation. Our ancestors created. So can we. -Sherwin Wine, High Holidays for Humanists


When his time in the military ended, Rabbi Wine packed away his army uniform and returned to a position as assistant rabbi at Temple Beth El, located at Woodward and Gladstone in Detroit. He enjoyed the opportunity of sharing a large congregation and introducing interesting programs. His sermons, his sense of humor, and his storytelling for children captivated many young families. But the traditional liturgy became increasingly uncomfortable for him. After eighteen months, Sherwin resigned and took a pulpit in Windsor, Ontario, with a new congregation, also called Beth El, which held the promise of developing a more modern Judaism. The Windsor congregation grew under his tutelage. But then he received a call from former Beth El congregants in Detroit, a couple who were disenchanted with Beth El and wanted to meet with him to discuss creating a new suburban-Detroit temple.

Jews in 1963 were moving north of Detroit. Young couples had settled in Oak Park, Huntington Woods, Franklin, Farmington Hills, and Birmingham. When Harry and Suzanne Velick and seven other couples met with Rabbi Wine in 1963, not even Sherwin realized what the future held for them. Eight couples and a rabbi decided to create a new Reform temple. Sherwin met with the core group on Sunday nights, planning the beginning. New people were attracted to the idea, and their numbers grew. On Sunday, September 15, 1963 (Sunday instead of Friday because Sherwin was still committed to the temple in Windsor), a first service was held, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

It was not until a few months later that the real process of change began. A temple was created, a board of directors was established, and the Ritual Committee, chaired by Rabbi Wine, began to explore what these new members really believed. Meetings were held on Sunday nights throughout the metropolitan Detroit community. More and more people became aware of Rabbi Wine and this new temple. Space was rented in the Birmingham Masonic Temple. Sherwin owned a small Torah that was carried back and forth. And during this initial growth period, the discussions of philosophy, Judaism, and the meaning of God continued after each meeting and after each service until the early hours of the morning.

Was God the ideal in mankind? Was God the angry God of the prophets? Was God the salvation God of the rabbis? Was God the limited God of John Dewey and Mordecai Kaplan? Was God just another name for nature?

Judaism must be affirmed as a cultural and aesthetic framework in which a variety of philosophic outlooks are possible. Both mystic theism and empirical humanism should feel equally at home. Jewish custom and ceremony are an adjustable poetry, capable of embracing a wide spectrum of human values and experiences. -Sherwin Wine, Celebration

The congregation named itself the Birmingham Temple because the group often met in Birmingham and some members lived there. Rabbi Wine and the Ritual Committee established that the Birmingham Temple believed in Humanistic Judaism, a Judaism that was people-centered rather than God-centered; a Judaism that affirmed that moral and ethical problems were solved from within each individual, not with the assistance of a supernatural force; a Judaism that believed in the strength of ordinary Jewish people to survive a history of persecution.

A line was drawn in the sand between Reform and Humanistic Judaism. The new Humanistic Jewish community wanted to write their own meditations, using words they did not have to reinterpret, words that reflected what they believed. It was an act of courage for Rabbi Wine and the members of his new congregation to make the decision to exclude God-language from their liturgy.


People give meaning to the universe. If we call to the stars and say “tell us the purpose of life,” the stars are silent. If we caress the earth and ask, “what shall we do,” the earth gives no reply. If we pursue the wind and plead, “let us know the path we must follow,” the wind has no answer…. People give meaning to the universe. -Sherwin Wine, Celebration

Almost immediately, the Jewish com-munity was up in arms. On January 29, 1965, Time magazine wrote about the “atheist rabbi.” Letters of criticism came in from the local community. Letters of support arrived too, not only from the United States but also from around the world. For the most part, however, the local response was one of ostracism. Reform Rabbi Leon Fram wanted Sherwin excommunicated. Some of the Birmingham Temple members left because of hostility from their friends and family, but many others stayed. Sherwin Wine’s response was one of defiance.

He was and is a man of strong opinions, and this kind of confrontation energized him. He was determined to grow his community in spite of local Jewish condemnation. Like a locomotive, he forged forward. Some people on the tracks jumped off, but those who became passengers remained for the journey of a lifetime. Sherwin’s keen sense of humor was an effective tool not only for him personally, but also for the congregation to use in dealing with disapproval from others.

Jewish humor is the legacy of the Jewish experience. It did not arise from the Bible or the Talmud. It did not come down from priests, prophets and rabbis. It did not emerge from famous texts and famous writers. Jewish humor is the response of ordinary Jewish people to the extraordinary horrors of Jewish history. In the face of an uncaring and unjust world, we Jews learned to laugh rather than to surrender and die. – Sherwin Wine, Celebration

The Birmingham Temple expanded successfully over the next several years. Enrollment in the Sunday school grew to more than 175 children. Sherwin left Beth El in Windsor, and Birmingham Temple services were held on Friday nights. The first edition of Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism was compiled and published.

In spite of the qualms expressed by tradition-minded Jews, the religious climate in the Detroit metropolitan area was ripe for change. Who were the young people joining the temple? They were second- and third-generation Jews who had benefited from the opportunities of a university education and choice of profession. They were children during World War II and young adults in the 1960s, a time when all authority was questioned. A time of mobility, with people moving from city to city. A time of student rebellion, riots, assassinations. A time to protest the Vietnam War. A time to march for civil rights.

These young parents wanted a new Judaism for their children. They wanted honesty and the values they had absorbed in the secular urban environment in which they lived. They wanted a community of like-minded people who would be their friends and extended family. And so the temple grew to more than 400 families, and the loyal supporters helped to create materials, committees, and the new philosophy of Humanistic Judaism.

Sherwin Wine’s sister Lorraine and her husband Ben were loyal supporters from the beginning. Ben and Lorraine Pivnick supported Rabbi Wine emotionally, financially, and even physically, by always being there. They would continue to remain an important part of the Birmingham Temple and the development of the Secular Humanistic Jewish movement.

The congregation, having been expelled from the Masonic Temple building, had to find a new place to meet, and for a time, the meeting site rotated among several different places: the Birmingham Unitarian Church, Eagle Elementary School, High Meadow School, Frost Junior High. Sherwin’s mother, Tillie Wine, referred to members as “gypsies,” and the idea of a “home of their own” became an important part of Sherwin’s vision. In September 1971, services were held in the new building at 28611 West 12 Mile Road, in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Jewishness is more than a conventional nod to old belief; it is the push of the past and the irresistible attraction of romantic roots. Samson and Samuel, Joshua and Joab may be dim figures of vanished years; but they are also firm links to the chain of our personality. The biography of each of us is not confined to the brief events of our own life; it transcends our time and adds the feel of former years. Since tradition is part of our uniqueness it deserves our wise respect. If it plays the taskmaster and beats us with the whip of conformity, then we shall with justice resist its malice; but if it acts the teacher and guides us gently to wisdom, we shall embrace it with the tribute of consent. – Sherwin Wine, Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism

During the early 1970s, a volunteer support group of women contributed tremendously to the rapid growth of the Birmingham Temple. This era was a transitional time in American history concerning the roles of women. The feminist movement was not yet widespread; Betty Freidan was not yet being read in every suburban kitchen. But the women members of the Birmingham Temple became Sunday school teachers, committee chairs, board members, and a dynamic source of creative energy for the development of Humanistic Judaism. Friendships were created, and the temple family grew.

Rabbi Wine’s lectures and constant encouragement provided the environment in which the philosophy of Humanistic Judaism flourished. Humanistic Judaism was not created in a vacuum. Jewish history is the history of change. The secularization of America, the influence of the Enlightenment, the impact of Zionism, the questioning of Jewish tradition after World War II and the Holocaust: all led to a need in the Jewish world for a Jewish identity that could blend with a personal philosophy of life. The early years of the temple had less to do with pulling away from God than with pulling together to form a community of “believers” in a humanistic and rational approach to life. The members were a generation of searchers. They had had the opportunity of education and living in a free society. They wanted their children to soar; they wanted to give them wings at a time when having wings meant flying away from tradition toward a universal world of wonder, science, and beauty. Rabbi Wine created meditations, poetry, and ritual to express congregants’ deepest human struggles and their attachment to the traditional Jewish world of their youth.


Rabbi Wine was called upon to lecture all across the country. Responses to his lectures and press coverage resulted in national interest and support. The next step for the ambitious rabbi was outreach to the general community. Coalitions were formed with other secular Jews, unaffiliated Jews who were not connected to organizations but were motivated to proclaim their Jewish identity with pride. A sense of solidarity with Israel increased for many Jews following the Yom Kippur War, creating a powerful urge to establish a stronger Jewish identity. In its initial years, the Society for Humanistic Judaism—created in 1969 to mobilize communities to celebrate Jewish identity and Jewish culture with a humanistic philosophy—began the serious work of outreach and community-building in other cities.

Sherwin also connected with other like-minded humanist organizations. It was the beginning of the real growth of coalitions of secular groups that had previously operated independently. A list of “alphabet soup” organizations, which have become Sherwin’s trademark, began to appear so rapidly that it was hard to define which meeting was being called to order. Rabbi Wine’s energy level could easily handle the multitude of meetings. His organizational skills were unparalleled. A first “Conference on Humanism” held at Oakland University in Michigan attracted stellar speakers and numerous participants. It was an exciting time for members of the temple and for so many unaffiliated humanists to come together and discuss and question: What is authentic in life, what is authentic in the human being? This first conference was not only the beginning of a strong philosophy of Humanistic Judaism, but also the nucleus for future connections with the larger world of humanism. Sherwin had the great talent of bringing people together. The list of organizations grew and grew:

  • Birmingham Temple (BT)
  • Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ)
  • Association of Humanistic Rabbis (AHR)
  • Center for New Thinking (CNT)
  • Humanist Institute (HI)
  • North American Committee for Humanism (NACH)
  • International Association of Humanist Educators Counselors and

Leaders (IAHECL)

  • TECHILA (formerly Israeli Society for Humanistic Judaism)
  • Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews (LCSHJ)
  • International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews (IFSHJ)
  • International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism (IISHJ)
  • Voice of Reason (VOR)
  • Conference on Liberal Religion (CLR)
  • Clergy and Citizens United (CCU)

All of the above organizations began with the very close supervision of Rabbi Wine; as they grew, they became more autonomous but never far from his influence. Simultaneously the Birmingham Temple expanded and became an established and accepted alternative in the Detroit Jewish community.

The literature of our people is an encyclopedia of many ideas. Some of them sprang from Jewish minds. Some of them were borrowed from the neighbors of our ancestors and the loan forgotten. Our religious tradition has been a matter of give and take.… We are the products of universal wisdom. – Sherwin Wine, Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism

Only part of Sherwin’s inexhaustible energy has gone into creating organizations and establishing communities. He is also a prolific writer. His articles appear monthly in the Birmingham Temple newsletter, The Jewish Humanist; quarterly in the Society for Humanistic Judaism’s journal, Humanistic Judaism; and twice a year in the International Federation Newsletter, Hofesh. He is the author of several books, including Celebration, Judaism Beyond God, Humanistic Judaism, and Staying Sane in a Crazy World. He lectures at least three or four times a week locally, he travels across the country to teach seminars several times a year, and he is the core faculty for training rabbis at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Those who have heard him speak know that Sherwin has a unique lecture style. He is able to present and teach the most difficult subject, somehow making it easy for his audience to understand. He is able to synthesize information and explain ideas in a dramatic and powerful way. This talent has enabled him to stimulate people to cooperate with each other in visionary endeavors, and he empowers others to act on their own to create philosophical connections, com-munities, and organizations. And this is only his public persona. As a counselor and a friend, he has a special gift. He is able to touch people deeply; he knows which questions to ask and he is an intent listener. He can walk into a room and light it up. His incredible sense of humor generates laughter, but, more important, he possesses the ability to sweep away melancholy.

Sherwin Wine, however, is not a saint. He is often a taskmaster with an exceedingly rigid set of standards for himself and others. He has no patience with wishy-washy endless discussion. He is a man of action who is more than willing to make a decision first and consult later. For forty years, this style has served him well; this style has enabled his visions to become realities. He is a natural leader: to paraphrase the old commercial, When Sherwin speaks, people listen. His congenial arrogance is sometimes abrasive, but it is also a key ingredient in many of his relationships. His peers, his congregants, the couples he counsels and marries, the boards of organizations he has created all give consideration to his ideas and suggestions and decisions he may have already made.

Sherwin’s daily agenda and schedule would be tiring even if divided among three people. Sleep does not seem to be a priority. Weather permitting, Sherwin walks every morning; when he’s in New York, he walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. He lectures, attends meetings, and is a sought-after speaker for community groups, clubs, elder hostels, retreats, and college campuses. He may not be totally tireless—occasionally he is caught napping when someone else is the speaker or while sitting in a dark theater during an opera. But when he is speaking in front of an audience, listening intently to others’ problems, or helping to solve a critical situation, he is 100 percent involved: supportive, helpful, and inspiring. He believes that “people are their behavior,” and he is the prime example of that concept: he is an optimistic friend, a rational counselor, a stimulating and affective teacher, and a loyal shoulder to lean on. Living life well is his daily challenge.

We are the survivors of two billion years of vital evolution. We are not miniature gods. We are not manufactured puppets. We are not visitors from outer space. We are the proud culmination of an epic of struggle. The earth is our home. We know it intimately. Its plants and animals are our cousins. Like them we have tested the kindness and cruelty of nature. Our brutal setting has made us strong. We have many talents for survival. Our brains, our limbs and our senses cooperate to make us a hardy fighter for life. We are not the heirs of the passive and the resigned. We are the children of action. We are the offspring of the will to live. – Sherwin Wine, High Holidays for Humanists

Over a period of forty years, contacts, friendships, and outreach efforts contributed to the process of creating the movement for Secular Humanistic Judaism. Not long after the Society for Humanistic Judaism was established, three groups—representatives from the Humanistic Jewish congregations in Westport, Connecticut, and Deerfield, Illinois, as well as from the Birmingham Temple—held a first meeting at the Northland Inn in Michigan. The society now boasts more than thirty-nine communities in North America. In 1981 a meeting was held in Israel at Shefayim kibbutz. It was the beginning of cooperation between Israel and the society. The early years of the society with Sherwin directing traffic resulted in many more conferences, the creation of Humanistic Judaism, the quarterly journal published by the society, and strong emotional connections between each developing community.

In 1982 Sherwin called a meeting of other Jewish secular organizations as well as the Society for Humanistic Judaism: the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, Polizion, Workmen’s Circle, the Labor Zionists of America, and Americans for Progressive Israel. That was the beginning of the Leader ship Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews, which marked the first time that so many separate secular groups sat together in one room to proclaim solidarity and to cooperate to create a publication of secular humanistic writing.

In 1985, at a meeting in Jerusalem at the American Colony Hotel, representatives from North America, Israel, and Latin America established the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. It had become apparent that in order for Secular Humanistic Judaism to have a future and be able to maintain members in a democratic and secular world, leaders would have to be trained. The institute became the educational arm of what was then the beginning of an international movement.

In 1986 representatives from eleven countries came together at the Birmingham Temple, and the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews was born. More than 350 people—local, national and international— gathered for the federation’s first leadership training seminar and conference. Speakers from France, Latin America, Israel, and North America, whose backgrounds were flavored by the Enlightenment, postwar secularism, Zion-ism, and the Holocaust, spoke from the heart about a shared philosophy: a Judaism of the twentieth century that embraced the culture, history, roots, and essence of the Jewish people; a Judaism that did not rely on a belief in the supernatural but on reason and the responsibility of human beings to create for themselves and others a life of good deeds and a better world.

The Jewish experience is the experience of change.

The power of people is the power of change. Circumstances never stay the same. Culture never stays the same. Judaism was created by Jewish people. It was molded by the Jewish experience. It was flavored by Jewish sadness and Jewish joy.

Holidays are responses to human events. Ceremonies are celebrations of human development. Music and literature are the expressions of human needs. Life is an evolution, a continuous flow of transformation. And so is culture. When circumstances change, people change. When people change, their laws and customs change. – Sherwin Wine, Celebration

Sherwin Wine is a man of social action. All of the organizations Rabbi Wine created had a focus and purpose. In addition to maintaining coalitions with the humanist world and the secular Jewish cultural world, he also encouraged confrontation in response to injustice and fundamentalist irrationality. A firm believer in separation of church and state, civil rights, individual rights, and personal freedom, Sherwin developed such social action organizations as the Voice of Reason, the Conference on Liberal Religion, and later, Clergy and Citizens United. His ability to recruit outstanding allies and specialists in their fields enabled these organizations to make an impact in the community. His motivation to fix the world had its roots in the traditional Jewish influence of tikkun olam.

The 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s were full of the excitement of the growth of Secular Humanistic Judaism. North American conferences were held, and meetings of the International Federation took place in Brussels, Chicago, Israel, Moscow, Paris, and New York, where, in the fall of 2000, a permanent office of the federation was established.


Rabbi Wine has devoted his life not only to making Humanistic Judaism a viable alternative in the Jewish world, but also to lecturing, teaching, and enriching others. All of the federation conferences have included a lecture series and a personal tour with him through each city. His incredible historical knowledge, his love of travel, and his need to learn about other cultures and people has provided him with yet another trademark: The Sherwin Wine Trip. A yearly fundraiser for the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism—open to the general public—the Sherwin Wine Trip is the equivalent of a traveling history class and a participatory documentary.

Does Sherwin ever stop? This question has been asked many times by all those who work with him and love him. His energy is endless, his enthusiasm is genuine, and he always makes time to listen to his congregants, his friends, and his critics. But one month of the year belongs to him. Each summer Sherwin and his life partner of twenty-five years, Richard McMains, travel together. The trips have been logged from Turkey to Timbuktu, from India to Japan, from Egypt to Siberia. Sherwin and Richard have traveled the world together. Since his first taste of the wonders of travel during his military service in Korea, Rabbi Wine has absorbed the politics, the culture, the architecture, the history, the pain and struggle, and the heartbeat of people all over the world.

Societies may undergo revolutions and violent social upheaval; they may experience the overthrow of every existing value and idea. But the explosion is powerless to alter the relentless sequence of spring, summer, fall, winter—birth, puberty, maturity, and death. Nothing is more “eternal” than the seasons. Their continual repetition is an ultimate “security.” – Sherwin Wine, Humanistic Judaism


The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, established in 1985, became the important educational arm of the movement. The need for communities to have leaders—the key to ensuring a future for Secular Humanistic Judaism—was the motivation for the development of the Leadership Program, designed to train those leaders. New Humanistic communities needed specialists in ceremony and holiday celebration in order to grow.

Established secular groups wanted to make sure that they had educators, spokespersons, and trained leaders to keep secular Jewishness alive. Dedicated volunteers in the institute representing the Society for Humanistic Judaism and the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations worked diligently and created the Leadership Program, which became the most successful pro-gram of the institute. Rabbi Wine was the organizing force and energy that propelled the institute into the twenty-first century.

Again with the generous help of Ben and Lorraine Pivnick, and with matching funds from the Birmingham Temple, an addition to the temple was built to house the Pivnick Center for Humanistic Judaism. The Pivnick Center became the headquarters of the institute, hosting seminars and meetings and housing administration offices and the Milan Library.

Certified leaders, also known as vegvayzer or madrikhim, were trained and graduated from the institute. They then went out to their communities to reinforce and rekindle the flames of Secular Humanistic Judaism.

In 1990 the Institute initiated a five-year rabbinic program. Classes were held weekly in the institute’s Milan Library. Rabbi Wine was the core faculty. Arrangements were made with the University of Michigan to engage guest faculty members from its Judaic Studies department, and the rabbinic program began to take concrete shape.

By October 2001, the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism had ordained four rabbis. By virtue of the acknowledgement and recognition from the United Jewish Communities, three of the rabbis serve on the Detroit Metropolitan Council of Rabbis, and the fourth will be recognized in Washington, D.C.


The International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews met for its ninth biennial conference in September 2002. An enthusiastic assembly from Israel, France, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Ireland, Latin America, England, Germany, and North America (plus greetings from Russia and Australia)—all interested in building communities—indicated a promising future for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Sherwin Wine is not the Wizard of Oz. He does not stand behind the curtain and pull levers. He has worked industriously to promote and make available to Jews all over the world a Judaism rooted in personal strength; a people-centered Judaism; a Judaism that embraces Jewish history and literature, culture and ethics; a Judaism that speaks to the needs of a cyberspace world and at the same time loves and recognizes with devoted attachment the wisdom and tradition of ancestors.

In the twentieth century, the true meaning of Jewish identity has been dramatized. It is no pious call to faith and humility. It is no saccharine invitation to prayer and worship. It is a summons to all that modern humanism stands for. If a people will not assume responsibility for its “fate” and its “destiny,” no one else will. If human beings will not take charge of their own happiness, the indifferent forces of the universe may arrange for human suffering. Reason and dignity are not built into the structure of the world. They are difficult human achievements. – Sherwin Wine, Judaism Beyond God

In May 2003 Rabbi Wine was honored with the Humanist of the Year award from the American Humanist Association, an organization that has joined with him in so many of the challenges and accomplishments of the last forty years. His enthusiastic unwavering voice for Judaism and humanism is cause for public appreciation and celebration.

The achievements of Sherwin Wine, summarized in the alphabet soup of organizations he founded, rely on who he is as a man, and as a human being. Sherwin never stopped being a philosophy major. He is a student of ethical behavior, an avid reader who maintains a constant passion for knowledge. The Birmingham Temple library is filled wall to wall with the books he has read and reviewed. His broad and deep knowledge is extraordinary. His lectures include spontaneous map drawings to help him clarify his topics. Rabbi Wine is a great teacher, in large measure because he loves to teach.

In his role as a rabbi, Sherwin meets the needs of his congregants in a very special way. During a hospital call he is able to soothe the family, inspire the patient, and often create a secure moment of healing laughter. Families rely on him to help them with the torturous decision of continuing or ending life support. His empathic presence at a house of mourning validates the family’s pain while enabling loved ones to join in a celebration of life. And Sherwin has the ability to empower people, to help them accept responsibility and find motivation to do things they never dreamed they could do. His lectures on themes of biblical history or new scientific theories, politics or psychology, poetry or current social issues have an exceptional way of touching and uplifting his audience.

This does sound like a lot for one person to do, but that’s what Sherwin Wine does. Upon his retirement from the Birmingham Temple, he plans to add a few more things to his agenda. To begin with, he will be the full-time dean of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. He will increase his involvement with the congregations and com-munities that make up the Society for Humanistic Judaism. He will travel to off-campus sites to teach institute seminars as well as choreographing the Sherwin Wine Trips. He will maintain his important role in the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews. He will continue his walking tours, his lectures, his traveling, his writing, his reading, and his outreach to other people. As long as there are still letters in the alphabet, they will certainly appear in the names of new organizations envisioned and directed by Rabbi Wine.

Happiness is no distant event which we strive to achieve, some future bliss we suffer to enjoy. It is the sensitive awareness of what is intrinsically valuable in the here and now. It is the special plea-sure of helping others, the beauty of friendship, the thrill of running, the excitement of learning, the exaltation in simple striving.

Happiness is not, in reality, the goal of life at all. It is the feeling of aliveness that pervades the pursuit of challenge. – Sherwin Wine, Sabbath Services