Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine and his legacy in Michigan

Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine and his legacy in Michigan

There are many influential Jews in Michigan, especially in Detroit. Many of these communities have grown from the teachings rabbis and religious people have given them and the guidance that has come from their wisdom.

Take for example Rabbi Sherwin Theodore Wine. He was a rabbi that served the community in Birmingham, Michigan and became so influential that his teachings now travel across the United States and many foreign countries.

Let’s take a look at his life and his teachings and how he helped and worked with the Michigan Jewish community.

Sherwin Wine came to this world in Detroit in the year 1928. He is the son of Russian parents that came from Russia in the early 1990´s. His father came to America to join other family members and his mother arrived to America in the year 1914. Sherwin only went to public schools that had many Jewish students and was taught about traditional Judaism at the Shaarey Zedek synagogue.

Wine did go the university and he got his bachelor degree in Arts and completed a  master degree in Arts too. Both degrees focused on philosophy. When he was studying he was empiric and liked to view the world with what they called “logical positivism”. He was also very keen on the humanistic side of some subjects and sympathized more with some faculty teachers that had a more human approach to subject and topics.

A strange path for a religious guide, he first went to university but then joined the clergy and got away from the academic world. He applied for the religious  program at Reform Judaism’s Hebrew College in the year 1951 to follow his calling. After that , he volunteered to be a religious guide in the U.S. Army and had to wait for 6 months before he was sent off to Korea. In those 6 months, he served as an assistant  rabbi at the congregation called Temple Beth El in Detroit and then in 1957 he traveled to Korea to be the Army chaplain. After a year in the Army, he went back to Detroit to the Temple Beth El and in 1959 he went to Windsor, Ontario to build a new congregation called Beth El too.

 

Image courtesy of Michigan State Historic at Flickr.com
Image courtesy of Michigan State Historic at Flickr.com

In the year 1963 Rabbi Sherwin Wine decided to take another turn in his religious path. He left his temple in Windsor, Ontario, and went back to Detroit to start the Birmingham Temple, a congregation that had a Humanistic Judaism approach designed by Wine himself after being in Korea. Rabbi Wine found out that the soldiers did not go to him to pray, but they went to him just to talk and to get more food than normal. When he was serving in Korea he decided to take a different approach and move away from the traditional thing that everybody did. He designed and gave the soldiers a series of lectures that talked about intellectuality and many other topics that worried the soldiers. He saw that his approach was a total success and that many soldiers and people were interested in a chaplain who had the same fears and concerns as they had. Also, Working with people from his congregation in Ontario, he started to design a language that really showed the true beliefs of the group and found out that to really reach out to the community and reflect the true habits and beliefs they had the word “god” had to be taken out of the language in the meetings and replaced by new concepts or terms that really praised the Jewish values. This is how he started the Humanistic Judaism concept that he took all over America and the world and which distanced from traditional Judaism or many of the existing Judaism approaches.

Humanistic Judaism was first seen in the year 1965 when a Time Magazine wrote that Sherwin Wine had declared that he was an atheist and explained the concept of humanistic Judaism. As explained by Rabbi Wine himself the idea was to eliminate the word god from group meetings  and start using humanistic rituals that engaged people with their responsibility towards life and the world around them.  The article made such a fuss that it drew huge attention and a new approach to Judaism was born and has been going strong for 53 years.

After all that Sherwin Wine went to establish the Society for Humanistic Judaism that would reach out to North American to teach the nation about Humanistic Judaism. Then in 1986 he was part of the well-known  Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews that took the Humanistic Judaism approach to countries such as Argentina, Israel, Belgium, France, Italy, Australia, England  and the countries of the former Soviet Union.