Rabbi Sherwin Wine
Rabbi Sherwin Wine, shown in an undated photo, spent his life forsaking convention as the leader of a sect of Judaism that saw the religion as a culture instead of a faith. He died Saturday in a car accident at age 79.
updated 7/22/2007 11:47:56 PM ET 2007-07-23T03:47:56

Rabbi Sherwin Wine, who spent his life forsaking convention as the leader of a sect of Judaism that saw the religion as a culture instead of a faith, has died. He was 79.

Wine, who founded the first congregation of Humanistic Judaism in suburban Detroit in 1963, was killed Saturday in an automobile accident in Essaouira, Morocco, according to the Web site of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. He and his partner, Richard McMains, were on vacation when another vehicle hit their taxi.

The cabdriver was also killed, while McMains remained hospitalized in stable condition, the Web site said.

Wine, who lived in Birmingham, founded the Birmingham Temple in 1963 and helped establish the Society for Humanistic Judaism in 1969. He retired in 2003.

The movement gained attention in a 1965 Time magazine article, but it was denounced at the time by Jewish leaders as a fleeting craze of the 1960s. Wine went on to help found several related organizations, including a rabbinical seminary for which he served as provost and dean in North America, the Society said.

Named 2003 Humanist of the Year
He built a movement that began with eight Detroit-area families into a worldwide one with an estimated 40,000 members. The American Humanist Association selected him humanist of the year for 2003.

“Rabbi Wine was a visionary who created a Jewish home for so many of us who would have been lost to Judaism,” Rabbi Miriam S. Jerris, president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis, said in a statement. “He taught us that human dignity is the highest moral value. We will live our lives reflecting that value to honor his memory.”

Wine was born in Detroit on Jan. 25, 1928, and raised by conservative Jewish parents. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy from the University of Michigan.

He decided to become a rabbi in the Reform sect of Judaism and spent five years at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.

In 1998, Humanistic leaders were invited to participate in the United Jewish Community, a move that Wine’s followers believe validated their movement as Judaism’s fifth sect, joining Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox.

Wine is the author of books including “Humanistic Judaism,” “Judaism Beyond God” and “Staying Sane in a Crazy World.” He was writing a book this summer about living a meaningful, moral life without depending on faith for guidance, the Detroit Free Press reported Sunday.

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