Humanistic Judaism

The origins of a small Jewish movement that embraces a cultural identity while rejecting a belief in God.

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In 1963, Wine, in association with eight families, founded the Birmingham Temple, the first Humanistic Jewish Congregation. Wine wanted to provide an alternative to the Jewish community, different from Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.

Birmingham Temple's mission statement was to discover a satisfactory way of bringing together humanists' personal philosophy of life with their Jewish identity, explains Wine. From scratch, the early congregants had to create "education, celebration and service materials," since no humanistic traditions existed within Judaism.

Wine proceeded to help establish the organizational infrastructure of Humanistic Judaism, not only in the United States, but throughout the world.

In 1969, he organized the Society for Humanistic Judaism, now [in 2003] with 40 congregations, including Congregation Or Adam. In 1986, Wine helped establish the International Federation for Secular Humanistic Jews, with members in North America, South America, Israel, Europe and Australia.

Wine also created the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism to train leaders and rabbis. Its first ordination was in 1999, and the goal is to ordain two to three rabbis a year to help sustain Humanistic Judaism, he notes.

The dean of the institute, Wine designed the curriculum and hired the faculty. Wine recently retired from his role as rabbi at the Birmingham Temple, which now has 500 families. "Now I'm doing what I wanted to do for a long time," he says, which is visiting Humanistic congregations throughout the country.

Wine remains dean of the International Institute and co-chairman of the Inter-national Federation. Looking back on the early days of Humanistic Judaism, Wine says he always knew it would be a success.

"I wouldn't allow something like 'did I or did I not believe in God' to stop me from doing something that I do very well," he notes, namely "being a humanist, a Jew and a rabbi."

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Rabbi Barry Cohen

Rabbi Barry Cohen became rabbi of Temple B'nai Israel in July of 2004, after having served as editor of the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix from 2001-2004. He had previously held the title of community editor for one year. From 1998-2000, he served as assistant rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Scottsdale.