In 1950, responding to renewed interest in Jewish learning, Rabbi Alvin I. Fine formed a committee to establish archives and a museum at Temple Emanu-El.Rabbi Fine viewed the arts as a fundamental expression of Jewish spirituality and the Temple museum as a place in which congregants could "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." Mrs. John C. (Bess) Altman served as the newly created Museum Committee's first chairperson. Handsome bronze-framed display cases were installed, first in the foyer of the Main Sanctuary, then in the Reuben R. Rinder Chapel corridor. Most recently, a suite of specially designed cases was built in the Martin A. Meyer Reception Room as well, greatly augmenting the Museum's exhibition potential.
The Temple Museum of Congregation Emanu-El was dedicated at a special service on June 15, 1957. Since then, the Museum Committee has installed four exhibits per year and invited artists from the Bay Area and around the world to display their work. Elizabeth S. Fine, the Rabbi's wife, had taken a special interest in the museum and, in 1974, Rabbi Fine and his children established the Elizabeth S. Fine Memorial Art Fund in her memory. In 1981 the Temple Museum was formally named The Elizabeth S. Fine Museum and in March 1999—soon after the death of Rabbi Fine—was officially renamed the Elizabeth S. and Alvin I. Fine Museum of the Congregation Emanu-El. In 1988, the Fine Museum was accepted as an associate member of the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM), an organization that represents a broad spectrum of Jewish community museums and galleries.
Over the years, the Elizabeth S. and Alvin I. Fine Museum of Congregation Emanu-El has grown from a small collection of archival documents and ritual objects into a remarkable synagogue museum. It has also become an integral part of the Bay Area's cultural life, not only for its impressive permanent collections, but for its proud tradition of discovering and supporting new and established Jewish artists. Through a regular exhibition schedule—more than one hundred fifty shows since its founding in 1950—the Fine Museum continues to fulfill its mission of integrating Jewish art and history into the very heart of the Temple community. It also strives to educate the congregation and the greater community while celebrating the rich history of one of America's preeminent Reform Jewish synagogues. As a result, each year thousands of visitors participate in events designed to be meaningful to Jews and non-Jews alike.