Thursday, 17 August 2017

Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island

Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, the nation's oldest synagogue, will no longer be in the hands of the local congregation but rather under the control of the nation's first Jewish congregation, in New York, Shearith Israel.

A federal appeals court in Boston overturned a lower court's decision that put control of the building and a set of bells worth millions of dollars in the hands of the congregation that worships there.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided on Wednesday that Shearith Israel is the rightful owner of the bells and the synagogue.

An attorney for the Newport congregation said he was disappointed with the panel's ruling.
"We are reviewing our legal options on behalf of the Touro Synagogue and Jeshuat Israel, the Congregation that has prayed there for over a century,"
 attorney Gary Naftalis said.

Touro Synagogue holds an important place in the history of the nation's commitment to religious liberty. In 1790, George Washington visited Touro, and then sent a letter to the congregation pledging America's commitment to religious liberty.

The synagogue, dedicated in 1763, is a national historic site that draws thousands of visitors each year.
By 1820, all of the Jews had left Newport, and Congregation Shearith Israel became trustee of Touro. It was reopened later that century as Jews began to move back to the city.

The dispute over ownership began when the Newport congregation, which was struggling with money, formed a plan to establish an endowment by selling the bells to the Museum of Fine Arts. The New York congregation objected, arguing that the sale would violate religious law and would be akin to selling a "birthright."