Judaica Fight Pits Touro Synagogue Against Shearith Israel

Judaica Fight Pits Touro Synagogue Against Shearith Israel

Two of the oldest Jewish congregations in the United States are battling over a pair of silver Torah ornaments, according to a published report.

U.S. District Judge William Smith in Providence, R.I., is to hold a settlement conference on Thursday to determine whether the Touro Synagogue in Newport, a National Historic Site that is the oldest synagogue building in the country, can sell a set of 240-year-old rimonim it claims to own. Manhattan’s Congregation Shearith Israel, the nation’s oldest Jewish congregation, disputes the sale, the Associated Press reported. Shearith Israel is also known as the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue.

Shearith Israel, from whom the leaders of the Newport congregation have leased the Touro Synagogue since 1903, claim ownership of the rimonim — valued at $7.4 million because of their Colonial provenance — which are placed over the staves of a Torah scroll.

Touro Synagogue has offered to sell the artifacts to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which would include a Newport room in a new Art of the Americas wing.

“Our goal is really to take the money, put it into a trust, and endowment fund, and secure the future while having the opportunity to display the … bells,” David Bazarsky, former president of Touro Synagogue, told AP. “We think it’s part of history, it’s part of the culture of America, and it’s overwhelmingly positive.”

A museum spokeswoman told AP the institution has withdrawn its offer to buy the ornaments until the legal dispute over their ownership is resolved.

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