Two of the oldest Jewish congregations in the United States are battling over a pair of silver Torah ornaments, according to the Associated Press.
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 pair of 240-year-old rimonim. Manhattan’s Congregation Shearith Israel, the nation’s oldest Jewish congregation (also known as the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue), disputes the sale, insisting that it owns rimonim, according to the AP.
Shearith Israel, from whom the leaders of the Newport congregation have leased the Touro Synagogue since 1903, claims ownership of the rimonim, which are placed over the staves of a Torah scroll.
The rimonim are valued at $7.4 million because of their Colonial provenance, Touro Synagogue, concerned about its long-term sustainability as a congregation, 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A museum spokeswoman told AP the institution has withdrawn its offer to buy the ornaments until the legal dispute over their ownership is resolved.