I applaud the portion of the Letter (Jewish Week, July 15) from Robert Book and Jay Schottenstein — commenting on my op-ed piece, “Profaning History at Touro Synagogue” (July 8) – that claims to want Touro synagogue to remain, not a defunct, denuded museum but an active place of Jewish worship. I applaud further that these two committed Jews do not deny that Touro should remain a place where prayer is paramount and where Jewish law requires the rimonim to stay in active use. At the same time, although I forgive the inaccurate personal attacks on me, there are three factual errors that Book-Schottenstein make that deserve brief correction:
First, my opinion piece was submitted after extensive coverage of the court’s decision and Shearith Israel’s subsequent appeal, including by this paper. Your readers are not fools. Nothing was hidden from readers about Shearith Israel’s position, the Judge’s views, or my role.
Second, in contrast to the public relations stunt fabricated by Congregation Jeshuat Israel (CJI) and promoted by its handsomely paid lawyers (press covering the trial already reported that CJI’s “pro bono” counsel was paid amounts approaching $1 million), Shearith Israel made absolutely clear to the Court that Shearith Israel “does not and will not seek eviction of the individual congregants of Jeshuat Israel who seek to worship at the Touro Synagogue”. Shearith Israel has interacted with CJI, including in the last 20 years, but it had no need to step in and exert its ritual oversight role until CJI attempted to sell the rimonim at issue, in violation of Jewish law.
Third, my statements that CJI operates at a profit are based entirely on the evidence presented at trial, which the Court nowhere rejected. The Court’s reference to CJI “struggling” was limited to 2008 and “the global financial crisis”. The Court made no finding that CJI has been struggling since. It hasn’t. In addition to the evidence at trial showing that CJI operates at a profit year in/year out, it also had $1.4 million in “investable assets”. And that Book and Schottenstein, two major and renowned Jewish philanthropists, would support Touro Synagogue will long ensure its financial health without the need to sell the rimonim.
CJI’s decision to rip the sacred rimonim from their spiritual home and from the use of all Jews forever makes them anything but “worthy steward[s]”; their actions are directly contrary to “the wishes of the Synagogue’s colonial founders”. My hope and belief is that it is not too late for Shearith Israel and Jeshuat Israel to come together and refocus on the shared commitments to keeping Touro an active, traditional synagogue that honors its history, and its forebears.
Louis M. Solomon
Congregation Shearith Israel,