Fight Over Touro Synagogue Headed to Supreme Court

18 Jun 2018

The battle over ownership of the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the United States, is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a petition filed by Rhode Island’s Congregation Jeshuat Israel to revisit a ruling that declared it a tenant of the building. That ruling found that Shearith Israel, a New York congregation, is the rightful owner of the Touro Synagogue.

During the Revolutionary War, Newport’s Jews fled and Shearith Israel became trustee of the Touro Synagogue. George Washington visited the synagogue in 1790, and it was designated a national historic site in 1946. The current dispute dates to 2012, when Jeshuat Israel planned to sell millions of dollars’ worth of artifacts from the synagogue. Shearith Israel moved to block the sale, arguing that it is the rightful owner of the synagogue and its possessions.

“We will seek review by the United States Supreme Court to continue our fight to preserve the Touro Synagogue,” wrote Jeshuat Israel’s lawyer, Gary Naftalis, in an email to JTA. He noted that Jeshuat Israel is the only congregation to pray in the Touro Synagogue for over a century.

Louis Solomon, board chairman of Shearith Israel as well as its lawyer in this case, said the “Court’s decision reaffirms the need, for the good of American Jewry and people of faith everywhere, to put this divisive matter behind us.”

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