New York Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the US, announced it would appeal to the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals last month’s ruling by US District Court Judge Jack McConnell in Providence that the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island is the rightful owner of very expensive silver Torah ornaments. Judge McConnell also severed the ownership of the NY congregation over the Newport synagogue building.
Back in May, Federal Judge John J. McConnell Jr. ruled in favor of congregation Jeshuat Israel which resides in Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, and against Shearith Israel of New York which had claimed ownership of the edifice and its contents.
The $7.4 million dispute between two of America’s oldest Jewish congregations erupted in 2011, when the Newport Touro synagogue congregation, known as Jeshuat Israel (Heb: salvation of Israel), offered to sell the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston two silver Torah ornaments called “rimonim” (Heb: pomegranates) for $7.4 million. But the ornaments, like the rest of the synagogue, were the property of Congregation Shearith Israel, currently residing on West 70th Street in New York, and they were not amused when they heard of the sale.
Members of the Newport congregation told the court that the reason they had to sell the ornaments—which were made by Jewish American Silversmith Myer Myers (1723-1795)—was that their numbers were starting to dwindle and they could no longer afford to pay a rabbi.
Shearith Israel trustee Michael Katz testified that “we were aghast that they were doing this without informing us in advance. We considered it a violation of the lease. We considered it a violation of trust, and it upset us very, very much.”
According to AP, Congregation Shearith Israel on Tuesday issued a five-page statement disputing McConnell’s ruling: “Shearith Israel’s goal has been and remains to ensure that the Touro Synagogue, including the precious rimonim, remains intact, available for the continued use of Jews as an active place of worship and the continuous benefit of all people of faith as well as all those touched by its rich and inspiring history,” the statement said.
Back in the early 1900s, the NY congregation leased the Touro building to a newcomer Jewish congregation in Newport for $1 a year (which, in today’s value, comes to $1.87). They didn’t believe this generous lease empowered the tenants to sell off parts of the synagogue, and certainly not its multi-million dollar artifacts.JNi.Media