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May 17, 2016 11:23 am

Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Congregants in Touro Synagogue Dispute

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The Newport-based Congregation Jeshuat Israel was awarded control over the historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI., pictured. Photo: Swampyank via Wikimedia Commons.

The Newport-based Congregation Jeshuat Israel was awarded control over the historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI., pictured. Photo: Swampyank via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – A United States federal judge ruled in favor of the congregants of the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., in an ownership dispute that threatened to shutter the historic building.

US District Judge Jack McConnell on Monday awarded Newport-based Congregation Jeshuat Israel control over the historic Touro Synagogue, America’s oldest Jewish congregation, while rejecting arguments from New York City-based Congregation Shearith Israel — which has acted as a trustee of the synagogue for nearly 200 years — that it is the rightful owner of the building, the Associated Press reported.

The dispute between the two congregations dates back to 2012, when Jeshuat Israel, facing financial difficulties that threatened to shutter the synagogue, attempted to sell a set of bells from Torah Scrolls to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts for $7.4 million in order to remain open. But Congregation Shearith Israel, which became a trustee of the synagogue in the 1820s, rejected the move and said it was the rightful owner of the bells.

Yet in Monday’s 106-page decision, McConnell said he considered the intentions of the synagogue’s founders in his ruling.

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“The central issue here is the legacy of some of the earliest Jewish settlers in North America, who desired to make Newport a permanent haven for public Jewish worship,” he wrote.

“The effort to evict the Rhode Island congregation has been thwarted, and an important piece of American history and of Jewish history has been preserved,” Gary Naftalis, the lawyer for Congregation Jeshuat Israel, said in a statement.

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