Appeals court decides fate of nation's oldest synagogue

1 photo
Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

BOSTON (AP) — A federal appeals court in Boston has decided the fate of the nation's oldest synagogue, overturning a lower court's decision that put control of the building and a set of bells worth millions of dollars in the hands of the congregation that worships there.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced its decision Wednesday.

That means control of the nation's oldest synagogue, Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, will no longer be in the hands of the local congregation but rather under the control of the nation's oldest Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel in New York.

The decision also gives Shearith Israel ownership of a set of silver Colonial-era bells, called rimonim, valued at $7.4 million.

Shearith Israel had appealed last year's lower court ruling removing it as trustee of the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue. The judge at the time rejected the New York congregation's arguments that it was the rightful owner of the bells and the synagogue.

"Congregation Shearith Israel is gratified by the First Circuit's unanimous decision reaffirming our lawful, outright ownership of Newport's Touro Synagogue and the precious rimonim at issue here," said attorney Louis Solomon.

An attorney for the Newport congregation said he was disappointed with the panel's ruling.

"We are reviewing our legal options on behalf of the Touro Synagogue and Jeshuat Israel, the Congregation that has prayed there for over a century," attorney Gary Naftalis said.

Touro Synagogue holds an important place in the history of the nation's commitment to religious liberty. In 1790, George Washington visited Touro, and then sent a letter to the congregation pledging America's commitment to religious liberty.

The synagogue, dedicated in 1763, is a national historic site that draws thousands of visitors each year.

By 1820, all of the Jews had left Newport, and Congregation Shearith Israel became trustee of Touro. It was reopened later that century as Jews began to move back to the city.

The dispute over ownership began when the Newport congregation, which was struggling with money, formed a plan to establish an endowment by selling the bells to the Museum of Fine Arts. The New York congregation objected, arguing that the sale would violate religious law and would be akin to selling a "birthright."


This story has been corrected throughout to clarify that Shearith Israel in New York is the nation's oldest Jewish congregation and Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island is the nation's oldest synagogue building.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Most recent Religion stories

Related topics

Associated Press


    Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast