Losing side wants review in fight over oldest US synagogue
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Losing side wants review in fight over oldest US synagogue

Local community challenges ruling putting Rhode Island building, and $7.4 million decorative silver bells it houses, under control of NY-based congregation

Visitors stand outside the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, July 30, 2009. (AP/Eric J. Shelton)
Visitors stand outside the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, July 30, 2009. (AP/Eric J. Shelton)

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (AP) — Worshipers at the America’s oldest synagogue plan to ask for a rehearing following an appeals court decision that gave ownership of their Rhode Island house of worship and bells worth millions of dollars to a New York congregation, according to a filing this week with the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-judge panel ruled last week that the Touro Synagogue in Newport rightfully belongs to Congregation Shearith Israel, the nation’s oldest Jewish congregation, in Manhattan.

A lawyer for the congregation that worships at Touro said on Wednesday that retired US Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who occasionally sits in on cases in the 1st Circuit and wrote last week’s decision, entered an order for an extension to September 5 to file a rehearing petition.

The case concerns “the continued vitality of the congregation that has prayed in that synagogue for well over a hundred years,” according to the filing by lawyers for the Newport congregation, Jeshuat Israel. In it, they ask for more time to request a rehearing by the panel or by the entire 1st Circuit.

The Myers rimonim at the center of the Touro synagogue dispute. (Courtesy: Boston Museum of Fine Arts)
The Myers rimonim at the center of the Touro synagogue dispute. (Courtesy: Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

The filing describes Touro Synagogue as “the cradle of religious liberty in the United States” and says they plan to argue that the panel’s decision raises important constitutional issues and runs contrary to Rhode Island law.

Lou Solomon, who represents the New York congregation and heads its board of trustees, said he agreed to a two-week extension for the other side to petition for a rehearing as a professional courtesy.

“Shearith Israel believes any more protraction of this meritless litigation would be unfortunate,” Solomon said, adding that it’s now time for the sides to cooperate.

The historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, 2005 (AP/Joe Giblin)
The historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, 2005 (AP/Joe Giblin)
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