Mediation has failed between the nation’s oldest synagogue and first Jewish congregation, whose leaders are suing each other over a set of valuable Colonial-era Torah finial bells and over who owns and controls the 250-year-old shul.
The lawsuits between Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., and New York City’s Congregation Shearith Israel will now move forward. The dispute started after Touro agreed to sell the rimonim for $7.4 million to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Touro was established four years after Shearith Israel, but in 1822, the city’s last Jewish resident left and it fell into disrepair. Some items were transferred to the New York congregation. Touro reopened in the late 1800s, and in 1903, signed a $1-per-year lease to rent Touro from Shearith Israel.
Shearith Israel opposes the sale of the bells, saying it violates religious practice and will remove ownership of the bells from the Jewish community. Touro’s leaders say Shearith Israel is only a trustee and can’t dictate what is done there.
Touro has two sets of finial bells made by Colonial silversmith Myer Myers, a Jewish contemporary of Paul Revere’s.