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Rift between oldest synagogue, Jewish congregation

Monday - 12/31/2012, 4:11pm  ET

By MICHELLE R. SMITH
Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A disagreement over the ownership of a set of 18th century Torah finial bells worth millions has led to dueling lawsuits between leaders of the nation's first Jewish congregation and the nation's oldest synagogue.

The dispute started after leaders of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., agreed to sell the bells for $7.4 million to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts so they can set up an endowment to care for the synagogue.

Touro's leaders say Congregation Shearith (SHEE'-ah-rith) Israel in New York City is trustee of the nearly 250-year-old Newport synagogue but has no claim to the bells. The New York congregation says it owns Touro and its religious objects, including the bells. Its leaders object to selling, which they say violates their religious practice.

Both sides have sued. A federal judge in Providence is scheduled to hold a settlement conference Thursday.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)