PROVIDENCE – Mediation has broken down between Touro Synagogue in Newport and the nation’s first Jewish congregation, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. The lawsuits will now move forward.
Both Touro and Congregation Shearith Israel, based in New York, filed suit in federal court in Rhode Island over the ownership of the synagogue. The congregation also sued in federal court in New York, according to the AP report published by Boston.com.
The dispute stems from an attempt by leaders at Touro to sell a set of colonial-era Torah finial bells, called rimonim, to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for $7.4 million.
But leaders of Congregation Shearith Israel contend the Newport synagogue and its cemetery, Torahs and other objects belong to the New York group.
Attorneys for both sides told the AP that talks had broken down between them but did not reveal the sticking points in the dispute.
“That doesn’t mean it might not be successful at some point in the future, but right now mediation has ended,” Steven Snow, an attorney for Touro Synagogue, said Tuesday to the AP.
Touro was originally built by the second-oldest Jewish congregation in the nation, established in Newport four years after Congregation Shearith Israel began in New York. But the building fell into disrepair after the city’s last Jewish resident left in 1822, the AP reported. At that point, ownership of some items transferred to the New York group.
In 1903, the revived Newport congregation signed a $1-per-year lease to rent Touro from Congregation Shearith Israel, according to the AP.
In addition to blocking the sale of the bells, the New York congregation is seeking to prevent the Newport group from practicing in the building, which it says violates the terms of the lease.
The historic synagogue will celebrate its 250th anniversary Sunday with the annual reading of a famous letter from George Washington assuring religious freedom in the United States.