Dueling Lawsuits

Mediation fails in U.S. synagogue dispute about ritual objects

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An ongoing and unfortunate dispute about the ownership of Torah scroll decorations took another bad turn when mediation efforts failed and talks broke down.

Two American historic synagogues--Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., and Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City--have filed dueling lawsuits, each claiming ownership over the Newport synagogue's artifacts, according to JTA.

Touro had agreed to sell a set of 18th century Torah finial bells (rimonim in Hebrew) for $7.4 million to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, with the proceeds going to create an endowment to care for America's oldest synagogue building.

But Shearith Israel, which has served as the trustee for the Touro synagogue for 200 years and has claimed ownership of the Touro synagogue and its property, has objected to the sale. The trustees believe the sale would violate the religious practices and customs of Orthodox Sephardi Jews.

The Boston museum has withdrawn its offer to buy the bells created by colonial silversmith Myer Myers until the dispute is resolved.

The court case will continue in U.S. District Court.

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