Rhode Island (USA) Congregation at Oldest US Synagogue May Stay--For Now #announcements #usa

Jan Meisels Allen



FILE - In this July 30, 2009 file photo, visitors stand outside the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, R.I., the oldest existing Jewish house of worship in the United States. A Rhode Island judge on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022 ruled in favor of the congregation that currently worships at the nation's oldest synagogue in its years long legal fight with the New York-based congregation that owns the building, but the dispute is far from over. (AP Photo/Eric J. Shelton, File)


A judge ruled in favor of Rhode Island congregants who worship at Touro Synagogue won’t be evicted –but the ongoing legal dispute as to the historic building and a set of memorial bells worth millions is not over.

Newport-based Congregation Jeshuat Israel is the current tenant at the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue. It’s owned by New York-based Congregation Shearith Israel, which filed a motion in state Superior Court in February to take control of the board that oversees day-to-day operations.


Judge Colleen Hastings in Newport District Court on Monday dismissed Congregation Shearith Israel’s effort to take control of the board. It was dismissed on a technicality- therefore the legal case will proceed.  The current congregation has been worshipping at the site since 1883 and leases it for $1 a year, per a 1903 agreement.


Co-president of the Newport congregation, said, “We hope that our New York landlord will now choose to finalize the terms for a long-term lease for Jeshuat Israel that will provide certainty and stability for our congregation going forward,” she said in a statement.


In 1790, George Washington visited Touro, and sent a letter to the congregation pledging America’s commitment to religious liberty, writing that the young nation “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

To read more see: https://apnews.com/article/entertainment-travel-new-york-rhode-island-newport-e4088db57eae021d26d2646dd2ea5ef3


Jan Meisels Allen

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee







I have visited this beautiful synagogue on more than one occasion. This dispute is troubling because the building has had extensive repairs in the last decade or two.  While I have no idea why the building is owned by a NY synagogue, it would seem that this treasure should be preserved for all.   
Barbara Sloan
Conway, SC

Jonathan Wexler

Only a guess here.

The Touro is the oldest synagogue building in the US, but it is not the oldest continuously operating congregation. Shearith Israel has been in operation since 1654. My guess would be Shearith Israel bought or inherited (both buildings are originally Sephardic) and preserved the Touro for the 200+/- odd years before the current residency.  These stories, while sad, usually have an economic basis. Leasing the building for $1 is noble, until inflation occurs. This brings Barbara Sloans statement into focus who pays for the "extensive repairs in the last decade or two", and how are those repairs performed under whose review? The owner, the tenants?

Bottom line, I don't know the whole story. I wish all parties well.
Jonathan Wexler


What I know of the story from friends who attend there:

The building was abandoned in the early nineteenth century and that original congregation handed over the keys to Shearith Israel. Then a new congregation formed in the late nineteenth century and began holding services there  
under the dollar a year agreement cited. The maintenance, heating, etc were paid for by the new congregation Jeshuat Israel. All went well until maybe five or ten years ago JI needed serious money to put into the building and wanted to sell a set of rimonim made by Paul Revere or his workshop. That’s what the news article calls bells. SI said you can’t sell them, they’re ours. And it’s been lawsuits ever since. 

Susan Slusky
Highland Park, NJ


I should have said that JI wanted to sell the rimonim to a museum in Boston that had made a multi-million dollar offer. 

Susan Graber Slusky 
Highland Park, NJ