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Judges Question Ruling Over Touro Synagogue — And Its $7.4M Torah Bells

BOSTON (JTA) — Ownership of the country’s oldest synagogue and its valuable religious and ritual objects is being decided by a federal appeals court.

The hearing of the case by a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston is the latest development in a closely watched legal battle pitting New York City’s Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the nation, against Congregation Jeshuat Israel, located in Newport, Rhode Island.

At stake is control of Newport’s 250-year-old Touro Synagogue, the religious home of Congregation Jeshuat Israel and a $7.4 million pair of silver bells that are used to adorn Torah scrolls.

The panel heard arguments last week in an appeal filed by Shearith Israel challenging a lower court ruling that held the Manhattan congregation is not the rightful owner of the synagogue, The Associated Press reported.

U.S. District Court Judge Jack McConnell ruled in favor of Jeshuat Israel, granting it control of the Touro Synagogue, including its claim of ownership of the silver rimonim.

But the appeals court panel seemed unpersuaded by the lower court decision.

‘‘You keep going back to history, but we’re dubious it has anything to do with this case,’’ Judge Sandra Lynch said.

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