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Who Owns Nation’s Oldest Synagogue? Supreme Fight Looms.

BOSTON (JTA) — The legal fight over ownership of the country’s oldest synagogue is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week denied a petition filed by Congregation Jeshuat Israel, which worships in the historic synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, for a rehearing of a ruling from August that said it was a tenant of the building.

That ruling by a three-judge panel found that New York’s Shearith Israel, which was founded in 1654, is the rightful owner of the Touro Synagogue, which was built in 1763. Jeshuat Israel will appeal, according to its lawyer, Gary Naftalis.

It is the latest development in a years-long property dispute between Jeshuat Israel and Shearith Israel, the nation’s oldest congregation.

The appeals court ruling by Justice David Souter, a former U.S. Supreme Court justice, also grants the Manhattan congregation ownership of some of Touro’s possessions.

“We will seek review by the United States Supreme Court to continue our fight to preserve the Touro Synagogue,” Naftalis wrote in an email to JTA. He said that Jeshuat Israel is the only congregation that has prayed at Touro for over a century.

But Louis Solomon, the board chairman of Shearith Israel and its lawyer in the case against Jeshuat Israel, said the “Court’s decision reaffirms the need, for the good of American Jewry and people of faith everywhere, to put this divisive matter behind us.”

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