Eviction Stay Hearing Decision September 14, 2023
by Aaron Ginsburg
Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Maureen B Keough extended the stay of her decision that allowed Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI) of New York City to evict long term tenant Congregation Jeshuat Israel (CJI) from the oldest standing synagogue in the United States, Newport Rhode Island’s Touro Synagogue, which was dedicated on the second day of December, 1763. The extension allows the parties to reargue the stay extension on appeal.
The hearing took place today at Superior Court in Providence. The large court was almost empty. Walking through downtown Providence is an eerie experience. There are many buildings that are over 100 years old, seemingly caught in a time warp. There were very few pedestrians.
The extension was subject to several conditions 1. CJI will allow full access to Touro Snagogue by CSI so it can assess its physical condition and prepare for a transition should CSI prevail. 2. CJI will fulfill its obligation to have its Rabbi approved by CSI, which is provided for in the lease. 3. CJI will pay the $1 annual rent, which will not have the effect of extending the lease. She also told CJI to fulfill its obligation to care for the building and to hold services. If the cost of security is onerous, that would be CJI’s problem to solve.
The case was mostly argued in filings by the opposing lawyers. At the hearing the judge asked some questions and allowed a brief follow up. Questions discussed included whether or not the synagogue was being properly cared for by CJI, and why CSI didn’t approve CJI’s Rabbi except for the summer months.
CJI lawyer Michael Crane contended that the congregation and the Synagogue were the same and that leaving the synagogue would result in irreparable harm to the CJI. He also all bragged about how well CJI had taken care of Touro Synagogue. CSI attorney Mitchell Edwards pointed to a letter by shul co-president Louse Teitz saying that urgent restoration was needed. He also asserted the Touro synagogue was not synonymous with Jeshuat Israel.
CSI’s lawyer asked the judge to end the stay, and offered not to execute the eviction until October 10th, two days after the end of the High Holiday period which starts Friday evening.
The judge said the stay extension was at her discretion and that in coming to a decision she took into account everyone’s rights as well who would be harmed including the parties and the public. She had the option of deciding a CJI appeal would not be likely to succeed and ending the stay, but she demurred. Although she hopes her decisions stand when appealed, she said she did not have the hubris to think that would always be the case. In closing she asked once again to settle what appeared to her to be a family dispute.
The dispute between the congregations started over ten years ago when CJI attempted to sell a pair of rimonim (Torah finials) made by colonial silversmith Myer Myers to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for 7.4 million dollars. After a several years of trials and appeals, the United States District Court of Appeal in Boston ruled that CSI owned Touro Synagogue and its appurtenances including two pair of Myer Myers rimonim.