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Dispute pits leaders of America's 1st Jewish congregation against those of oldest synagogue

A disagreement over the ownership of a set of 18th century Torah finial bells worth millions has led to dueling lawsuits between leaders of the nation's first Jewish congregation and the nation's oldest synagogue.

The dispute started after leaders of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., agreed to sell the bells for $7.4 million to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts so they can set up an endowment to care for the synagogue.

Congregation Shearith (SHEE'-ah-rith) Israel in New York City is trustee of the nearly 250-year-old Newport synagogue, although the sides disagree over how much control it wields over Touro's affairs and ownership of the bells. Its leaders object to selling, which they say violates their religious practice.

Both sides have sued. A federal judge in Providence is scheduled to hold a settlement conference Thursday.

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