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Israel v. Israel

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 31, 2014

CONGREGATION SHEARITH ISRAEL, Plaintiff,
v.
CONGREGATION JESHUAT ISRAEL, Defendant

Decided: January 30, 2014.

For Plaintiff: Deming Eliot Sherman, Esq., Anthony Joseph Viola, Esq., Zachary Winthrop Silverman, Esq., EDWARDS WILDMAN PALMER LLP, Providence, Rhode Island, New York, New York.

For Plaintiff: Louis M. Solomon, Esq., Solomon B Shinerock, Esq., CADWALADER, WICKERSHAM & TAFT LLP, One Financial Center, New York, New York.

For Defendant: Gary P. Naftalis, Esq., Jonathan Mark Wagner, Esq., Tobias B. Jacoby, Esq., KRAMER LEVIN NAFTALIS & FRANKEL LLP, New York, New York.

For Defendant: Steven Earle Snow, Esq., PARTRIDGE SNOW & HAHN LLP, Providence, Rhode Island.

OPINION

Page 421

MIRIAM GOLDMAN CEDARBAUM, United States District Judge.

Congregation Shearith Israel (" CSI" ), a New York Jewish congregation and corporation, sues Congregation Jeshuat Israel (" CJI" ), a Rhode Island Jewish congregation and corporation, over the ownership of a pair of silver finial bells called rimonim. The rimonim traditionally adorn the Torah during Jewish religious services. The dispute over this particular pair of rimonim arose after CJI entered into a conditional agreement to sell the rimonim to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for over $7 million. CJI moves to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and, in the alternative, to transfer this case to the District of Rhode Island, where a parallel action brought by CJI against CSI is pending. For the following reasons, the case is dismissed pursuant to the first-filed rule.

BACKGROUND

CSI, which follows the Orthodox Jewish ritual of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, is the oldest Jewish congregation in North America. A few years after CSI was founded in New York, Jews of Spanish and Portuguese heritage began to settle in Newport, Rhode Island. This community was organized throughout the eighteenth century under the name Congregation Yeshuat Israel -- a congregation that CSI alleges is distinct from Congregation Jeshuat Israel, the defendant. In 1763, a synagogue, now known as Touro Synagogue, was consecrated in Newport. CSI alleges that throughout the eighteenth century, Torah scrolls loaned by CSI were used in Touro Synagogue, and that Congregation Yeshuat Israel possessed two pairs of rimonim, crafted by the silversmith Myer Myers.

In the early 1800s, the number of Jewish residents in Newport diminished and Congregation Yeshuat Israel ceased to exist. From approximately 1822 to 1880, Touro Synagogue was rarely open, and during this time CSI was involved in the maintenance of Touro Synagogue. During the last twenty years of the nineteenth century, however, the Jewish community in Newport experienced a revival. A schism within the community quickly followed this revival, creating the organization of the defendant, CJI, and another organization, known as Touro Congregation.

The competition between the two congregations eventually led to litigation over Touro Synagogue. In 1902, the matter was resolved, and CSI was found to own Touro Synagogue, as well as its real and personal property. CSI then entered lease agreements with CJI in 1903 and 1908, renting to CJI the Touro Synagogue and related religious articles for one dollar per year. The leases conveyed an interest in not only the synagogue but also " the appurtenances and paraphernalia belonging thereto," which CSI alleges included the pair of rimonim at issue here.

In June of 2012, CSI learned that CJI had entered into a ...


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