The congregation saw the construction for
the Touro synagogue begin in 1759 and
conclude in 1763.
Inside the building are a dozen Ionic
columns that represent each of the twelve
ancient tribes of Israel. The columns
support the synagogue’s balconies.
The building is oriented to the
east, the direction wherein the holy place of Jerusalem
lies. As in other synagogues, the ark which houses the Torah
is on the east wall. The Torah is a scroll that contains the
writings on the first five books of the Old Testament. It is
the ultimate body of divine knowledge and law of Jewish
tradition and scriptures. Above the ark is a Hebrew mural,
painted by Benjamin Howland, embodying the Ten Commandments.
As the years passed, the Jewish community decreased in
number and lost the capability to maintain a synagogue. As
such, the keys and deed to the Touro Synagogue were turned
over the Congregation Shearith Israel. The congregation,
which is in New York, is still the formal owner of the
building. During the late 1900s Jewish life in Newport was
revived by the torrent of eastern European Jewish emigrants
to the United States.
Isaac Touro, the synagogue’s 18th century cantor, and his
wife had a son named Judah Touro who became a successful
merchant in New Orleans.
At his death, Judah left ten
thousand dollars for the maintenance of the synagogue built
through the efforts of his father. The Touro Synagogue was
designated a National Historic Site in 1946 after it was
nationally acclaimed for its historical and architectural
distinction. It is also an affiliated area of the National
On October 15, 1966, the building was included in the
National Register of Historic Places, and in 2001, the
Congregation Shearith Israel partnered with the National
Trust for Historic Preservation. The synagogue, along with
just twenty other buildings, is part of the collection of
the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In addition to being the oldest synagogue in America, the
Touro Synagogue is also among the oldest and most
significant symbols of religious freedom and liberty.