Professor Michael Meyer Receives Germany’s Highest Honor

November 13, 2023

Dr. Michael Meyer Receives Cross of Merit from Consul General David Gill

New York—The Federal Republic of Germany has bestowed its highest honor, the Cross of Merit, upon Dr. Michael Meyer, the Adolf S. Ochs Professor Emeritus of Jewish History.

Dr. Meyer, a world-renowned specialist in the history of Jews in Germany and in the Reform movement, was presented the award, which is granted for special achievements in political, economic, cultural, intellectual, or honorary fields, at a ceremony in New York City on November 6th.

Rabbi Margie Meyer and Dr. Michael Meyer

Rabbi Margie Meyer and Dr. Michael Meyer

“As a historian, teacher, educator and researcher, Michael Meyer has rendered outstanding services to Germany, even though the Germany of his childhood forced him and his family to leave the country,” said David Gill, the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany, at an award ceremony that was also attended by Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph. D, the Chancellor Emeritus and I.H. and Anna Grancell Professor Emeritus of Jewish Religious Thought, as well as Rabbi Lisa Grant, Ph. D, the Director of the New York Rabbinical Program and the Eleanor Sinsheimer Distinguished Service Professor in Jewish Education Coordinator. “Dear Professor Meyer, you are a role model for cross-border cooperation in research and humanity. For your outstanding contributions, not only the community of German-Jewish history scholars, but the entire Federal Republic owes you a huge debt of gratitude.”

“Professor Meyer’s personal story is one of tremendous resilience, so it is particularly meaningful to see him honored in these times of crisis. It is impossible to overstate his contributions to Jewish scholarship. Throughout his career, his exceptional research and extraordinary dedication to his students have advanced our understanding of Jewish history and Reform Judaism, shedding new light and inspiring generations of scholars. The impact of Meyer’s scholarship continues to grow as one of the most-cited scholars in the field. It is a privilege to congratulate him on this well-earned honor.” President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.

Dr. Meyer, a native of Germany, came to the United States in 1941 as a young child, along with his family, to escape Nazi persecution. After receiving his doctorate in Jewish history from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he joined the faculty in 1964, where he shared his expansive knowledge of Jewish history, and the history of German Jews in particular, for more than 50 years.

Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph. D; Rabbi Lisa Grant, Ph.D; Dr. Michael Meyer; and Consul General David Gill at the ceremony

Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph. D; Rabbi Lisa Grant, Ph.D; Dr. Michael Meyer; and Consul General David Gill at the ceremony

His long and distinguished list of scholarly books and monographs include: “The Origins of the Modern Jew: Jewish Identity and European Culture in Germany, 1749-1824”; “Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism”; and “Jewish Identity in the Modern World.”

His latest book, “Rabbi Leo Baeck: Living a Religious Imperative in Troubled Times” is a tribute to the most prominent German-Jewish leader in Germany before and during World War II. He is also the author of more than 200 articles and review essays, and has won a National Book Award three times.

His four-volume “German-Jewish History in Modern Times,” which he edited together with Michael Brenner, was simultaneously published in German, English, and Hebrew. This work, said Gill at the award ceremony, “remains the primary reference on the history of German-speaking Jewry from the threshold of modernity to the Nazi era. Thanks to you, this part of German history, culture, and, yes, identity is not only researched intensively but also described and hence preserved for future generations.”

Professor Meyer is a former president of the Association for Jewish Studies, and from 1991 until 2013, was the international president of the Leo Baeck Institute, whose New York branch awarded him its Moses Mendelssohn Prize for his life’s work in teaching and scholarship on German-Jewish history and culture. Earlier, he received the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Scholarship Award in Historical Studies and, more recently, an award for outstanding scholarship from the Center for Jewish History. In 2001 the Jewish Theological Seminary awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Hebrew Letters.