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Meyer, Jonas Daniel


MEYER, JONAS DANIEL (1780–1834), Dutch jurist and public figure. Meyer was a grandson of Benjamin *Cohen, a prominent Dutch Jew and friend of William v of Orange. A child prodigy, Meyer was awarded the LL.D. at the age of 16 for a thesis on the American revolutionary Thomas Payne, whom he attacked for the latter's disapproval of religious ceremonies, particularly those of the Jews. Meyer was the first Jew in Holland to be admitted as a lawyer. In 1808, Louis Napoleon – then king of Holland – appointed Meyer director of the Royal Gazette, a member of the Institute of Sciences, and a court magistrate in Amsterdam. Within the Jewish community Meyer was a member and from 1809 president of the High Consistory (1806–10), and subsequently after the annexation of Holland to France member of the Amsterdam consistory. In 1813 Meyer was elected as a member to the Amsterdam municipal council.

Meyer retained most of his positions under King William i of Orange until he resigned from all public and Jewish functions in 1817. In 1815 the king appointed him secretary of a government committee for the drafting of a new Dutch constitution, but antisemitic prejudice prevented him from being appointed to higher positions and he returned to private practice. He appeared in 1820 on behalf of Louis Napoleon in a lawsuit against William i. In 1827 Meyer returned to public life as secretary of a royal commission to prepare a new Dutch history. He was given the Order of the Netherlands Lion – the first Jew to receive this award.

In 1808 Meyer was largely instrumental in reuniting the old Ashkenazi congregation of Amsterdam and the dissident liberal congregation of Adath Yeshurun. He was chairman of a commission for drafting a program for Jewish schools in Amsterdam and together with his friend Carel *Asser, Meyer drew up a report disclosing the appalling social and educational situation of the Jews of Amsterdam. In 1873, a square separating the Sephardi and the main Ashkenazi synagogues in the center of the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam was named after him. Meyer's legal works include Principes sur les questions transitoires (Amsterdam, 1813) on legal problems which arose from the introduction of the Code Napoléon in Holland, and Esprit, origine et progrès des institutions judicaires des principaux pays de l'Europe (6 vols., 1819–23), a history of legal institutions in England, France, Holland, and Germany. He was a member of the French Academy, the Royal Academy in London, of the academies of Brussels, Göttingen, Batavia, and Torino, and of the Dutch Society for Literature.


N. de Beneditty, Leven en Werken van J.D. Meyer (1925). add. bibliography: N. Mayer-Hirsch, in: Misjpoge, 8 (1995), 123–34; J. Michman, Dutch Jewry during the Emancipation Period. Gothic Turrets on a Corinthian Building (1995).

[Henriette Boas /

Bart Wallet (2nd ed.)]

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