Yohanan the High Priest

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We say in the “Al Ha-Nissim” addition to prayers that the lead player in the Hanukah story was Matisyahu ben Yohanan the High Priest. The question is whether this Yohanan, Matisyahu’s father, was the famous Yohanan the High Priest or not. It is not entirely clear whether the term High Priest is going on Yohanan or Matisyahu. And even if it is going on Yohanan, it is unclear whether he is the Yohanan the High Priest mentioned in the Talmud, who served for 80 years and became a Sadducee at the end of his life.

There are three positions on the identity of the famous Yohanan the High Priest:

1. The Rambam (Introduction to Commentary to the Mishnah) and Roke’ah (Hilkhos Hanukah) are of the view that he was the son of Matisyahu, of Hanukah fame, evidently named after his own grandfather.

2. Sefer Yuhasin (1:16) and Seder Ha-Doros (2:Yohanan Kohen Gadol) state that Yohanan the High Priest was Matisyahu’s father and is the one mentioned in the “Al Ha-Nissim.”

3. Later scholars, including Doros Ha-Rishonim (part 2 p. 442) and Toledos Tanna’im Ve-Amora’im (vol. 2 p. 688), are of the view that Yohanan the High Priest was the grandson of Matisyahu and the son of Shimon.

R. Matis Kantor, in his THe Jewish Time Line Encyclopedia, has an interesting appendix on this subject.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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