In "Al Hanisim" we say "Bimei Matisyahu ben Yochanan Kohen Godol", "in the days of Matisyahu the son of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol (=high priest)".

Who was the Kohen Godol: Matisyahu or Yochnan?


4 Answers 4


Rav Yosef Engel (Gilyoni HaShas to Yoma 10a) is unsure whether "Kohen Gadol" refers to Matisyahu or to Yochanan. Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (Yishuv HaDaas to Pesachim 57a) writes based on the Rambam (introduction to Pirush Mishnayos) and Meiri (intro to Avos) and the Tashbatz (responsa vol 3, siman 135) that Matisyahu was not the Kohen Gadol, rather his father Yochanan was. See also responsa Divrei Yatziv from the Sazner Rebbe (Orach Chaim vol 1, siman 282) who discusses this.


A rabbi of mine just gave shmuz on this, and he said that Yochnan was definitely Kohen Godol (the gemara indicates that Yochnan later became a Sadducee, apparently referring to this Yochnan), and that it's a machloket whether Matityahu was as well (a machloket between the Maharsha and the Kesef Mishna).

I can't give precise locations, because I don't know them, and it wasn't my place to ask during the shmuz.

  • 1
    Its a machlokes. Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 7:10
  • 3
    I don't think this is the Yochanan who is the father of Matisyahu. The Gemara in Brachos 29a discusses Yochanan and Yannai, two high priests associated with the Tzedukim. These personalities are associated with John Hyrcanus and Alexander Jannaeus, grandson and great-grandson, respectively, of Matisyahu – Yosef 1 min ago
    – Yosef
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 16:46
  • See also mi.yodeya.com/questions/4236/yochanan-kohen-godol.
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 17:56

The gemarah in Megillah 11a (16 lines down in the widest lines) says that Matisyahu was a Cohen Gadol.

  • Note that in Josephus's list of Cohanim Gedolim, neither Matisyahu nor his father appears. Josephus does, however, include either in his Antiquities (see XII:5:1 and XII:9:7, where two high priests are mentioned as serving consecutively during the time of the Chanukah story. In XII:10:6, Josephus writes that Judah Maccabee served immediately following the high priest who acceeded in XII:9:7).
    – Yosef
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 16:57
  • 1
    Hyman, in Toldos Tannaim V'Amoraim (hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=43958&pgnum=385 and elsewhere) argues that during 2nd Temple times there were two offices called Kohen Gadol: one was the political leader of the Jewish People (who rarely, if ever, actually served in the Beis Hamikdash), and the other was a spiritual leader. Occasionally one person held both offices, like Shimon Hatzaddik and Yochanan Kohen Gadol; but usually they were separated. So Matisyahu might well have been the "real," spiritual, Kohen Gadol while the Hellenists Jason and Menelaus held the political office.
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 18:02
  • That Gemara's text is somewhat problematic. See the Hebrew Artscroll there.
    – N.T.
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 1:08

I will attempt to give an answer based on Megilas Antiyochus. It says that Yochanan was a Kohen Gadol, he was a son of Matisyahu, and he had four brothers. When Yochanan came back victorious from war, and after having killed Nikanor, he built a monument (to his name) which he called MAKABI. This word seems to be an acronym for Matisyahu Kohen Ben Yochanan. You may ask but isn’t that his name in reverse? The answer is based on a Mishna in Gittin 87a where Rashi explains that the Yevanim (!) wrote Yosef Ben Shimon, to mean – Yosef’s son: Shimon. So too MAKABI and Al Hanissim refer to Matisyahu Kohen ‘s son: Yochanan (the Kohen Gadol)!

  • The Greeks did not generally write names in that order.
    – magicker72
    Commented Nov 30, 2021 at 20:25
  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya and thanks for your first answer. The answer would be improved by adding the text of the relevant part of Megilas Antiyochus and the Rashi you quote. Commented Nov 30, 2021 at 20:56

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