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The Chabad/Lubavitch Jewish group have a tradition that this song originated as a military march played by Napoleon’s armies as they invaded Russia:

http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/862529/jewish/26-Napoleons-March.htm

Is there any historical backing to this tradition?

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I can't answer, but having listened to it (never heard it before your post), I find myself wondering: do they re-use the tune for something else, and if so what? It doesn't seem to have a melody long enough, or catchy enough, to become a folk/work/kid's song... is there a paramilitary Chabad group that drills to this march? ;) (My neighbors are Lubavitchers; maybe I'll ask them...) It seems like a weird bit of music to end up on the Chabad website; can you shed any light on the backstory? –  MT_Head Aug 9 '13 at 2:47
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@MT_Head From heichalhanegina.blogspot.com: “When the Alter Rebbe heard the marching song of Napoleon's army, he said it was a march of victory. He then decided that the song should be used in one’s service to Hashem. [On Yom Kippur, before the shofar is blown (at the end of Tefillas Neila), it is customary in Lubavitch to sing Napoleon’s March.]” (Note: “The Alter Rebbe” refers to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812)). –  J. C. Salomon Aug 9 '13 at 4:56
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Huh. Thanks! I'll listen for that next Yom Kippur. Not sure I'll recognize it, though. Our neighbors do a lot of singing... but can they carry a tune? Not so much. ;) –  MT_Head Aug 9 '13 at 5:03
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Also, given how Napoleon's invasion turned out, why would they take the Alter Rebbe's choice of music seriously? A march of victory, forsooth! –  MT_Head Aug 9 '13 at 5:04
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