While Judaism undoubtedly has its universalist elements, writes William Kolbrener, Hanukkah is an unabashed celebration of its particularist aspects, commemorating a national victory over an intolerant Hellenistic cosmopolitanism:
The Jewish pride of the Hasmoneans got under the skin of the Greeks, just as claims to Jewish exceptionalism gets under the skin of anti-Semites and anti-Zionists today. Of course, for the latter, the state of Israel is the most egregious and unforgivable expression of Jewish exceptionalism. In the time of Antiochus, the Syrian Greek [heirs] of Plato and Aristotle exploited their claim toward universalism—the “woke” culture of the time—as part of a program to wipe out Jewish expressions of difference: no Torah learning, no circumcision, no celebration of the new month. The Greeks sought to strike at the heart of Jewish difference.
The Greeks, like some anti-Semites today, were proud to publicize their version of enlightenment, and to tolerate the Jews, but only so long as they would give up those practices that distinguished them.
On Hanukkah, we take a lesson from the courageous Maccabees, and express Jewish singularity and difference. Moreover, on Hanukkah, we acknowledge that being chosen is not an embarrassment, but a responsibility—so we . . . advertise the miracle of the menorah, a sign of our triumph over Greek universalist attempts to eradicate us, and our commitment to being guided by a higher ideal—in every aspect of our lives. Jewish law reflects [this element of the holiday’s message through its] emphasis on “publicizing the miracle.”