For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"“Living in a Holy City Is Work”: God’s Work as the Work of Urban Place"

by Shani, Noga; Aharon-Gutman, Meirav (2017)


This article tackles a gap in our understanding of holy cities by proposing an approach that accommodates both the centrality of these cities in a religious sense and their socioeconomic peripherality from state-capitalist system perspective. Through the combined use of urban survey and ethnographic fieldwork in the case of the holy city of Safed, this article understands “center” and “periphery” not as dichotomous notions but as relational concepts that are mutually constitutive by Avodat Hamakom, a Hebrew-language concept with a double meaning that turns on the two different meanings of the word Makom—that of “place” and one of the many names for God in the Jewish tradition. So the performance of “God’s work” is the work of urban place. Avodat Hamakom strengthens the city as a religious center and simultaneously limits the ability of individuals to enter the labor market, so it brings the city to be a peripheral city in the socioeconomic sense. Adopting a critical way of thinking, this article aims to enrich our understanding of the notion of “work” and its dialectical impact on the construction of urban space.

Key Passage

A Breslov Hasidic woman who was raised and educated according to a secular worldview, related her own inner dissonance regarding the issue of work that remains with her, despite her many years in the community: For me, one of the most important reasons to not move here at the time was the question of how I would live . . . I used to think that religious people were parasites and that those who worked could be considered human beings, I was accustomed to always working and studying, I was [economically] well situated and lacked nothing. As it is written: Torah and work; you can’t live without work, but the Torah comes first. (personal communication, February 9, 2014)On the one hand, she still assigns importance to work as a means of livelihood and is concerned about economic lack. On the other hand, as an ultraorthodox woman, she believes not only that work is in the hands of God but that studying Torah is working.  (p.463)


Urban Ethnography, Theology, Gods Work, Socioeconomics


Religious Views on Work

Links to Reference



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