BY DOREEN WACHMANN
TAMAR Weissman is a tour guide with a difference. The American-born mother-of-six has devised a whole new way of touring Israel to understand the nature of its ancient tribal divisions.
Tamar, who was educated in the strictly-Orthodox Bais Yaakov School system, has always been one to think outside the box.
That could be because she comes from an academic family.
The daughter of an American law professor, she spent a year in Cambridge at the age of nine, when her father was on sabbatical there.
Nine years later the family returned to the UK, this time to Aberdeen, which she remembers to such an extent that she recently took her family on holiday in Scotland and the Lake District.
But Tamar credits her multidisciplinary approach to the Torah and the land of Israel to her 10th grade teacher Nechama Frand.
Tamar told me: "Mrs Frand taught a wonderful class in Bereshit.
"From that point on I was hooked. I knew I was to teach Torah and I wanted to learn much more than we had been taught previously, which had been just the text and Rashi.
"Mrs Frand really exposed students to the whole gamut of possibilities. From there I went on to study all kinds of disciplines that relate to Torah."
Tamar studied at university - which was unusual for a Bais Yaakov pupil.
"I was pretty much on a straight trajectory from Bais Yaakov to Israel," she said.
"My approach has been informed by broad exposure to different disciplines like archaeology, history, languages, sociology and psychology.
"They all inform Talmud Torah. It's been a journey from 10th grade in incorporating all those different disciplines into Talmud Torah, but still very much based on traditional sources."
Ultra-Orthodox charedim are usually suspicious of university study because they fear students will be influenced by academic studies which conflict with Torah attitudes and question the authorship of the Torah.
But Tamar said: "I had - and still have - wonderful rabbis who helped me better understand the concepts and the possible solutions to them.
"Torah and science are not mutually exclusive. They are very much complementary. Thank God, I found the guidance over the last 20 years to help me overcome all those obstacles.
"Some scientific theories seem to contradict Torah, but they are really reconcilable."
By the time she went to university, Tamar knew she wanted to live in Israel.
She said: "After Bais Yaakov, I came to study in Israel for a year. From the first moment I came, I knew that I would be spending the rest of my life there. I was hooked. It was natural, love at first sight."
But first she went back to study in America, where she met her husband Ira. They made aliya after they got engaged.
Tamar read ancient history and archaeology at Bar Ilan University and became a tour guide.
Then one day, when she was taking a tour around the ruins of Qumran on the Dead Sea, the idea for her recently-published book, Tribal Lands - The Twelve Tribes in their Ancestral Territories (Renana Publishers), was born.
She said: "It was during the ice-cream break that I suddenly had intimations of a new direction for research and thought.
"I had turned my back to the caves for a few minutes, gazing out over the Dead Sea to the mountains beyond."
After acknowledging to herself the ancient civilisations of Moabites, Amorites and Ammonites, who had dwelt in those mountains, Tamar's thoughts went to the 12 Israelite tribes and their different geographical locations.
Using her multi-disciplinary approach, Tamar studied in depth the character of each of Jacob's sons and how those differing personality traits were appropriate for the geographical features of the land they were given.
Tamar hopes the book will lead to specific tours of some of the tribal lands to show how character traits matched geographical features.
Tamar considers that studying the geography of the land of Israel in this way should help Israelis become more unified as a people.
She said: "We are not just one tribe. We are a unified nation that is made up of different personalities, who have different strengths and weaknesses.
"But we are all in one country. That is who we are now, hopefully a unified nation, made up of very different personalities and communities. But that's who we were 3,000 years ago as well."
But although Tamar has laid out itineraries for touring the various biblical tribal inheritances, she does not in the near future foresee hope of doing so for all the tribal lands, as some, those of the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menasseh, are situated in present-day Jordan.
Despite the current supposed peace between Jordan and Israel, Tamar says that it is not easy for Israelis, even for those like her and Ira, who also have American passports, to go anywhere in Jordan, except to the tourist spots of Petra and the capital city Amman.
She said: "We don't have easy access. Israelis have a tough time going to Jordan on an Israeli passport.
"There are areas of Jordan that are more tour-friendly. Pretty much anyone can do Petra near Eilat. That's not Jordan proper.
"But the areas of the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menasseh are all in the north of Jordan, where it's not so comfortable now because the poor people there are primitive, religious and hostile.
"My husband couldn't travel there with a yarmulke. They wouldn't even allow us through border control when he was wearing it. They were very strict with what they allowed us to bring in.
"Even a Tenach, we couldn't bring in. They said it was for our own safety. They didn't want us to attract attention.
"That indicates that you can travel there but you can't necessarily travel with confidence. It was a poignant trip. We did feel that our history was there. But we also felt that we couldn't access it easily.
"That was where Moshe died. That was where the whole story of Devarim happened. The stories of Yaakov and the angel and the journeys of Yaakov and David happened right there. But so few people are able to access that. That definitely added to the poignancy."