Tour Guiding and Tour Education: Spot the Difference


Dialogue on Jewish Education from The Davidson School

Steve Israel

What is the difference between the work of a tour guide and that of a tour educator? It's actually a matter of peshat (plain meaning of the text) versus derash (an interpretation of the text that goes beneath the surface). 

For the last couple of decades, there has been an ongoing discussion in some circles of Israel educators about the extent to which the roles of tour guide and tour educator are different professions or variations on a theme. There was even some talk among ministries of the Israeli government a few years ago about recognizing the differences between them, legitimizing different training courses and establishing qualifications for each. It never amounted to much, and therefore I presume that, in the minds of those in charge, the difference was never really recognized as significant. But I want to suggest that there is a real difference, and that we are talking about two distinct professions that use the same material and therefore drink from the same sources, yielding this very confusion. It's as simple as peshat and derash.  

Let me try and explain why. In oversimplified terms, the commentator who uses peshat tends to start from the text and explain what he or she sees—that is, the pashtan or pashtanit (one who comments on or explains a text trying to elucidate the meaning) tries to explain the textual landscape. There are different and sophisticated tools available to those who do this—philology, textual comparison, and context—and the aim is to explain what the text actually means. The text remains at the center of the enterprise, even while the good commentator keeps a watchful eye on her or his audience, knowing that that audience has to be brought along on the ride for the whole process to be worthwhile. It is a worthy profession with a long and respectable history.

And then there is derash. The darshan (one who uses textual interpretation in his or her preaching or explanations) might well take the same text as the user of peshat, but will often tend to use it as a basis on which to create a series of messages, a worldview, or a set of values that are believed to be relevant to the audience. There are sophisticated tools available for the darshan to dig under the text, but the essential thing, I suggest, is this: at the center of much midrash, there is the audience—and, in addition, the messages that the darshan wishes to pass on to that audience. The text, while not exactly an excuse for a derash, is often a starting point for the expression of a worldview rather than the be-all and end-all of the enterprise. It is a worthy profession and one with a long and respectable history.

If we use this comparison, we see that both the creator of derash and the scholar of peshat create their work based on what might be called "double-lensed vision," one lens being the material in question and the other being the audience in question. But their work is different, partly at least because their main lens or prism is different. Commitment to the text takes on separate meaning for those who use peshat and derash.

Now, as we move toward our subject, hopefully the metaphor will become clear. The tour guide and the tour educator use the same basic text, sites, and land; these will always be the starting point. But what the two professionals will do with the sites is likely to be totally different. Tour guides have gone through an intensive and thorough training that has taught them to understand and remember all the relevant information for each site in the country. As they tour with a group to expound upon a particular site, their loyalty and commitment is likely to be first and foremost to the site itself, to the information and the knowledge it brings up. They will start and often finish with the "story" of the site, and see it as their responsibility to pass on that information. Guides are trained to see themselves as the guardians of knowledge about a site. They are the keepers of memory.

The tour educator also works in the field, and often with the same sites as the tour guide. He or she will often start with the "story" of the site, but rather than that being the ultimate goal of the experience, the story will likely just serve as the jumping-off point to get to what the educator really wants to examine and explore with the group. The experience will not necessarily base itself on the information or story, even if that is told as faithfully and carefully as of course it should be. At the center of the experience is the world of the group. The information will be carefully channeled through a perspective of relevance so that questions can be raised or opinions contributed that will in some way stretch the thought processes of the participants. The tour educator is the keeper of relevance, of meaning.  

Hence the tour guide is the pashtan or pashtanit not in the negative sense of simplicity, but in the sense of obligation to the surface text itself, while the tour educator becomes the darshan or the darshanit. The task of the educator is to use the site as the basis of his or her work and, "lidrosh et ha'atar," dig, interpret, and make relevant the site for the audience. One site, two professions. Both are honorable professions, and both start from the same "site," but from there on the knot is untied and each goes in their own separate direction.  

Steve Israel made aliyah to a kibbutz in Israel in 1975. He completed a master's degree in Jewish History at Hebrew University in 1982. He worked with students visiting Israel as part of the Visions and Voices of Israel Seminar of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Steve's entrance to the field of informal Jewish education was prompted by his involvement in youth movements prior to making aliyah. He teaches and trains educators in various frameworks in Israel and abroad, and writes educational materials.