A look at active frauds being committed by fake conversion authorities
RE: PunkTorah, OneShul, Darsha Yeshiva, Patrick “Aleph” Beaulier;
Chicago Conversion Beit Din, a.ka. “Skokie,”
Rabbi Johnathan Ginsburg, former Conservative rabbi
Follow-up to “Will Online Jewish Conversions Further the Chaos?” (Dec. 2013)
Conversion to Judaism is a topic that I have found myself discussing more often in recent years. Not just because of my experience with conversions and converts of diverse backgrounds, but more so because there are more people than ever brave enough to seek out Judaism. And quite often, people become interested in conversion. I love to help people in this very important journey.
More often than not I’m usually talking about the hardships imposed on converts to Judaism. I’m frequently calling out the system for the confusion, politics and suspicions which makes it more difficult than it needs to be. It’s a topic we all discuss, as this is quite possibly the most glaring problem in our community.
Rarely have I had to call out people for being unethically excessive regarding offering conversions. Its even rarer that I have had to call out people for offering fraudulent conversions and using deceptive outreach tactics, until recently.
Last month I began to report on a proposed online conversion program being advertised by PunkTorah (a.k.a. OneShul) and their matching Darshan Yeshiva. A program to perform non-denomination Conversion to Judaism under the auspices of a Beit Din (Jewish court) of Conservative Jewish standards convened by Patrick “Aleph” Beaulier, their leader and self-proclaimed rabbi. (see “Will Online Jewish Conversions Further the Chaos?“)
Patrick did spring into action and respond to me immediately after my write-up surfaced. After he communicating to me a sense of hurt and disappointment over my charges, I awaited a promised dialogue on this matter. In his first messages he did not hesitate to admit that by his own estimation 75% of the material was factual, but that I had just mis-characterized some things and he wanted to explain.
However instead of the discussions he promised, he immediately deactivated his own social media profiles, and began deleting the materials and videos which I cited. As most people pointed out, this was an odd move for a person who makes his living with an Internet presence.
Patrick’s mentoring parties also started restructuring their online presence in order to delete evidence of their actions as well. Among them again is the front-business for the expelled Rabbi Johnathan Ginsburg, under the name of ConvertJudaism.org and the Chicago Conversion Beit Din.
Today I will present you with some of what they have been suppressing and deleting. I will also present materials they haven’t deleted, and provide you access to a few permanently archived copies of their materials to reference. I will also explore how this is not just a former instance, but a current and active attempt by knowingly collaborating parties. People who are offering fake conversions to defraud unwitting persons online.
First off, in the matter of conversions offered by PunkTorah/OneShul. I do not wish to put words in the mouth of Patrick “Aleph”, their director. However, it was communicated to me directly that his in-house conversion program would most likely not be going forward. He cited personal hardship and a lack of time to commit to it. And a candid admittance that he wasn’t sure his program would really be helping anyone. While he didn’t actually address the issues I raised, his decision to not go forward with his proposed program is much appreciated and respected. I likewise have appreciated his toning down of his material’s for his Darshan Yeshiva, to focus on personal benefit and not about becoming pulpit-ready.
Item #1 -Patrick “Aleph” promoting Ginsburg by name in March 2013, for his conversion program at ConvertJudaism.org
However, there is one issue that he did directly address. His involvement in directing people to the shamed Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg. In private emails with Patrick “Aleph” he went on to assure me that he had stopped sending people towards Ginsburg as soon as he became aware his status.
He didn’t say when he became aware. However it is confirmed that he did send his own group leaders to Ginsburg in the past (many of the leaders are not yet converted), and that he never warned them of Ginsburg’s ban-status (most only hearing this directly from me last month). Some of them were devastated that they were perusing a fake program, while others among his on-line class hosts went on to expressed shame that they had themselves recommended Ginsburg for conversion to other interested parties in their capacity as PunkTorah leaders.
In the face of these charges I was assured by Patrick himself that the relationship with Ginsburg had long since been severed, and that he would not be recommending this program anymore. Patrick says once he knew of the charges against Ginsburg he stopped sending people his way; that is his claim. And it is a complete lie.
Why should we be concerned about this involvement of this Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg? There are moral and legal issue related to him aside from whether or not he is selling fake conversion certificates. (see his Tumblr and one of his many personal websites; including “Rent A Rabbi” and the one for his institution called “Rodfei Kodesh.”)
Simply put, Ginsburg is banned from the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism. He was forced to resign and is not eligible for readmission to the rabbinate, after settling a sexual abuse and exploitation suit from a female convert and rabbinical student of his. An affair to which he to admitted publicly. (see his profile at the website of The Awareness Center, Inc., the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault, JCASA)
Ginsburg did not soberly cease his activity after censure. Instead he unrepentant and defiantly went right back to work doing the same stuff as before, namely conversion and ordinations. However now without any rabbinical authority at all. I previously mentioned:
“[12/14/2013] In fact, earlier this year (August 13, 2013) the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement had to reiterate their disavowal of Ginsburg because he has been continuing to build conversion and ordination outlets under other names (convertjudaism.org, jconversion.org, convertjudaismonline.org, watch him pitch for these programs of his on YouTube). The statement by the RA reads as follows:
‘The Rabbinical Assembly, the international membership association of Conservative/Masorti rabbis has received numerous queries regarding an organization known as the “Chicago Conversion Beit Din.” The Chicago Conversion Beit Din, one of whose principals is Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg, conducts long distance conversion and, according to their website, it is now sponsoring programs they refer to as “pararabbinic training.”
‘The Chicago Conversion Beit Din advertises that it will provide its students with a “Conservative Bet Din.” The Rabbinical Assembly, as the world’s sole membership organization of Conservative/Masorti rabbis, wishes to clarify that, as a body, we do not endorse the work of the Chicago Conversion Beit Din and will not endorse conversions completed under its auspices, for any purpose, including to seek citizenship in Israel under the law of return.
‘We have been asked whether Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg is a member in good standing of the Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg is no longer a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, nor is he eligible for readmission. The RA has no association with nor does it endorse or recognize any bet din or other program run by, or participated in by Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg. Even if Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg does not participate in the bet din personally, the RA does not recognize or endorse any conversion under the auspices of the Chicago Conversion Beit Din.‘” [emphasis added]
Now, the connection of Patrick “Aleph” is more than as a simple recommendation akin to passing on someones business card to a friend. Patrick’s first “ordination” comes from Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg and his organization, where he claims to have received ordination in para-rabbinics himself. Patrick has also made promotional videos for Ginsburg’s conversion program as well (Note the URL of the website in Item #1, is ConvertJudaism.org).
So what do we know about ConvertsJudaism.org? Let’s explore just some of the evidence that shows the level of deception and carelessness shown by those involved in this scam.
Fact: ConvertJudaism.org was founded and developed by Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg.
While Jonathan Ginsburg’s name is mud, and he is not recognized as a rabbi for any authoritative purposes any longer in the eyes of the movement he claims to represents (Conservative), that hasn’t stopped him from operating. He has merely pushed his two other cohorts forward.
But the fact remains, the program is developed and still overseen by Ginsburg in the noticeable background.
See the item on the right. The copyright here on a ConvertJudaism.org page says “Developed by Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg.” Please take notice of how ConvertJudaism.org, is also using a copyright disclosure from eSynagogue.org. The latter being another program run with the help of PunkTorah board member “Rabbi Rob Thomas.” In an interesting but strange side-note, Thomas is also concurrently a board member of eSynagogue. Thomas directly mentions being ordained by JSLI – another fake, online conversion/ordination school attended and promoted by Patrick “Aleph.” Oddly, Thomas goes out of his way to mention Ginsburg and his founding of eSynagogue by name in his resume (please refer to my previous article).
Fact: Ginsburg has been trying to hide his involvement in the Chicago Conversion Beit Din.
Ginsburg and his staff have cheaply tried to use a search and find feature to delete his name out of his websites (thus, leaving odd breaks in type and grammar behind to identify this). He likewise attempted to delete pictures which show him involved. However pictures and videos taken from the active site on January 21st 2014, show that he is actively overseeing the program.
Please note these are pictures of Ginsburg and his beit din, along with potential converts at the site of the conversions and mikveh:
You can also see more at the Prema.cc archived copy of the page
In addition, please see the video presentation showing footage filmed by Ginsburg (holding the camera and speaking) and talking with candidates about their conversion experience with him. Please note that these videos were taken immediacy before and after the beit din was convened for these candidates:
Ginsburg: “What did you like best about the learning experience?”
Kathy: “I like the fact of how knowledgeable Rabbi Ginsburg is. Its very clear. He makes everything clear and concise, and easy to learn”
Ashley: “My name is Ashley, and I completed the conversion course with Rabbi Ginsburg. It was a great program because I was able to do it on my own time…”
Ginsburg: “…. looking forwards to having you Jewish in a few minutes.”
While claiming on the header to be supervised by Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Levine and Rabbi Neal Brief, there is no question about who is really running things. Obviously, Ginsburg is still the central pillar of this program. This fact of Ginsburg’s active involvement has needed to be concealed on paper as part of their faulty attempt to circumvent the ban again him. Without regard that their Chicago Beit Din (also listed as Skokie) is disqualified even if he isn’t directly involved, by virtue of being associated with him they are invalid.
The fact is the program was developed by Ginsburg. He is still there in the program. Levine might be the supervisor on the letterhead, however there is no question that Ginsburg is still the actual owner/operator.
These videos were originally uploaded to Youtube by Ginsburg in February 2013, and were active on his site up until late December 2013.
While Ginsburg has gone to great lengths in the past couple weeks to alter their homepages, he still has not been able to delete all of his telling videos from his JewishLearning profile on Youtube. You can also see in many of his hundreds of videos, branded with links back to one of his conversion websites.
Fact: This is not the only website operated by this Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg.
I say one of the conversion websites, because he has many websites. As previously explained ConvertJudaism.org is also the exact same program and organization also advertised at jconversion.org, convertjudaismonline.org and converttojudaism.net.
How do we know this? In their desire to have an aggressive web presence, they admit to creating multiple websites and domains. Please note, in order to “increase web visability” (in the image to the left).
Interestingly, Ginsburg has also been marketing conversions to the Spanish speaking communities. He even has websites set-up in Spanish to market his program .
Likewise, he is very active in promoting conversions outside of the United States. Boasting converting people from all the world including Asia, Europe, South America, Israel, etc.
Ginsburg provides a very interesting model, one that is very closely attempted by Patrick “Aleph” up until recently. The idea is to get people converted and then encourage them to seek “ordination” from you as well. (see “Judaism part 2 More online adult Jewish learning“) Ginsburg offers this in the tone of being the obvious next step forward. He doesn’t just have people buy into their fold, but he then make them a marketer and distributor as well.
One would think this type of false income would pay-off pretty well for Ginsburg. However, his need to milk a dime out of interested parties normally outside of the auspices of the synagogue goes even further. He also offers his Introduction to Judaism class for Christians. He has a dedicated website specifically for teaching Judaism to Christians.
Being freed of the hard work of doing false certificates and setting up the mikveh, he frees himself up in this program geared for his obviously Christian consumers. He advertises this program in this fashion: “The point of this course is not conversion, simply edification. People can gain a better understanding of what formed Jesus’ worldview, his practices and beliefs for example. Rabbis are available to answer your questions if you wish.” (see the Judaism for Christians Course)
Ginsburg is making money all around. Taking Christian’s money and making them more interested in Judaism, taking people interested in Judaism and making them into Jews for a fee, and then more costly taking new Jews and making them leaders and rabbis. This is an idea that is reinforced in people as the outside Jewish communities do not accept his followers and as a result they feel they must invest themselves deeper into the programs he offers.
Fact: Patick “Aleph” and PunkTorah by way of Darshan Yeshiva is still sending people to the Chicago Conversion Beit Din of Ginsburg and Levine.
One reason this is all so egregious and upsetting to me is because Patrick “Aleph” has not just lied to me personally, telling me he had stopped engaging in this long ago. He knowingly and with premeditation has been sending people that direction all along. Premeditation and intent is established because it is clearly evident that once he became aware that Ginsburg’s name was not marketable last spring, he then kept in step with the Chicago Beit Din and inserted Rabbi Levine in his place and kept up business as usual.
He still mentions Ginsburg and directs people to him. And this is still even after he started citing Levine’s name as the new supervisor. It also sadly displays how Patrick has been uniquely targeting certain stigmatized groups for this scam:
Patrick “Aleph” cannot claim simple ignorance in this matter. Keep in mind he was first ordained by Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg. It is inconceivable, in fact impossible, that Patrick did not know when promoting them as an authority for conversions that Ginsburg and Levine’s program were one and the same.
Patrick “Aleph” has been giving out the same website as he had given out before when hosting videos with Ginsburg, the same phone numbers he has given out before, the same email addresses as previously, etc. He cannot honestly expect the community to believe that he did not know that he was sending people to the exact same institution. We are talking about the office of his mentor and teacher, the officiate of his first ordination! Of course he knew where he was sending people.
His cheap excuses insult our intelligence.
(1/21/14) Patrick “Aleph” is still directing people to Rabbi Jonathan Ginburg’s Beit Din, using his successor, Rabbi Levine, as a contact. But notice how few clicks it takes to get to pictures of Ginsburg himself, merely five from the PunkTorah’s homepage and just one click from the ConvertJudaism.org homepage leads you to clear pictures of Ginsburg at work in this enterprise (see the video immediately above)
Furthermore, it offends my personal sensibilities as a punk rocker as well that Patrick “Aleph” has been promoting his work as a counter-culture, punk, open source and DIY approach to Judaism. (see “The Big Jewcy: Patrick Aleph“) But that isn’t true at all. See a bloger’s previous critique of that here. Also take notice of his disinterest to cooperate and really be Open Source when encouraged by Jewish professions in the comments sections of an articled titled “Do-It-Yourself Prayerbook“). He uses elementary punk terminology, while dismissing punk’s real virtues and values like corporate slime.
In the end, what facts reveal is that he has been part of a marketing scheme to try to funnel in people interested in the Jewish faith and make them into paying customers (now for only $4.99 a month to study Chumash at Punk Torah! Or $50 a month to join Ginsburg’s “online shul”). To say this program reeks of commercial capitalism, that’s putting it lightly. (see the “discounted” offers at, “Start your Jewish journey by enrolling today“) But that still isn’t my real issue with this program.
My real issue with this approach is that if offers false hope to people, and then sells them a conversion that is useless for them to actually utilize for any purposes. People who are selling conversions that are not only invalid in Israel, but are also invalid to anyone else that closely inspects them anywhere. At over $650/person (see “Convert Judaism: Paying With PayPal“) they are converting people they have never met and sending back to communities, unprepared for the reality of the shame they will face once the fraud is caught.
These people are being set up for a crisis later on when they go to do something like get married, or want to apply to a Jewish studies program, or even even further down the line have their kids attend a Jewish school or camp. Setting people up to later being told they are not halachicaly Jewish down the road, when the fake conversion rabbi is long gone. They give no consideration for how crushed and defrauded the person is going to feel. The convert will already be back in their home town or country, and the bills would have long since been paid by PayPal. There is no consequences generally for the perpetrators of such scams, just for the person they sell this forgery to. People who rarely speak up out of their shame of being judged for being gullible.
This is not right, as this is a most terrible example of religious corruption being perpetrated here which has terrible emotional consequences for the victims.
Bottom Line: False conversion schemes like that of The Chicago Conversion Beit Din and the ill-fated attempt by PunkTorah/Darshan Yeshiva are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The fact, is we do have a lot wrong with the conversion system. Actually, it’s worse than its ever been before.
While the Chicago Beit Din says they have Conservative standards, they will happily pull-off what they consider a “Reform Beit Din” by Skype Video-Chat. See the ‘Common Questions’ Perma.cc archive
One of the problems for converts is that there is often a distrust of converts that goes beyond the issues of halacha. There is a general distrust, based on the assumption that progressive rabbis are being too easy, lenient and are merely selling conversions instead of actually enculturating people in Judaism. Of not having enough standards.
Of course the progressive rabbis charge the same, that the Orthodox system is so broken that some are selling conversion as well, without observance of proper standards; and they are correct in this matter as well. We all know and have heard of these such instances, its not hard to imagine (see “Special Sale on Conversions” at Ynet).
But the problem is that in the midst of such chaos there are real people who are getting hurt and lost in this battle over “Who is a Jew.” And in the battle of who is a rabbi, and who is a proper rabbi. And which rabbis have enough clout to do conversions.
And then there comes this story, as a horrible case in point which displays both abuse of the rabbinate and of the conversion process. A case which through its own bad form and example seems to validate the suspicion and doubts out there. This soils the dignity of the rabbinate and of the convert alike.
Instead of being brave halachic champions who are helping the rejected and needy, people like Ginsburg and Patrick “Aleph” are actually perpetuating the sense of distrust in converts and conversions courts.
The greater issue is that these parties mentioned are not authorized, nor are they dignified enough to testify on matters of personal status. They are people who because of their dishonesty and yet unrepentant pursuit of this scheme are not honorable enough to be trusted. They cannot be believed even as witnesses in our communities, let alone be recognized as judges and teachers in matters of Jewish law.
It’s not just “religious fundamentalist” like me that are asking for Patrick to step-down. The counter-culture community has been asking this for some time. This brutal response comes from a forum comment, on a re-posting of his article on FrumSatire titled “Jewish Pluralism Means Orthodoxy Too“
If Mr. Patrick “Aleph” Beaulier feels that he is ready to move forward honestly and ethically as an upright member of the Jewish people I feel that he should make some real steps towards redeeming himself. Shut down the Darshan Yeshiva, and donate the money he asked for to build such programs and give it back to the Jewish community as restitution, the spirit of which is spoken of in this weeks Torah portion Parshat Mishpatim.
Furthermore, give back all the contributed material that was provided by members of the group, returning it under a Creative-Commons Zero Open-Source licensing so they may utilize this material themselves and distribute it for the public use of all the Jewish community. Liberate the material as a free resource for the Jewish community. Work of a community based team should not be pay-walled in this fashion.
I would also ask him to hand over the PunkTorah concept and the control of this new independent cultural experience to the members of the community who helped build it. Do something really revolutionary, and stop treating the concept as a trademarked and corporate idea he owns and let it grow organically with the people who have built it up as their community.
Lastly, Patrick “Aleph” should stop calling himself by the faux title of “rabbi” and sit down as a student, submitting to the personal guidance and mentoring of a credible rabbi over himself. When Patrick can start fully admitting who he is and operate himself in a transparent fashion within our community, then we can talk about trusting this person again on a personal level. But it is certainly clear that Patrick “Aleph” Beaulier is not to be trusted as a representative of the Jewish people in any capacity on account of his continuous dealings in bad faith.
Additional Reading Material from Patrick “Aleph:”
For more information on Patrick’s “Aleph’s” approach towards conversion and his take on halacha, please see his piece titled, “Conversion To Judaism: Lies, Mistakes and Creating Jewish Identity.” (interesting that a person so crooked and dishonest uses the word “lies” so liberally in his many materials) In this peace he teaches people how to argue that their conversion should be recognized as valid after the fact. His last word on the matter is to arm a person with at Talmudic phrase that he didn’t actually cite or formally quote, saying that if a person comes to a Jewish community and says they are Jewish then they are halachically entitled to be believed. Learn how Patrick “Aleph” has been coaching people on how to pass objection and argue in defence of their status after the fact in this terribly poorly thought out and non-researched lesson.
Also take a look at his pieces titled, “Teachings About Conversion to Judaism (according to Winkler).” In this piece he shows his bottom line approach in that discussion as well: “If someone converts before a tribunal of Jews who are not qualified to perform conversion, after the fact, the conversion is still valid. The same applies to someone who was not questioned about his or her convictions or motives by the tribunal and it turns out that the convert converted for ulterior motives, or to someone who was not taught the essentials of Judaism.” Of course, being illiterate in Hebrew he didn’t provide any text or interpretation. But it tells a lot about how his mind works, what type of hurdles he is trying to scale and where he is coming from.
For some time Patrick “Aleph” has been talking about wanting to break the system when it comes to conversions and do it a totally different way from what we know today. His first topics when he launched PunkTorah and OneShul was about conversions, its been a central focus for them. But look at how in May 2009 he was already giving everyone a notice of where he was going. See this article at Jewcy.com titled “How to Save Judaism: Better Marketing!” Patrick was not too shy to state, “Second, we need to improve our conversion rate. In order to do this, we need to change what it takes to convert to Judaism. Telling people that it takes a year, intense study, and a religious court does not bring people into the fold. It just creates resentment. Instead, let’s look at the conversion of Ruth and the trials of Abraham as models for a new form of conversion, one that looks at the heart more than the brain. I would love a time when a person could simply go to a rabbi, say they have a Jewish heart, and could take home a Torah and commentary simply saying, ‘this is us…if you want this, take it’ and the following week be in a mikvah.” [emphasis added] Someone actually asked if he was joking, but of course he never replied.
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