Cops arrest Pennsylvania man for allegedly setting rabbi’s Midwood house on fire

Firefighters battle a four-alarm fire in Midwood in the early hours of June 13.
Photo via Twitter/@FDNY

Cops arrested a Pennsylvania man for allegedly setting a rabbi’s Midwood home ablaze last week, creating an inferno which spread to two neighboring homes and injured 13 people.

Matthew Karelefsky, 41, was arrested Sunday and charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count of arson, according to police. Karelefsky is a McKeesport, Pa., resident, who has held a long-standing grudge against Rabbi Jonathan Max that investigators believe led him to commit the crime, court documents show.

In 2012, Karelefsky published the first of numerous Facebook Posts threatening to kill Rabbi Max and accusing the holy man of molesting him as a child, warning other users to “keep minor children away from Rabbi Jonathan Max of Brooklyn.”

Max denied the abuse allegations, saying he never knew the man as a child. The rabbi claims the defendant’s vendetta began after his wife left him in 2010, and that Karelefsky has blamed him for the divorce ever since.

“He wanted to kill me because, in his mental state he felt that he had to be totally in control of his family,” Max said. “He wrote his thoughts down on Facebook and he was angry at me because he didn’t understand the divorce even though I was against it.”

Karelefsky’s loathing for max was so intense, he got a tattoo on his right arm, which reads “Never let go of the hatred — kill Rabbi Max,” and ends with “Yemach shmo,” a Hebrew term for the obliteration of the Rabbi’s name, according to court documents.

Max went on to claim that Karelefsky’s been out to get him for years, and court records show that the Pennsylvania man was arrested in his home state for making terrorist threats against the rabbi — including a Facebook post that read “My way of showing I don’t believe in God will be by killing my number one enemy Rabbi Max” — in 2017, although a judge later dismissed the charges for jurisdictional reasons, writing that the case should prosecuted in New York, where the victim resided.

The fire broke out at 3:50 a.m. within the rabbi’s E. 17th Street abode on June 13, according to court documents. The Rabbi said that children were inside the home when the fire broke out, and that he is thankful they were able to walk away alive.

Karelefsky, who could immediately be reached, is due back in court on June 21.

Reach reporter Chandler Kidd at ckidd@schenpsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–2525. Follow her at twitter.com/ChanAnnKidd.

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