Pennsylvania man sentenced for setting Midwood rabbi’s house on fire

midwood house fire
A man has been sentenced to prison for setting a rabbi’s home on fire in 2019.
File photo courtesy of FDNY/X

A Pennsylvania man was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison Monday for intentionally setting a rabbi’s Midwood home on fire in 2019.

Matthew Karelefsky of McKeesport, PA was convicted last month of first-degree attempted murder, second-degree arson,  six counts of second-degree assault, and two counts of fourth-degree arson.

According to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, Karelefsky was caught on video lighting a fire under the front porch of Rabbi Jonathan Max’s East 17th Street home in the middle of the night on June 13, 2019. The fire quickly spread to two adjacent homes, forcing 13 people to evacuate, including Max and his family.

Six people were injured in the blaze, including a six-month old baby. 

Karelefsky reportedly had a longstanding grudge against the rabbi, who he accused online of molesting him as a child. The arsonist reportedly had the words “Never let go of the HATRED – KILL Rabbi Max” tattooed on his forearm. 

Max has previously refuted Karelefsky’s claims, and said he had never met the man. Rather, Max said, Karelefsky blamed him for his 2010 divorce, and has been targeting the rabbi for years.

In 2019, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Karelefsky had traveled from Pennsylvania to Brooklyn with the “sole intent to kill.” 

Investigators determined the fire had been set intentionally after police dogs identified the smell of accelerant under Max’s porch, where police found the remnants of a bag of charcoal, empty lighter fluid containers, lighter boxes, and rags. Karelefsky was also spotted on surveillance footage buying charcoal and matches in a Midwood grocery store the day before the fire. 

Cops arrested Karelefsky in Manhattan two days later. 

“This defendant’s actions destroyed the homes of several families and put numerous people in harm’s way,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “I am thankful that there were no life-threatening injuries. With today’s sentence, this defendant has been brought to justice.”