A Pennsylvania man faces 25-years-to-life in prison for allegedly setting fire to three Midwood homes and injuring 11 people in a failed attempt to kill a local rabbi, according to Brooklyn’s top prosecutor.
“This defendant allegedly traveled to Brooklyn with the sole intent to kill and had no concern for the dozens of people he deliberately put in harm’s way,” said District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
Matthew Karelefsky, 41, set fire to Rabbi Jonathan Max’s E. 17th Street home — while his children slept within — at 3:50 a.m. on June 13, and the blaze quickly spread to neighboring homes before firefighters could smother it, according to Gonzalez.
Karelefsky held a long-standing grudge against Rabbi Jonathan Max that investigators believe led him to commit the crime, the district attorney said.
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 hadn’t met Karelefsky as a child. Instead, the rabbi claims the defendant’s vendetta began after his wife filed for divorce in 2010, and that the Pennsylvania man has blamed him for their separation 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 hated Max enough to get tattoos on his right arm that read “Never let go of the hatred — kill Rabbi Max,” and “Yemach shmo,” a Hebrew term for the obliteration of the person’s name, according to court documents.
And this isn’t the first time that Karelefsky has been arrested for engaging in his vendetta with Max. Records show that the Pennsylvania man was cuffed 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 the victim’s home state of New York.
Karelefsky was arraigned Monday on a 17-count indictment that includes charges of first-degree attempted murder and second-degree arson before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Martin Murphy, who ordered him held without bail and scheduled his next court appearance for Sept. 10.
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