Matthew Karelefsky has been identified as the man accused of arson and attempted murder after police say he set a fire in Brooklyn targeting a rabbi he held a deadly grudge against. The four-alarm fire burned three homes on Thursday, June 13, and injured 13 people, including a baby, authorities in New York say.
Karelefsky, a 41-year-old former teacher from McKeesport, Pennsylvania, who also goes by the name Menachem Karelefsky, has a tattoo on his arm reading, “Never let go of the HATRED — KILL Rabbi Max.” Rabbi Jonathan Max lives in one of the homes burned in the fire, the New York Times reports. He was not injured.
Karelefsky had long expressed hatred for the rabbi online, including on social media pages and Jewish websites. He accused the rabbi of sexual abuse — without any evidence — in apparent anger over personal dealings with Max. “He’s been making threats against Rabbi Max for years,” a friend said. “As a last resort, he told a friend that he was gonna spread false rumors that he was molested by him. They are completely false.”
Here’s what you need to know about Matthew Karelefsky:
1. Firefighters Battled the Massive Blaze, Which Sent 9 Residents & 4 First Responders to the Hospital, for 3 Hours Before Getting the Fire Under Control
The fire was reported about 4 a.m. on Thursday, June 13, in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, authorities said. The blaze began at Rabbi Jonathan Max’s home and spread to two neighboring houses. Firefighters battled the blaze for more than three hours before getting it under control.
Nine residents, including a 10-month-old baby, were hospitalized, but none suffered serious or life-threatening injuries. Three firefighters and an emergency medical worker were also hospitalized.
More than 170 firefighters and medics responded to the four-alarm fire, according to CBS New York.
Investigators told WPIX-TV that surveillance video was key to determining the fire was intentionally set. The video from the East 17th Street neighborhood showed the fire ignite and a man running from the scene seconds later.
“When something like this happens, it puts a lot more lives at risk simply because there are a lot more people around,” neighbor Ian Strock told WABC-TV.
2. Karelefsky Says He Wanted to ‘Diminish Jonathan Max & His Memory From the Face of the Earth, Forever’
Karelefsky wrote about Rabbi Jonathan Max on his Linkedin profile, “PLEASE PUBLICIZE.. “FRUM” pediphile Rabbi Jonathan Max of Yeshivah Chaim Berlin for more info.” He asked people to call him with info.
According to The New York Times, the outgoing voicemail message on the number listed by Karelefsky on his Linkedin profile says, in Hebrew, that he wants to “diminish Jonathan Max and his memory from the face of the earth, forever.”
A neighbor told the New York Daily News that he saw Karelefsky walking around their neighborhood looking for Rabbi Max in the days before the fire.
Max’s 49-year-old son, Ezra Max, told the Daily News that Karelefsky is a “psychopath,” adding, “He has a history of saying very strange things. He said he was going to make an attempt on my dad’s life. He’s a sick individual who needs help.”
3. He Said He Converted to Christianity & Has Become ‘the Biggest Orthodox Jew Hater’
Karelefsky lived in Brooklyn until 2007, when he moved to the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area. He has lived there since then. On various social media accounts and comments on websites targeted toward Jewish audiences, Karelefsky has written about converting to Christianity and his anger with Jewish communities he was previously a part of.
He wrote in January 2019, “I will say this…One of the MAIN reasons why I started exploring the option to leave Judaism is bec ( at first) Chaim Berlin forced my children to go to secular studies… … And now I am the BIGGEST ORTHODOX JEW HATER …And , if my kids weren’t forced to go to secular studies , I would still be frum and love Jewish people…PS, I ALSO ( even then) was a big fan of Rabbi Slifkin and the ban on Rabbi Sklifkin is one of the BIGGEST reasons why I left Judaism.”
He blamed Rabbi Jonathan Max for pushing him out of the Jewish faith and made unfounded accusations of sexual assault against him on multiple pages.
“I am writing to to the frum world to explain why I left Yiddishkite and converted to Christianity.. I was in an Ohel group home years ago ( I was in foster care too)…..Ohel put me in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin … I became frum in Chaim Berlin and stayed frum for 20 years,” he wrote in February 2019. “I just want to let all frum jews know….The reason why I left Yiddishkite and converted to Christianity is because for years I was sexually molested by rabbi Jonathan Max YEMACH SHMO FOREVER in the Yeshhiva Chaim Berlin dormitory …The pain was just too much to handle… Now I am healing in church almost every Sunday….Real sad story…Keep minor children away from Rabbi Jonathan Max!!”
Shimon Gifter, who lives in Midwood, told the Daily News, “He lives in Pittsburgh, but people saw him around the neighborhood yesterday. He was asking people where Rabbi Max is, ‘I want to kill him.’ But people didn’t believe him. He’s been saying stuff like that for 10 years. He said to me, ‘I want him to drop dead.'”
4. Karelefsky Says on Linkedin He Is a ‘Full-Time Dad to My Kids’ & Was a Hebrew Teacher
On another Linkedin profile, Menachem Karelefsky describes himself as a “full time dad to my kids.” It is not clear when the page was created.
Karelefsky also says he worked as a rebbi-teacher at Mesivta Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin from 2002 to 2007. He wrote that his job was, “Teaching Hebrew subjects to a class of students with various religious
backgrounds and learning abilities.”
He worked from 2006 to 2007 as a learning group teacher at Otsar Family Services in Brooklyn, New York, “teaching Jewish studies to a group of developmentally disabled adults.” And from 2005 to 2006, he said he worked as a res-hab teacher at Special Care for Families & Children, also in Brooklyn, “Teaching Jewish studies and basic life skills to children with special needs.”
From 2004 to 2005, he was a Hebrew school teacher at Madison Jewish Center in Brooklyn. He also worked at Young Israel of Mosholu Parkway and Elm Shade Bungalow Colony. He said he studied “Talmud, Chumash, Halacha, Gemorah,” at Mesvita Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin from 1992 to 2007.
5. He Is Being Held in Jail Awaiting His Arraignment & Has Prior Arrests in Pennsylvania on Assault & Making Terroristic Threats in a Case Involving Rabbi Max
Matthew Karelefsky was arrested after an investigation by the NYPD. He is being held without bail pending his arraignment on charges that include attempted murder and arson.
Karelefsky was twice arrested in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, where he lives, in recent years. In August 2010, he was charged with simple assault. The case was later withdrawn. He was then charged in 2017 with criminal use of a communication facility, a felony, and making terroristic threats. The charges in that case were eventually dismissed. Further details about those cases were not immediately available.
According to Matzav.com, the threatening case involved emails sent to Rabbi Jonathan Max, who was the target of the alleged arson.
It is not clear if Karelefsky has hired an attorney who could speak on his behalf and he could not be reached for comment by Heavy. Rabbi Jonathan Max could also not be reached for comment by Heavy.