Arsonist with ‘kill rabbi’ tattoo sentenced to decades in prison for burning rabbi’s home


(New York Jewish Week) — An arsonist with a tattoo reading “KILL Rabbi Max” was sentenced to decades in prison for setting fire to a rabbi’s home in 2019.

Matthew Karelefsky, 46, was convicted last month of charges including attempted murder, arson and assault for the crime in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Midwood. On Monday, he received a sentence in Brooklyn Supreme Court of 25 years to life in prison.

The crime occurred on June 13, 2019, when a rabbi at a Midwood yeshiva woke up shortly before 4 a.m. to a fire in his family home. The flames spread to houses on either side of the rabbi’s property, forcing 13 people to evacuate the buildings. Six people were injured by smoke inhalation, including a 6-week-old infant.

After the fire, K9 investigators found arson implements underneath the rabbi’s front porch. The items included a Kingsford charcoal bag, a plastic milk carton and empty containers of lighter fluid.

Video surveillance showed Karelefsky purchasing the items at a neighborhood grocery store the day before the fire and igniting the blaze. Police arrested Karelefsky in New York two days after the fire. Karelefsky was living near Pittsburgh at the time of the incident.

Karelefsky had a tattoo on his forearm that said, “Never let go of the HATRED — KILL Rabbi Max,” the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said. The rabbi was not identified in the statement, but was named as Rabbi Jonathan Max in media reports.

Karelefsky claimed that Max had abused him as a child, but did not provide evidence. Max dismissed the allegation, saying he had not known Karelefsky as a child, only meeting him as an adult. Karelefsky began threatening Max when the rabbi supported Karelefsky’s wife in divorce proceedings, Max said.

“He’s a very amiable fellow,” Max told the New York Times in 2019. “You talk to him, he’s the sweetest guy. There’s no anger in me toward him. He’s sick. How can you be angry at disease?”

Karelefsky declined to comment to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the time of the arson. There do not appear to be any other public accusations of sexual misconduct against Max.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement on Monday that Karelefsky had been “brought to justice.”

“This defendant’s actions destroyed the homes of several families and put numerous people in harm’s way,” Gonzalez said. “I am thankful that there were no life-threatening injuries.”