An area resident, familiar to many in the Pittsburgh Jewish community, has been arrested in connection with a fire in the home of a Brooklyn rabbi that investigators suspect was an arson attack.
Menachem Karelefsky, who also is known as “Matthew,” has lived in the Pittsburgh area for more than 10 years, and frequented several Jewish institutions and congregations in Squirrel Hill. The 41-year-old father of four moved from Squirrel Hill to McKeesport last fall.
He was arrested by officers from the New York Police Department at about 1:30 a.m. on June 16 and charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count of arson.
Thirteen people, including a 6-week-old baby, were injured in the early morning fire on June 14 in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood. The fire had spread to three other homes. None of the injuries were life-threatening, although 12 people were sent to the hospital, including nine civilians, two firefighters and an EMS medic.
On his LinkedIn profile, Karelefsky accused the homeowner, Rabbi Jonathan Max, a teacher at the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva, of sexual midsconduct. Max has denied the accusations, and there do not appear to be any other public accusations of sexual misconduct against him.
Karelefsky has repeated his allegations on various Orthodox blogs and reportedly has threatened to kill the rabbi for at least a decade. He allegedly has a tattoo on his right arm expressing his desire to kill the rabbi.
“He said he was going to make an attempt on my dad’s life,” said the rabbi’s son, Ezra Max, to the New York Daily News. “He’s a sick individual who needs help.”
Karelefsky has been on the radar of Pittsburgh law enforcement officials for more than a year, according to Brad Orsini, director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“We received reports from community members about his bizarre behavior, including emails to community members that are highly disturbing,” Orsini said. “When the arson occurred, we were able to provide information to law enforcement in Pittsburgh to coordinate with law enforcement in New York City.”
For the last 12 to 18 months, Karelefsky has been a “big concern” in Pittsburgh and was considered “an internal threat,” according to Orsini.
“We have been monitoring his movements from community advisements,” he said. Many people within the Orthodox community, in particular, “were aware of him,” and “this was not the first time he has threatened this rabbi.”
Orsini stressed that it is important for the community to continue to report disturbing or threatening behavior because it can be a precursor to criminal acts.
Karelefsky, who was born Jewish to non-Orthodox parents and later attended the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva, claims he converted to Christianity and, according to writings obtained by Matzav.com, said he is “healing in church almost every Sunday.” pjc
Additional reporting by JTA. Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.