Man with 'Kill Rabbi Max' tattoo on arm is arrested in arson

Police in New York arrested Karelefsky Saturday on two counts of attempted murder and one count of arson. He is accused of setting fire to Max’s multifamily home in the Midwood neighborhood early Thursday, a blaze that hospitalized at least 13 people.

Man with 'Kill Rabbi Max' tattoo on arm is arrested in arson

NEW YORK — Sometime on Saturday, Marlon Haywood received a text from his tenant: “I am on the run from the police BIG TIME.”

In the home they shared outside Pittsburgh, Haywood knew his tenant, Matthew Karelefsky, as a troubled man. The landlord hid his own guns, fearing that Karelefsky would hurt himself or someone else.

And in Brooklyn, Rabbi Jonathan Max knew Karelefsky as a man who had sworn a vendetta to kill him.

Police in New York arrested Karelefsky Saturday on two counts of attempted murder and one count of arson. He is accused of setting fire to Max’s multifamily home in the Midwood neighborhood early Thursday, a blaze that hospitalized at least 13 people.

Karelefsky, 51, had written online that he came from a background of group homes and foster care, and had converted to Christianity because he had been a victim of sexual abuse while practicing Orthodox Judaism as a child.

On social media and other websites, Karelefsky accused Max of being the one who abused him. On his forearm he got a tattoo that read: “Never let go of the HATRED — KILL Rabbi Max.”

Max denied the accusation Sunday. “I didn’t know him as a child,” the rabbi said. “I met him as an adult with children.” The two men had worked together at Mesivta Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin more than a decade ago; they shared lunch hours, and Max got to know Karelefsky’s family.

“He’s a very amiable fellow,” Max said. “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?”

But these days, the rabbi said, “When you take the word ‘rabbi’ and put it next to abuse, people think it’s a natural association.”

The problem started when Karelefsky began having marital issues and accused the rabbi of encouraging his wife to leave him, Max said. After the marriage ended and one of Karelefsky’s sons stayed with the rabbi and his wife for a few days, Karelefsky started threatening to kill him, Max said.

“You can go around for years, declaring your determination to kill someone, and it’s, OK, shrug of the shoulders,” the rabbi said.

Karelefsky, who was expected to be arraigned Sunday, could not be reached for comment.

On Sunday, the outgoing voicemail message for the phone number posted by Karelefsky on his LinkedIn page and on social media posts said, in Hebrew, “diminish Jonathan Max and his memory from the face of the earth, forever.”

Last fall, Karelefsky moved into a house in suburban Pittsburgh owned by Haywood, who said that Karelefsky was troubled but that he was surprised to hear of the arrest.

A few weeks ago, he said, Karelefsky told him the local police had questioned him after someone reported that a man was threatening a rabbi at a gas station.

Haywood said that for several months, Karelefsky told him he had been traveling back and forth to New York, where he said he had been accused of threatening a rabbi. Haywood said he did not know the details of the case, but that Karelefsky had told him he had been cleared of the charges.

“I thought that was all water under the bridge,” Haywood said.

The fire Thursday broke out around 4 a.m. at the rabbi’s home, spreading to two neighboring houses and injuring at least 13 people, including three firefighters.

The Police Department said nine people were taken in stable condition to Maimonides Medical Center with injuries that were not considered life-threatening. Three firefighters and one medical worker were also taken to the hospital, according to the Fire Department.

When firefighters answering the call Thursday arrived, they found the home and one next to it engulfed in growing flames. By about 4:30 a.m., more than 39 vehicles, firefighters and emergency medical workers had responded.

It took more than three hours to get the blaze under control, a spokesman said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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