Sanzer Chossid Goes Undercover To Aid Drug Sting


chassidimA few months ago, Israeli police planning a sting were hard-pressed to find a convincing small-time dealer who could buy large quantities of drugs without arousing suspicion. In the end, they settled on a novel solution: a chassidishe man who would claim he was buying for talmidim at his yeshiva.

The case ended up netting the arrests of 15 men in the Israeli town of Lod. The arrested will face trial next month on charges of possession and supply of illegal substances. The operation was given the name Ketores Samim, a double entendre referring both to drugs in modern Hebrew and to a mixing of incense in the Bais Hamikdosh. The operation’s success was thanks to footage recorded from cameras secreted in the long black coat of Shlomo Treitel, a 34-year-old chossid from Netanya who is a community police officer.

“My wife didn’t know what I was doing, but when I told her, she said that she knows I’m guided by our rebbe, so I won’t come to any harm,” he told the Forward.

On some 30 occasions, and spending $14,000 altogether, Treitel went to dealers in Lod, notorious for its Arab-controlled drug trading. He bought hard and soft drugs. His story was that the students in his yeshiva were baalei teshuvah and he had come to the conclusion that he could well cash in on their habits by becoming a small-scale dealer.

“We wanted somebody who would not arouse suspicion of being a police officer,” explained Chanoch Yitzchak of Ramle-Lod police, who masterminded the operation. “On occasion we have used a young woman, another time a taxi driver, and for this we knew people are unlikely to think a chossid is a police officer.”

Treitel recalls that the dealers would say, “You’re religious, we trust you; we don’t mind giving you business.”

Yitzchak and Treitel’s other superiors deemed his dress a safety device: The theory was that religious clothing inspires a certain respect even from hardened criminals, lessening the chance that they would make physical contact and discover recording devices. The superiors also believed that his religiosity would allow him to get away with being relatively unfamiliar with drug culture; any slip-ups in underground etiquette would be considered a symptom of his devout lifestyle.

“It really proved quite easy,” Treitel said. “The dealers just want money, and they’ll take it from anyone. I just handed over the money and took the drugs.” Though Treitel was unarmed, he “wasn’t scared, because there was backup nearby.”

When intelligence chiefs first approached him to go undercover, Treitel was working as a uniformed community officer in Kiryat Sanz, a Netanya neighbourhood in which 700 families from his chassidus reside. (He has returned to this role since the sting.) Treitel refused to become involved in the sting until he had checked with his rebbe, the renowned Sanzer Rebbe, Rav Tzvi Elimelech Halberstam.

The rebbe met police chiefs for an in-depth discussion about the plans, and then gave them his bracha. “He said that drugs are a problem for the whole of society, and that it was an important task to take on,” Treitel recalled.

The rebbe’s encouragement reflects a long-standing legacy in Sanz of attributing religious importance to initiatives intended to improve society. The current rebbe‘s father and predecessor, Rav Yekusiel Halberstam, founded Netanya’s Laniado Hospital in the 1970s.

Treitel continued his daily part-time studies in kollel throughout the operation, and kept details from his wife and five children.

He was put through a crash course to teach him about different kinds of drugs and how to talk the talk – not easy for a man who conducts most of his life in Yiddish. He was given phone numbers of dealers and told how to behave when – inevitably – he was short-changed or sold fake drugs.

His superiors held a special ceremony to honor him after the arrests. He spoke, declaring that exchanging his uniformed duties for a career – albeit a made-up one – as a drug dealer had ended up allowing him more time to spend studying Torah.

Now that his community knows of his exploits, he has become something of a celebrity. He said, “My community often feels negatively towards the police, but they know there is a war against drugs that needs to be fought and people are really happy.”

{The Forward/Yair Israel}


  1. My wife didn’t know what I was doing, but when I told her, she said that she knows I’m guided by our rebbe, so I won’t come to any harm,” he told the Forward.
    not one mention about hashem only about his REBBES guidance.

  2. #1 It means the same thing…stop being picky.

    Glad that he was able to help get those drug kings, this will reduce the smuggling of drugs in and out of Israel.

  3. I just want to point out that geneivas daas is ossur. Ossur lignov daas habriyos, afilu daato shel oved kochavim. Maybe he got a heter here if it was a sheila of drugs causing oikuach nefesh, etc. It would be interesting to see some details about the halachic side here.

  4. #3: I would imagine the Rebbe considered geneivas daas versus piku’ach nefesh and the safety of the tzibbur (among other things) before arriving at his psak for this brave officer.

    If you want the details, ask the Rebbe. I suspect he might not give them to you if he thinks there are ulterior motives behind your question.

  5. Rav Pam, ??”? held that drug deals have the ???of rodef. As such, it should have probably been permitted. A bigger problem is publicizing the name of the chassid and his location. Drug deals have long hands and long, long memories.

  6. Why publicize this?

    A) It might chas v’shalom create danger for the chassid and his family

    B) It makes it less likely that the police will be able to use such a tactic in the future.

  7. Are you serious?! (#7). I assume you were sarcastic. What you read in #3 (Ossur lignov daas habriyos, afilu daato shel oved kochavim) is in Rambam’s Hilchos Deos. Yiden are commanded not to deceive anyone, even non-Jews. Those who do, violate this commandment.

  8. I am no chassid, but this guy is a true tzaddik and hero. Kol Hakavod to the rebbe for being a model of reason and righteousness in a time where others are found to be criminals themselves.
    The Sanzers were always known for their modesty and non materialism. Here’s a beautiful example of their concern for all Jews and not just themselves.