By the time this column appears, many readers will have already learned of the mini-saga involving the public pool on Bedford Avenue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, which has been the subject of opinion pieces in many different media venues.

What has brought so much attention is a June 1 editorial in the New York Times addressing a terrible, horrible, no-good near-crime set to take place in Williamsburg this summer: Four times a week, for a total of six hours, a municipal swimming pool there will be open to women only. This, the Times inveighs, will cause the 

taxpayer-owned-and-operated Metropolitan Recreation Center… [to become] temporarily unmoored from the laws of New York City and the Constitution, and commonly held principles of fairness and equal access… [and to] instead answer to the religious convictions of one neighborhood group. 

Much of the commentary on the case thus far has focused on the hypocrisy of the Times in raising this issue. Jonathan Tobin in Commentary and Seth Lipsky in the New York Sun, for example, have pointed out that “as recently as February, the Times rhapsodized in a news story about how Toronto had transformed a ‘neighborhood of despair’ into a ‘model of inclusion’ [by offering] women-only swim sessions” at a local public pool in accommodation of Muslim residents. Likewise, Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg observes that when the “Times itself reported on the controversy over Harvard’s separate gym hours for Muslim women in 2008, the editorial board did not weigh in to denounce the adoption of the practice by America’s most prestigious university.” 

But forget about Harvard — as far back as 2013, the Times was already aware of the very arrangement in Williamsburg it now hysterically decries, yet saw no reason to editorialize about it. I know the paper was aware because back then, I wrote a column about an August 2013 Times piece describing conflicts between New York City and the chassidic community. The article began this way: “Hasidic women want the city to post a female lifeguard during a women-only swim session at a municipal pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and have lobbied a local councilman to take up their cause.” 

So what happened between then and now? Did the Times staff perhaps attend a crash course in Constitutional law that made it aware of the terrible violence being done to the First Amendment by these women-only hours? Did it have a sudden epiphany of the joys of “fairness and equal access”? Curiouser and curiouser. 

I’m all for highlighting hypocrisies at the Times; I’ve done a fair amount of that myself on other occasions. But I want to focus on something else, which is the sheer gratuitous malice in which the paper engages here. 

A terrifying image from earlier in Jewish history is that of the Eastern European priests who would use their Sunday sermons to rile up the churchgoing faithful against the Jews. There were times when these foaming-at-the-mouth harangues would incite the peasant hordes to proceed directly from the pews to the Jews, unleashing their bloodlust on any defenseless Jew they happened to encounter in their path. 

Baruch Hashem, in this wonderful land, we need not worry about such scenarios. But clerics seeking to whip up frenzies against the Jews, even where none previously existed, come in all guises. Some of them even wear business suits and populate the New York Times editorial board. Former top Times editor, Jill Abramson, after all, spoke for many of its staff and readers when she confided that in her “house growing up, the Times substituted for religion,” which would make its board the analog of a council of church elders. 

In this latest ecclesiastic pronouncement (papal bull?), otherwise known as an “editorial,” the council acknowledges that, according to a spokesman for the city’s parks department, gender-segregated “hours have been the rule at the pool since ‘sometime during the ’90s’…. The policy was instituted at the request of Orthodox women, apparently without any serious community objections.” It’s only a “recent anonymous complaint [that] led the city’s Commission on Human Rights” to investigate. 

Apparently, the hordes have refused to be roused against the Jews for a few decades now, but that doesn’t stop the priests from trying to stir them up anyway. The editorial says that “[t]here is no just way to tell a sweaty Brooklynite on a Sunday afternoon that he should be ejected onto Bedford Avenue because one religious group doesn’t want him in the pool.” 

Yet from the very beginning no one has had to tell that to the local “sweaty Brooklynites,” because they haven’t objected. Presumably, that’s because they’ve deemed it only fair to allocate a few hours weekly to their Orthodox Jewish neighbors, who otherwise could never use the facilities at all. What we have here, then, is a newspaper that claims to advocate for diversity and tolerance, yet is determined to descend on a culturally, racially, and religiously diverse neighborhood and pry open a scab of communal strife where previously accommodation and coexistence reigned. Nice job, Gray Lady. 

In fact, the non-Jewish locals might even believe that it is the Times’s own “commonly held principles of fairness and equal access” that actually militate in favor of giving their religious Jewish neighbors, who also pay taxes, a small bit of weekly access to the “taxpayer-owned-and-operated” facility. For the Times, however, religious taxpayers, who “cannot abide public, secular rules” ought not to have any rights with respect to a “public, secular pool.” 

Yes, the pool is indeed “public,” but “secular”? I just never knew pools got philosophical in that way. 

The Times’s talk of “secular rules” and “secular pools” and “secular spaces” simply belies its biased belief that religious types are to be quarantined in their homes and houses of worship where they can do all their religious things, while the public square remains blessedly secular. But the American public square isn’t secular — it’s neutral, as in pluralistic and open to all. Those aren’t the same thing, and someone ought to teach the Times the difference. 

The editorial acknowledges that although the “city’s human rights law is quite clear that public accommodations like a swimming pool cannot exclude people based on [gender, it] allows for exemptions based on bona fide considerations of public policy.” Nevertheless, it continues, “this case — with its strong odor of religious intrusion into a secular space — does not seem bona fide at all.” 

The lawyers among us (you know who you are) will pick up a different whiff from the foregoing sentence — that of weasel-worded obfuscation. If there’s a law, federal, state or local, forbidding this accommodation, then by all means cite it and let’s have at it. If not, spare us, please, the vague talk of “odors” and things not “seeming bona fide.” 

Various media reports on this story have quoted legal scholars opining on both sides of the legality of the pool’s rules. But the Times’s editorial cites none of them, for to do so would be to concede that the situation is one of nuance and complexity rather than an open-and-shut case of “religious segregation in the pools.” 

Since women of all faiths, or none, are welcome to use the pool during ladies’ hours, it’s difficult to see how the arrangement can constitute religious segregation. Gender segregation? Yes, but here’s an idea: Until now, the Orthodox menfolk in the area haven’t been able to use a pool their taxes help fund. Then again, they’re used to that from the support they give to a public education system from which their own children receive little. 

So, let the Times editorial be the catalyst for setting aside men-only hours, too. In one fell swoop, that will insulate the pool from charges of gender discrimination, while giving “sweaty chassidic Brooklynites” a welcome respite from the oppressive heat of the seasons, and from the Times.