‘NY Times’ in hot water for slam­ming women’s sep­a­rate swim­ming hours

Pa­per claims Wil­liams­burg pool hours has ‘strong odor of re­li­gious in­tru­sion into a sec­u­lar place’

Jerusalem Post - - NEWS -

A story about a pub­lic swim­ming pool that of­fered women-only swim pe­ri­ods for the Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity turned into a full-blown me­dia firestorm when The New York Times weighed in on the sub­ject.

The pool, lo­cated in the heav­ily ul­tra-Or­tho­dox Wil­liams­burg neigh­bor­hood of Brook­lyn, had been of­fer­ing women-only hours since the 1990s to ac­com­mo­date those whose re­li­gious sen­si­tiv­i­ties for­bid women and men from swim­ming to­gether.

A week ago, the Parks Depart­ment can­celed the women-only swim pe­ri­ods af­ter an anony­mous com­plaint was made to the city’s Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights, only to re­verse it­self fol­low­ing ob­jec­tions by As­sem­bly­man Dov Hikind, an Or­tho­dox politi­cian rep­re­sent­ing the nearby Bor­ough Park and Mid­wood neigh­bor­hoods.

That re­ver­sal led to a strongly worded ed­i­to­rial in the Times on Wed­nes­day, which as­serted that set­ting aside a spe­cial time for a re­li­gious group at a pub­lic fa­cil­ity vi­o­lated “the laws of New York City and the Con­sti­tu­tion, and com­monly held prin­ci­ples of fair­ness and equal ac­cess.”

“The city’s hu­man rights law is quite clear that pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tions like a swim­ming pool can­not ex­clude peo­ple based on sex,” the ed­i­to­rial ar­gued, adding that the cur­rent prac­tice has “a strong odor of re­li­gious in­tru­sion into a sec­u­lar space.”

The Times ed­i­to­rial drew a swift back­lash from parts of the Jewish com­mu­nity, who ac­cused the pa­per of un­fairly re­ject­ing a rea­son­able re­li­gious ac­com­mo­da­tion and of ap­ply­ing a dou­ble stan­dard to Or­tho­dox Jews.

Seth Lip­sky, the found­ing edi­tor of The New York Sun and a for­mer edi­tor of The For­ward, wrote a heated mis­sive in the New York Post ti­tled “Let My Peo­ple Swim – and Damn the New York Times.”

In a let­ter to the Times, Rabbi Avi Shafran, the di­rec­tor of pub­lic af­fairs for Agu­dath Is­rael of Amer­ica, a haredi um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion, called the women-only hours a “rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the For­ward.

“Re­scind­ing the spe­cial sex-seg­re­gated hours would be the equiv­a­lent of a sign say­ing, ‘No peo­ple with tra­di­tional val­ues al­lowed,’” he wrote. “The clas­si­cal con­cept of modesty that is em­braced by many cit­i­zens may have its roots in re­li­gious sys­tems. But rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion of the needs of such New York­ers is not an en­dorse­ment of any re­li­gion.”

A Rock­land County, New York, group as­so­ci­ated with that area’s Sat­mar Has­sidic com­mu­nity, the Or­tho­dox Jewish Pub­lic Af­fairs Coun­cil, also re­leased a state­ment, say­ing, “The hypocrisy and in­flam­ma­tory lan­guage in the New York Times is as­tound­ing in many ways.” It pointed to a Fe­bru­ary story in which the Times re­ported fa­vor­ably on ac­com­mo­da­tions made at a pub­lic hous­ing project in Toronto that of­fered a women’s-only swim pe­riod for Mus­lim women.

“If it is great when the wishes of women in the Mus­lim com­mu­nity are ac­com­mo­dated, why is it a prob­lem when the same is granted to women in the Or­tho­dox Jewish com­mu­nity?” the coun­cil asked.

In Tablet mag­a­zine, Yair Rosen­berg pointed to ex­am­ples in St. Paul, Min­nesota, San Diego and Seat­tle in which ac­com­mo­da­tions made for Mus­lim women to swim with­out men were ap­plauded in some cases and sparked con­tro­versy in oth­ers. But he ques­tioned why the Times ed­i­to­rial failed to men­tion these prece­dents and fo­cused ex­clu­sively on Or­tho­dox Jews.

“It is ex­ceed­ingly odd that the na­tional pa­per of record only ex­co­ri­ated the prac­tice of sex-seg­re­gated swim­ming when it be­came aware of re­li­gious Jews en­gag­ing in it, and even then, omit­ted the iden­ti­cal prac­tices of re­li­gious Mus­lims,” he writes.

Hikind, mean­while, called the city’s de­ci­sion to con­tinue the sep­a­rate swim­ming hors “a ma­jor vic­tory for hu­man rights.”

“It is a ma­jor vic­tory for the peo­ple, and the com­mu­nity can rest much eas­ier this Shab­bos know­ing that men and women can con­tinue to swim separately,” he wrote in a state­ment.

The NYC Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights and the Parks Depart­ment con­tinue to re­view the pool poli­cies, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive told Gothamist. ( JTA)

(NY As­sem­bly)

DOV HIKIND

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