In his Orthodox synagogue, Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, must stand apart. In counting the quorum to begin--called the minyan--Hadassah is left out; a quorum is 10 men. The daughter of a rabbi, Hadassah could never become one herself in the Orthodox tradition.
These are some of the differences in how women are treated in Orthodox Judaism compared with more liberal strains of the religion.
What of Lieberman's own views? Nowadays, he says a revised version of the traditional prayer that does not mention slaves or women.
"Hadassah and I go to an Orthodox synagogue in both Washington and New Haven [Conn.] because that's sort of the tradition that we grew up with and it works for us, but look at my record in politics," the Connecticut senator said in a recent interview. "By any standard, I believe it's fair to say that I've been supportive of women's causes."
Mrs. Lieberman said they consider themselves more as "observant" Jews than Orthodox. She seemed of two minds about how her religion regards women.
While saying she is comfortable with the role of women, she supports the views of one of Orthodoxy's leading feminists, Blu Greenberg , who prods Jewish leaders to allow women greater roles. Mrs. Lieberman called Greenberg a mentor and role model.
"I'm just so pleased that people like Blu Greenberg are out there fighting the battles, but they're not my battles to fight," Mrs. Lieberman said in a telephone interview. "It's really not for me to say anything negative."
Greenberg, president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and a longtime family friend, says that like many other families, the Liebermans are struggling to square some of their faith's teachings with modern life.
"Both Joe and Hadassah are in the same place as many other modern Orthodox Jews, which is that you stay within the system and you appreciate the blessings of the system, and you make certain trade-offs in some areas," said Greenberg, who wrote "On Women and Judaism: A View From Tradition."
Greenberg said she believes the senator looks beyond his religion to make decisions. She noted, for example, that while Orthodox Judaism allows abortion when a woman's life is in danger, Lieberman has espoused a much more liberal view.
The Liebermans' Washington rabbi, Barry Freundel of the Kesher Israel synagogue, disputes the idea that Orthodoxy discriminates against women. "You have to look at it through the eyes of Jewish law, which doesn't talk about rights. It talks about responsibilities," Freundel said.
Mrs. Lieberman said, "I don't think it makes Orthodoxy any less caring about women," and she noted that women who want to become rabbis have other options in the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism.
Said her husband: "I just would observe, without getting into the theological details, that there's change going on and there are also options."
He noted that their three adult children, Matthew, Rebecca, and Ethan, all attend a more liberal synagogue of the conservative branch and "we worship with them some of the time."
Jeffrey S. Gurock, professor of American Jewish history at Yeshiva University, said that years ago women were forbidden to study sacred Jewish texts. "Orthodox Jews of all stripes are producing a far more educated, learned group of women who are studying the same type of texts and sometimes with the same rigor as do their male counterparts, so that's a change," Gurock said.
One insight into the Liebermans' thinking on the issue may be the fact that their 12-year-old daughter, Hana, recently had a bat mitzvah, a ceremony to demonstrate maturity by reading from the Torah--the word of God. Such a ceremony, common for boys, would have been unthinkable for a girl 50 years ago.
"We gave her an option. She could do it elsewhere if she wanted to do it. She chose to do it in an Orthodox synagogue," Mrs. Lieberman said. "She's a very independent little kid."
Gurock said the different gender roles are a product of 2,000-year-old traditions.
"The question is to what extent do you want to accommodate yourself socially to the world around you while maintaining a degree of fidelity to Jewish tradition," Gurock said.
For Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. magazine, making accommodations is part of the problem. "There's no such thing as separate but equal," said Pogrebin, who wrote "Deborah, Golda and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America."
Lieberman said, "My own vision of the effect of my religion on my attitude toward women is that it has taught me to not only respect but to treat women at least equally," he said.