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Inside the closed world of Hasidic Jews in the UK are stories of mothers who risk everything in order to leave their communities, with their children. Emily and Ruth are two women who found themselves locked in lopsided battles - facing harassment, intimidation, and crowd-funded lawyers. It was late when Ruth walked up to the front door. Pressing the doorbell, she heard it ring faintly inside. Light shone through the curtains but minutes ticked by and no-one came out.

But before she had gone more than a few paces, the door opened fully. A woman stood there silhouetted against the light of the corridor. The dining room had a long table stretching away from her, with two men sitting at the far end. These were the men Ruth had come to meet.

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They knew her family and she says they had offered to help her. Ruth was separating from her husband and the situation had been getting messy.

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They said they had photos of me - running around with this strange man. A man who is not my husband. We hear that you intend to end your marriage, he said. Ruth would write down their conversation in a diary later. The men had been told that Ruth would be willing to leave her children with their father after their divorce. This was not the conversation she had been expecting. She was too frightened. Before her marriage started falling apart, her life had been following a well-trodden path. Ruth - not her real name - had been born and raised in the strictly Orthodox, Hasidic community.

Today, she looks very different from how she used to - her black and white shoelaces have little skulls on them, for a start. The UK has the largest strictly Orthodox population in Europe, although its size is hard to estimate and ranges from 42, to 51, people. It is, however, growing fast. A high birth rate within the community means that, by the end of the century, the majority of British Jews could be strictly Orthodox, according to a recent study.

All are trying to maintain their 19th Century traditions in a modern world and religious laws govern everything from their attire to their diet. In some areas, Yiddish remains the dominant language. Those like her, who have broken away, are starting to talk more openly about what happened to them. Some parents are also revealing the fierce resistance they met when trying to take their children with them. But there was a time when Ruth felt like she was the only person wrestling with the expectations of those around her.

It changed things. She was due to marry a man she had met twice. He was 20 and so was she. It's normal for Haredi marriages to be arranged - boys and girls are kept apart while growing up. It's usually up to a matchmaker to help potential couples find each other. But her first meeting with her future husband had not gone well. They had met at her grandmother's house. He had looked smart, keeping to the strict dress code of a white shirt, long coat, black trousers, and an undershirt with added ritual tassels to remind him of God's commandments.

She speaks quickly, and always looks people in the eye as she talks. But then the conversation started. Her prospective husband had kept looking nervously at the table. In fact, almost anywhere in the room but at her. Men are supposed to avoid making eye contact with women who are not their wives and it can be a hard habit to break. They had talked a bit about school and his experience of studying in Israel. Emily always speaks her mind, a trait that has got her into trouble before. But instead of convincing her father, he ended up persuading her. It would be fine. It was a June wedding.

Emily's recollections of it are still sharp, 16 years on. Her parents had spared no expense. It was staged in a grand venue with white pillars and chandeliers. About people attended and the party flew by in a blur of dancing and food. I was actually shaking by the time the wedding ended because I think I just knew what was going to happen. At the end, Emily stood on the doorstep in her white lace dress watching the guests leave.

Her dark hair was tucked neatly into a wig for the first time. Most Hasidic women will use one to cover their hair, starting from their wedding day. I just want to go home, anywhere, just not The sun was rising by the time the newlyweds reached their marital home. The light filtered into their bedroom, where two single beds with fancy dark wooden headboards had been pushed together.

They are experts in solving the riddles of how to follow ancient biblical laws in a 21st Century world. I think I just blacked it out. But a month later she had become pregnant and the excitement of a baby had pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind. Instead, Emily focused on looking after her family.

A life devoted to religious learning is highly respected so women often end up as the main breadwinners for a time. Emily worked as a teacher at a private Haredi school. By the time of her 10th wedding anniversary, Emily had all but given up on the idea of divorce. Six or seven children is normal, even eight is not uncommon.

Focusing on the children kept her busy. Her marriage just felt like one long argument. In what little spare time she had, Emily quietly went about bending the rules and customs that governed most of her life. She smuggled a wi-fi router into the house and hid it behind the cupboards. The Haredim are wary of the influence of modern media. TV and cinema trips are forbidden in the area that Emily was from. The internet is also frowned upon, especially around children. Parents are expected to hand in their smartphones and laptops before their children start school, to have them installed with filtering software.

It's crucial to keep the home safe for children - the internet could expose them to anything. Emily got online anyway. Her curiosity about the world led her to the US drama Desperate Housewives, watching it in secret on a work laptop. Spurred on by the sense of liberation she had found online, Emily's nagging doubts about her unhappy marriage started to dominate her thoughts. That same summer, a decade after her wedding, she headed to the ritual bath after a particularly long, hard day at work. The mikveh is a monthly ritual for all married Hasidic women, who attend seven days after their period has finished.

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The mikveh Emily visited looks, from the outside, like a regular terraced house, with a high green hedge around the entrance. But as she sat in the waiting room, as she had done countless times before, thinking about what would happen when she got home, something snapped. After a decade of marriage, Emily declared she wanted a divorce. He couldn't understand. It can't be OK. The Haredi community says that the altar cries when a couple separates. Emily's father blamed Desperate Housewives.

Her parents had come round to talk about the children. You want to fight? It didn't seem like her parents were just upset about the divorce. Emily says they accused her of wanting a different sort of life for her children, one that wasn't Haredi. All she wanted was a divorce. She began to feel that people were gathering around her husband. Not just her own parents, but her friends too. People she had known all her life. Then the secretary of the school, where Emily worked as a teacher, called. The school's rabbi wanted to speak to her.

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