Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites
The same character is given as before, and the same woe denounced, and a fresh reason given of it:
for ye devour widows' houses;
that is, the goods in the houses of such as were left with fatherless children, and but little to support them; who being left alone, and none to advise them, and being weak, and prone to superstition; these greedy dogs, as Isaiah calls them, who could never have enough, easily imposed upon them, wormed them out of all their substance, stripped them bare of the necessaries of life, prevailed on them to sell their houses and goods, and bestow them on them; or got their little estates into their hands, pretending to take care, and dispose of them for them, to their advantage:
and for a pretence make long prayers:
as if they were very holy, good men; or pretended that the substance of these widows, which they got into their hands, was for their long prayers for them; or they made long prayers for them in return for their substance. Maimonides F24 says, that
``the ancient saints, or good men, used to stay an hour before prayer, and an hour after prayer, (hev hlptb Mkyramw) and "prolonged", or "held an hour in prayer":''and this being three times a day, nine hours every day, as is observed in the Talmud F25, were spent in this manner; and on this account they got the character of very devout and religious men, and hereby covered all their avarice, rapine, and oppression of the poor: but God will not be mocked;
therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation;
both on account of their plundering and distressing the poor, the widows, and the fatherless; and also because of their hypocrisy in doing this under the cover of religion and holiness. Hence it appears, that there are degrees of punishment in hell, and that hypocrites, and all such who oppress the poor, under the mask of godliness, supposing gain to be that, will be partakers of the greatest degree of it. In Munster's Hebrew Gospel it is called (Kwra jpvm) , "a long judgment", or "damnation", in allusion to their long prayers: and is the very reverse of what they expect on account of them: they say F26
``three things prolong a man's days and years, (wtlptb) (Kyramh) , "he that is long in his prayer"''is the first mentioned; and he that is long at his prayer, it is an excellency, they say; but instead of a long and happy life, he shall have a long damnation. This verse is left out in some copies, and in others it stands before the former; in which order it is read in the Syriac, Arabic, Persic, and Ethiopic versions.
F24 Hilch. Tephillah, c. 4. sect. 16.
F25 T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 32. 2.
F26 Ib. fol. 54. 2.