Q: When I asked my dentist about paying for his services, he said, “We’ll bill you.” Is it permissible to delay payment until receiving the bill? When I receive the bill, must I pay it immediately?
A: The Shulchan Aruch rules that one only violates the prohibition of withholding wages (“bal talin” – “A worker’s wage should not remain with you overnight”) if the worker asks for immediate payment. If the worker willingly agrees to delay payment, though, or if there is still a need to calculate the wages, one no longer violates the prohibition. (Choshen Mishpat 339:8-10)
The Zohar, however, writes that it is improper to withhold wages even with the worker’s permission. Some also infer from the language of the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch that although one doesn’t violate bal talin if the worker doesn’t ask for pay, it is still proper to pay immediately. (Pischei Teshuva 339:7; see, however, Erech Shai 339:10.)
When the bill arrives, although “bal talin” no longer applies, there is a rabbinic obligation to pay any due debt as soon as possible, based on the verse, “al tomar l’reiacha” – “Do not tell your neighbor, ‘Leave and come back; I will give tomorrow,’ when it is by you.” (Mishlei 3:28) However, this obligation is more flexible, such as if the patient is very busy or low on cash and does not delay payment without good reason. (Choshen Mishpat 339:7)
Thus, it is preferable to pay immediately, but it is acceptable to wait until the bill arrives. When you receive the bill, you should pay it as soon as feasible.
Authored by Rabbi Meir Orlian
These articles are for learning purposes only and cannot be used for final halachic decision. The Business Halacha email is a project of Business Halacha Institute (www.businesshalacha.com) and is under the auspices of Rav Chaim Kohn.