I'm moved to write about something that I haven't sorted out yet. Perhaps you'll be moved to help me come to clarity. To jump right in, the crux of my question is this: Do the laws of supply and demand apply to valuable, essential services in the Jewish community?
Yeah, I know, it sounds a little weird. Like am I wondering if milk should go down in price in Orthodox supermarkets, or if computer technicians should give away their services free. Okay, let me try this again. It's like this:
My ten-month-old baby is a serious impediment to my nighttime sleep. One morning, I woke up and decided that enough was enough; I needed help. So who does a savvy 21-st century woman ask when she needs help? Mr. Google, of course! In my search, I came across my potential savior, a "baby sleep trainer" who promised to put my worries to rest and have my little one sleeping sweetly in no time at all with no more input than a simple hour-long phone session. The cost? $180!
One hundred and eighty dollars for one hour of phone time, plus a week of email followup, which tacks on, say, another hour of Mary Poppins' time. That means that this woman is charging approximately $90 (315 shekels) an hour for a skill she has acquired through no formal training, for a service that could literally change an entire family's life! My PLUMBER charges 180 SHEKELS an hour, and toilets are really, really important. A personal trainer charges the same. Sleep is a basic need like food and shelter--lack of it drives parents to desperation (not me, obviously, just other people! :-)). Does that mean the cost for restoring sleep should skyrocket and a person who has a wonderful service to offer others should charge an astronomical fee for it?
Is it okay?
My husband is a psychologist with lots of degrees and talent and experience. He purposely charges 200 shekels a session, which is at least a hundred shekels less than anyone else I have ever heard of in our city, simply because he knows it's hard for people to pay. The going rate is between 300-400 shekels, with some charging even more. I heard about an "expert" psychologist who charges upward of 800 shekels a session. And he gives no breaks. Again, is it okay to charge a lot of money for a life-changing, life-saving service when it might deter people from availing themselves of it? Is it morally okay to take a service that people desperately need and milk that need for a lot of money?
I recently read an article about an implant dentist who was candid about the fact that he charges less to patients who can't afford his regular prices. I applaud this doctor. I think that the line between chessed and profit has become much too blurry. If you have a service that will change people's lives for the better, why not give it to them at a price which you can profit from but don't have to get rich off of. If G-d wants you rich, He'll make sure you get there even without skinning others.
But that's just my opinion. What's yours?
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.