LESSER POLAND (Pol. Małopolska ), historical region in S.W. Poland (Western Galicia). In the structure of Jewish *autonomy and in historical geography, Lesser Poland embraced the provinces (wojewódzstwa) of Krakow and Sandomierz alone; after the first partition of Poland (1772) it passed to Austria and was essentially Western Galicia. According to the 1764 census the Jews in Lesser Poland numbered 18,670 in Krakow province and 42,972 in Sandomierz, around 10.5% of the total Jewish population of Poland. More Jews were actually living there at the time, but since the census was related to a poll tax, the Jews concealed their exact number. About 60% of them lived in the towns and the rest in the countryside. The largest communities in the region had several thousand members; in most of the villages there were only a few Jewish families. Between 1511–14 King Sigismund i appointed Jewish seniores as heads of the region and collectors of taxes from the Jews. At the same time he appointed Joseph *Polak as chief rabbi of Lesser Poland. Since the system was unsuccessful the king abandoned it and handed over tax collecting to the Jews in the various regions of the country between 1518 and 1522. Lesser Poland thus became one of the basic units of Jewish autonomy in Poland. However, the king retained the right to nominate the chief rabbis and in Lesser Poland he appointed Moses Fishel. The king's retention of control was resisted by the communities and in 1551 King Sigismund ii Augustus allowed them to elect their own rabbis.
The principal communities of Lesser Poland in the *Councils of the Lands were Opatow (Apta), Checiny (Hen-chin), Sandomierz (Ẓuzmir), Pinczow (Pintshev), and *Staszow), all in the province of Sandomierz, and Wodzislaw (Voidislav), *Olkusz (Elkish), and Cracow (Kraka), in the province of Krakow. According to the 1717 assessment, Lesser Poland had to pay the Council of Four Lands a share of 27,075 zlotys in the total payment of 226,109 zlotys due from all the Jews in Poland. When the council was dissolved, the committee appointed by the royal treasury to carry out the liquidation drew up a list of debts: a total of 2,314,350 zlotys for the entire Jewish population. Of this the provinces of Krakow and Sandomierz owed 338,089 zlotys on account of loans received for poll tax. Four of the representatives at the Council of Four Lands came from Lesser Poland. The provincial council of Lesser Poland convened every year to determine the apportionment of taxes among the various communities. Other problems of Jewish life were also discussed at these meetings. The provincial council employed a rabbi, who was presiding judge of the provincial court, as well as several clerks, among them a shammash who represented the larger communities at the *Breslau fairs. In 1738 the authorities decreed that the numbers of these shammashim in Poland should be reduced and the communities of Lesser Poland were allowed to appoint one representative only. The council of Lesser Poland was heavily in debt to rich Jews. When the Council of Four Lands discussed the matter in 1762–63, it resolved to press the provincial council to pay its debts.
Thanks to the standing of the yeshivot of Cracow and its great rabbis, as well as the centrality of the region in the origins and development of the Polish state and culture, the Jewry and leadership of Lesser Poland enjoyed an influence disproportionate to their numbers. Under Austrian rule, Western Galicia developed its own kind of Jewish culture and society.
[Shimshon Leib Kirshenboim]