LESZNO (Ger. Lissa ), town in the Poznan district. Jews settled in Leszno upon the foundation of the town in 1534. In 1580 they received their first charter. The community had jurisdiction over the northwestern part of the town, where they lived. The Leszno community had to flee temporarily in 1659 during the second Swedish war. The earliest tombstone preserved in the cemetery dates from 1667. As early as 1650 the Jews of Leszno had close business connections with those of Breslau and from 1688 they attended the Leipzig fairs. A synagogue was established in 1685. In 1740 Jewish merchants exceeded non-Jewish. By 1793, 40 of the 53 merchants were Jews, as were 200 of the 201 brokers. In 1800, 32 of the 51 tailors were Jews and 250 Jewish women were lace-workers. There was also a considerable number of smelters, tanners, furriers, and embroiderers.
During the Northern War (1706–07) Leszno Jews suffered from the exactions of both sides. Russian soldiers committed plunder and rape, and the entire Jewish quarter was burned. In the plague of 1709 the Jews were accused of infecting the town with plague by bringing the corpse of a Jew to be buried in the town cemetery. As a result of this libel, the Jews were expelled from the city, but when the plague subsided they returned. In 1767 a fire destroyed the whole Jewish quarter and 20 Jews were killed. After this the Jews were freed from taxes for six years. A new bet midrash was built and a library purchased; later a large synagogue was built, with the help of other communities. In the summer of 1790 a fire swept through the Jewish quarter once more; 196 of 481 Jewish houses were destroyed, as well as the new synagogue and the bet midrash. Another synagogue was completed in 1799. In the second half of the 18th century Leszno became central in Jewish life in *Great Poland following the decline of *Poznan after 1736. The "sages of Leszno" were renowned throughout Europe. At the end of the 18th century students came to the Leszno yeshivah from Germany as well as from central and southeastern Poland. Rabbis who served the town included Mordecai b. Ẓevi Hirsch (1721?–53), who was requested to be the main arbitrator in the dispute between Jacob *Emden and Jonathan *Eybeschuetz. After his death his brother and successor, Abraham Abusch *Lissa (1753–59), continued the attempt at arbitration. David Tevele, rabbi from 1774 to 1792, gave strong and eloquent expression to the Orthodox opposition to Haskalah trends of assimilation. In a trenchant sermon he castigated the subservience of N.H. *Wessely to an alien culture, drawing attention to the human and humanistic values inherent in the traditional Jewish culture and way of life. From 1809 to 1821 Jacob *Lorbeerbaum was rabbi, and from 1864 to 1912 Samuel Baeck, father of Leo *Baeck. Akiva *Eger studied in Leszno from 1780 to 1790. Raphael Kosch, a native of Leszno, was first vice president of the National Council in Berlin in 1848 and headed the procedural committee of the Prussian Parliament. Ludwig Kalisch (1814–1882), the humorist who participated in the revolution of 1848 and later moved to Paris, was also a native of the city. The Jewish population in Leszno rose from 400 families in 1656 to 4,989 persons in 1765. However, after the partition of Poland and the Prussian annexation of the town in 1793, the community began to decline. Deprived of their commercial markets in the Polish interior and in Russia, many Leszno Jews moved to central Germany. The numbers fell from 3,960 in 1833 to 2,578 in 1858, 1,206 in 1895, 804 in 1913, and 322 in 1921.
Under Nazi occupation, Leszno came under the Regierungsbezirk Posen (Wartheland). No ghetto was created in the town, but a *Judenrat existed. The Jews were obliged to appear daily before the German authorities for hard labor. Jews were driven out of their houses and the synagogue was transformed into a storehouse. In December 1940, 300 Jews were deported to *Grodzisk Mazowiecki in the General Government and in February 1941 were taken together with the Jews of that town to the Warsaw ghetto. In Leszno itself or the vicinity a Jewish labor camp functioned from April 1941 until August 1943, with about 250 inmates.
L. Lewin, Geschichte der Juden in Lissa (1904); idem, in: mgwj, 73 (1929), 179; Jacobson, ibid., 64 (1920), 282; 65 (1921), 45, 47, 158, 162, 235; I. Trunk, in: Bleter far Geshikhte, 2:1–4 (1949), 64–75, passim; D. Dabrowska, in: bŻih, 13–14 (1955), 122–84, passim.