Born in Poland, Shimon Finkel began performing in a local theater and later joined a Yiddish acting group. While studying in Berlin in 1923, he joined a group of actors who had come to Berlin to study theater with a view to returning to Eretz Yisrael and establishing a Hebrew theater there. He moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1924 and three years later joined the Habimah Theater. His first role with the company was in its production of An-ski's The Dybbuk.
Finkel's professional career spanned both acting and directing. He starred in roles from an array of plays, from Greek and Shakespearean tragedies to modern Hebrew productions. He directed many plays and he served as director of Habimah, briefly early in the 1960's and later from 1970-1975.
It is for his tenure as director during the early 1970's that Finkel is most famous. In these first years following the dissolution of the Habimah actors' collective, Finkel worked to restore Habimah to its former reputation as a serious, worthy national theater company. Finkel, himself an actor, was primarily an actor's director, and chose productions more for the roles they starred than for their literary merit. Nonetheless, under Finkel's direction Habimah staged forty-eight productions, drawing from an impressive range of classical, modern, and contemporary Israeli drama.
Finkel recounted his experiences in theater in several books that he published, and for his contribution to theater he was awarded the Israel Prize in 1969.