Goren was born in Poland on February 3, 1917, and moved with his family to pre-State Israel in 1925. He entered the yeshiva at age 12 and, by age 17, had published his first religious article and was considered a prodigy.
In 1936, Goren joined the Haganah. In 1948, the chief rabbis in Israel named him chief chaplain of the new state’s army. In that position he was often noted for his bravery, accompanying troops to the front and at times going behind enemy lines to bring back the dead for burial. As a soldier in the 1948 war, Goren was often asked to help resolve specific questions concerning religious observance under wartime conditions.
Goren retired from the army in 1972, and, that same year was elected Israel’s chief Ashkenazic rabbi. In that position, he attempted to reconcile religious teaching and technological progress, and he often clashed with the chief rabbi of the Sephardic tradition. Goren served in that post until 1983, yet he continued to offer his opinions into the 1990s.
Goren bitterly opposed accommodation with the Palestine Liberation Organization; he made headlines in late 1993 when he "ruled" that soldiers could disobey orders and refuse to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. In 1994, he pronounced that religious law commanded Jews to kill Yasir Arafat.
Goren wrote many religious articles and essays, including his commentary on the Talmud, Ha-Yerushalmi ha-Meforash (1961), a volume that won the Israel prize.
He died on October 29, 1994
In 2005, Goren was voted the 53rd-greatest Israeli of all time in a poll conducted by Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth.