Chief Rabbi Israel Abrahams was born on 12 March 1903 in Vilna, Lithuania. He was the son of Zecharya Alter Abramowich and Rachel Leah Sherman. As a young boy Abrahams emigrated with his parents to England where he was educated at the Jews College and the University of London. He was minister of the Shepherd's Bush synagogue in London (1928-32) and the Great Synagogue, Manchester (1933-37).
He came to South Africa in 1937 and on 30 June 1945 he was appointed the Chief Rabbi of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregations and his duties covered the Cape and South West Africa (now known as Namibia) and the Sephardi Congregation of Northern Rhodesia (now known as Zambia). He held the position of Chief Rabbi of the Cape Town Hebrew congregation for more than thirty years (1937- 1968).
A year after his arrival he was also appointed part-time professor of Hebrew at the University of Cape Town. Chief Rabbi Abrahams wrote extensively and also translated numerous Hebrew articles into English.
His activities and interests within the Cape Town Jewish community went far beyond his rabbinical duties. Chief Rabbi Abrahams was very concerned with the problems and spread of the Hebrew day-school movement and was instrumental in founding both a youth centre (Rosecourt) and a hostel for young Jewish women; he was chairman of the Jewish Museum and Historical Society and a trustee of the Cape Town Jewish Orphanage. An avowed Zionist, Chief Rabbi Abrahams travelled extensively in South Africa to promote the cause of Jewish national revival. He also worked extensively to encourage goodwill at an inter-faith level: regular visits were organised for non-Jewish groups to the Great Synagogue, his three annual broadcast services were listened to by many thousands. Chief Rabbi Abrahams was also the vice-president of the Society of Christians and Jews, a member of the council of the South African Institute of Race Relations, and served on the board of the Cape Community Chest.
Upon his retirement in 1968, Chief Rabbi Israel Abrahams settled in Jerusalem, Israel, where he died on 27 October 1973.