Sasson Somekh was born in Baghdad to a secular Jewish family. In 1951, Somekh and his family immigrated to Israel in the wake of growing pressures on the Jews of Iraq to leave the country. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Hebrew Language and History from Tel Aviv University, and a Master's degree in Linguistics of Semitic languages at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1962-1965, Somekh served as scientific secretary of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. He did his doctorate at Oxford University in 1966-1968. He served as chairman of the Arabic Language and Literature department at Tel Aviv University in 1972-1984. In 1980, he became a full professor. Between 1982-2003, he held the Helmos Chair for Arabic Literature. In 1996-1998 he was head of the Israel Academic Center in Cairo. He was a visiting professor at Princeton University, St Antony's College, Oxford, Annenberg Research Institute, NYU and Uppsala University. In 2004, he received an honorary doctorate from Ben Gurion University.