Herzog is born in Cliftonpark Avenue in Belfast on September 17, 1918. He is raised predominantly in Dublin, the son of Ireland’s Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog and his wife Sara. Herzog’s father, a fluent speaker of the Irish language, is known as “the Sinn Féin Rabbi” for his support of the First Dáil and the Irish Republican cause during the Irish War of Independence. Herzog studies at Wesley College, Dublin, and is involved with the Federation of Zionist Youth and Habonim Dror, the Labour-Zionist movement, during his teenage years.
The family emigrates to Mandatory Palestine in 1935 and Herzog serves in the Jewish paramilitary group Haganah during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt. He goes on to earn a degree in law at University College London, and then qualifies as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn.
Herzog joins the British Army during World War II, operating primarily in Germany as a tank commander in the Armoured Corps. There, he is given his lifelong nickname of “Vivian” because the British could not pronounce the name, “Chaim.” A Jewish soldier had volunteered that “Vivian” is the English equivalent of “Chaim.”
Herzog returns to Palestine after the war and, following the end of the British Mandate and Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948, operates in the Battles of Latrun during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. He retires from the Israel Defence Forces in 1962 with the rank of Major-General.
After leaving the army, Herzog opens a private law practice. He returns to public life when the Six-Day War breaks out in 1967, serving as a military commentator for Kol Israel radio news. Following the capture of the West Bank, he is appointed Military Governor of East Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria.
In 1972 Herzog is a co-founder of Herzog, Fox & Ne’eman, which becomes one of Israel’s largest law firms. Between 1975 and 1978 he serves as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in which capacity he repudiates UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, the “Zionism is Racism” resolution, and symbolically tears it up before the assembly.
Herzog enters politics in the 1981 elections, winning a Knesset seat as a member of the Alignment. Two years later, in March 1983, he is elected to the largely ceremonial role of President. He serves two five-year terms before retiring in 1993. He dies on April 17, 1997, and is buried on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. His son, Isaac Herzog, led the Israeli Labour Party and the parliamentary Opposition in the Knesset from 2013 until 2018.