Josef Tal was born Joseph Gruenthal on September 18, 1910 in Pinne (now Poland). Tal's teachers at the Staatliche Akademische Hochschule fuer Musik in Berlin included Tiessen, Trapp, Hindemith, Sachs, Kreutzer and Saal.

He emigrated to Eretz Israel in 1934 and taught composition and piano at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. He was Director of the Academy from 1948 until 1952. In 1965 he joined the faculty of Hebrew University and eventually became head of the musicology department. Numerous among Tal's works were written on biblical subject or were influenced by the Bible or were based on epic events in Jewish history.

However, in style, Tal remained faithful to his European background and was not affected by the trends which dominated most Israeli compositions in the 1940s and 1950s which, in the main, were based either on the folklore of the various Jewish communities in Israel or on the Eastern musical traditions of the region (the maqam).By that time, Tal was already deep into writing12-tone music and with the passing years, his use of the dodecaphonic elements became less and less constrained.

The many honours bestowed upon him include a UNESCO grant for the study of electronic music, the State of Israel Prize (1971), Art Prize of the City of Berlin (1975), the Wolff Prize, Israel (1983), Verdienstkreuz I Klasse, Germany (1984), Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France (1985), Johann Wenzel Stamitz Prize, Germany (1995).