Gil Shaham was born in Urbana, Illinois, while his parents, Israeli scientists, were on an academic fellowship at the University of Illinois. His father Jacob was an astrophysicist, and his mother, Meira Diskin, was a cytogeneticist. His sister is the pianist Orli Shaham. He is a graduate of the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York. The family returned to Jerusalem when Gil was two. At the age of seven, Shaham began taking violin lessons from Samuel Bernstein at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem. In 1980, when Shaham was nine years old, he played for Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein and Henryk Szeryng, and attended the Aspen Music School in Colorado, studying with Dorothy DeLay (the teacher of many other leading artists, including Itzhak Perlman and Sarah Chang) and Jens Ellerman.
Shaham is married to the Australian-born violinist Adele Anthony. They have two children, Elijah and Ella Mei.
At age 10, Shaham debuted as soloist with the Jerusalem Symphony, conducted by the violinist Alexander Schneider. Less than a year later Shaham performed with Israel's foremost orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, which was conducted by Zubin Mehta. At age 11, in 1982, Shaham won first prize in the Claremont Competition and was admitted to the Juilliard School in New York, where he studied with Dorothy DeLay and Hyo Kang. In addition, both he and his younger sister, the pianist Orli Shaham, attended Columbia University.
Shaham's career took off in 1989 when he was called to replace an ailing Itzhak Perlman for a series of concerts with Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra. Flying to London at short notice, having had to take time out from his studies at the Horace Mann School where he was a senior, he played both the Bruch and the Sibelius concertos to glowing reviews.
In 1990 he received the Avery Fisher Career Grant. In 1992 he was awarded the Premio Internazionale of the Accademia Chigiana in Siena.
Shaham has performed with many of the world's leading orchestras, among them the New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra.