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Boris Tsirelson while a first-year student, in 1967
Tsirelson was born in Leningrad to a Russian Jewish family. From his father Simeon's side, he is the great-nephew of rabbi Yehuda Leib Tsirelson, chief rabbi of Bessarabia from 1918 to 1941, and a prominent posek and Jewish leader. He obtained his Master of Science from the University of Leningrad and remained there to pursue graduate studies. He obtained his Ph.D. in 1975.
Later, he participated in the refusenik movement, but only received permission to emigrate to Israel in 1991. From then until 2017, he was a professor at Tel-Aviv University.