Malbim was born at Volochisk, Volhynia and educated in Hebrew and the Talmud by his father and by his stepfather, Rabbi Löb of Volochisk. He showed talent from his early childhood, and his works indicate that he had a considerable knowledge of secular sciences. From 1838 to 1845 he was rabbi of Wreschen, in the district of Posen, and in the latter year was called to the rabbinate of Kempen, where he remained until 1860; he was thereafter known as "der Kempener."
In 1860 Malbim became chief rabbi of Bucharest, Romania. He did not get along with the upper class German Jews there; they wished to introduce the rites and practices of Reform Judaism, which were at great variance with the beliefs and practices of the traditional rabbinic Judaism of his time. The type of Judaism encouraged and defended by the Malbim was known as Orthodox Judaism, which demanded adherence to Jewish law and tradition, and rejected almost all editing of the Siddur, the traditional Jewish prayer book.
By intrigues the leaders of the Reform Jewish community succeeded in throwing him into prison. Though he was soon liberated through the intervention of Sir Moses Montefiore, it was upon the condition that he leave Romania.
Malbim went to Constantinople and complained to the Turkish government, but obtained no satisfaction. After staying six months in Paris, he went to Lencziza, government of Kalisz, Russian Poland, as successor to his deceased father-in-law, Hayyim Auerbach (1866). Shortly after he was rabbi at Kherson, and thence was called to the rabbinate of Moghilef, on the Dnieper (1870). There, too, his lack of subservience provoked the resentment of the richer Jews; these denounced him as a political criminal, and the governor of Moghilef ordered him to leave the town.
Malbim then went to Königsberg as chief rabbi of the Polish community, but there he fared no better than in Bucharest and Moghilef; he was continually harassed by the German Jews. When Malbim passed through Wilna in 1879 the community there would have appointed him rabbi in place of Isaac Elijah Landau, but the governor of Wilna opposed the election on the ground that he could not sanction the appointment of a rabbi who had been expelled from Moghilef as a political criminal. In September of the same year Malbim was on his way to Krementchug, to the rabbinate of which town he had been appointed, when he fell sick and died at Kiev.
Malbim was the author of: "Arẓot ha-hayyim," commentary and novellć on the Shulkhan Arukh, the section on Orah hayyim (Breslau, 1837); "Arẓot ha-Shalom," collection of sermons (Krotoschin, 1839); "Ha-Torah weha-Miẓwah," commentary on the Pentateuch and the Sifra, a midrash (Warsaw, 1874-80); "Mikra'e Ḳodesh," commentary on the Prophets and Hagiographa (ib. 1874; this commentary is double?on the words and on the sense; Malbim always endeavored to explain the different meanings of synonyms): "Mashal u-Meliẓah," dramatic philippic, in verse, against hypocrisy (Paris, 1867).