Michael Rosbash was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His parents, Hilde and Alfred Rosbash, were Jewish refugees who left Nazi Germany in 1938. His father was a cantor, which, in Judaism, is a person who leads the congregation in prayer. Rosbash’s family moved to Boston when he was two years old, and he has been an avid Red Sox fan ever since.
Initially, Rosbash was interested in mathematics but an undergraduate biology course at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a summer of working in Norman Davidson’s lab steered him towards biological research. Rosbash graduated from Caltech in 1965 with a degree in chemistry, spent a year at the Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique in Paris on the Fulbright Scholarship, and obtained a doctoral degree in biophysics in 1970 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under Sheldon Penman. After spending three years on a postdoctoral fellowship in genetics at the University of Edinburgh, Rosbash joined the Brandeis University faculty in 1974.
Rosbash is married to fellow scientist Nadja Abovich and he has a stepdaughter named Paula and daughter named Tanya.