Aryeh Sheftel was born in Vilna, studied in the "Tarbut" high school and was a graduate of its first class. He continued his studies in a teachers training college and in a college for Eastern European studies. He came to Eretz Israel in 1924 together with a group of "Hechalutz" that founded Ramat Hakovesh, but due to a serious lung weakness he was forced to leave the country. He returned to Vilna and worked there as a teacher and in the organization of the "Tarbut" schools.
Aryeh Sheftel began his Zionist activities when still a young boy.
He was a member of the Borochov Socialist youth movement, was active in the "Hechalutz" movement and in the "Poaley Zion" party.
In 1941, with the invasion of the Nazis, he was imprisoned in the ghetto together with all the Jews of Vilna. He was employed in hard labour working with ammunition, but, on request of the ghetto underground of which he was a member, he engaged in educational work. He wrote the ghetto diary and collected documents with the intention of transferring them outside the ghetto.
He served as the third principal of the school and as vice-principal of the illegal high school. He enlisted many of his students into the underground movement.
In 1943 he took part in the preparations for a mutiny until such time as he was transferred to an anihilation camp in Estonia and from there to other camps.
Towards the end of the war, during one of the transfers from camp to camp, he escaped. He wandered around for weeks in the fields in Germany until he was caught in one of the villages and sentenced to death. He again managed to escape, crossed the German lines and got into the American controlled area and from there to Warsaw.
In post-war Warsaw he began to re-organize Jewish life in Poland. He was chosen as president of the Lodz Jewish Committee, as a member of the central body of the "Poaley Zion" movement and to the Central Historical Congress in Poland. He organized the destruction of the extermination camps and a list of war criminals. The material was later used as evidence in the court cases against war criminals. Later he was chosen by the Jews of Lodz as a judge in the Jewish Rehabilitation court. He was a member of the Directorate of the Jewish National Fund and organized the illegal emigration from Poland. In 1945 he was a delegate on behalf of the Polish government to the International Conference of Political Prisoners in Warsaw and was chosen for the committee that prepared the material for the Nurenberg trials. He edited the newspaper “Unser Wert” in 1946-1947. He participated in the Zionist congress in Basel on behalf of the "Poaley Zion" movement.
Arye Sheftel came to Eretz Israel prior to the War of Independence. In 1947 he settled in Rishon Le Zion and was chosen as secretary of the Workers Council. He was chosen to the first Knesset as a member of "Mapai". He was a member of the Knesset Committee, the Interior Ministry Committee as well as of the leadership of the party. While he was serving as a member of Knesset, he was asked to stand at the head of "Mapai" for the Rishon Le Zion mayorship. He gave up his position in the Knesset and was elected Mayor of Rishon Le Zion. He was elected as mayor three times, 1951-1952, 1960-1962, 1965-1969.