He studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, gaining a BA in history and mathematics in 1994 and an MA in history in the same year. Later Ze'ev Elkin was involved in academic Jewish and medieval studies, in particular, studied the works of Saadia Gaon, and was involved in Jewish education in the countries of former Soviet Union.
He was active in the Bnei Akiva movement, becoming its general secretary of the Soviet Union branch in 1990. In December that year he immigrated to Israel. In November 2008 he decided to quit Kadima, as he considered it to have become a left-wing party.
In November 2012 he released an election video for his Likud primaries campaign that went viral, earning 250,000 views in only a matter of days. He was subsequently re-elected again in 2013. He served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs between March 2013 and June 2014, and then became Chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
After the elections, he was appointed Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Strategic Affairs in the new government. Elkin surrendered the Strategic Affairs post after only 11 days when Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed Gilad Erdan Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy on May 24, 2015. Elkin demanded the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs portfolio as compensation for losing Strategic Affairs.
Netanyahu met his demand, breaking an election promise to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who had wanted Netanyahu to retain the portfolio himself.
Elkin was elected to the 17th Knesset in 2006 as a member of Kadima and chaired the subcommittee on the absorption of immigrant children and youth.