Raya Dreben was born in Vienna, Austria, and emigrated to the United States when she was nine months old. She graduated from Radcliffe College, magna cum laude, in 1949 and from Harvard Law School, cum laude, in 1954, where she was in the second class of women graduating from that law school.
She began her law career as a law clerk to Bailey Aldrich of the United States District Court. Justice Dreben was a Bigelow Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School in 1955-56 and thereafter engaged in private practice at a number of firms. She joined the law firm of Palmer & Dodge (now Edwards, Wildman, Palmer) in 1964, and in 1969 she and another associate became the first women part-time partners at a major Boston law firm. Justice Dreben taught copyright law at Harvard Law School for a number of years while at Palmer & Dodge.
Governor Michael Dukakis appointed her to the Appeals Court in 1979. She has served as trustee of several organizations, including Radcliffe College, and has received the Haskell Cohn Distinguished Judicial Service Award from the Boston Bar Association.